January 17, 2013

Whats in a name? Coda.

iNOV8 - Transitioning Infographic
In a response to a recent post Regaining Ground: Whats in a name? where I was outlining my thoughts on the difference between 'traditional' technical shoes, minimalist shoes and barefoot running I was asked a question on the +Amphibian King Facebook page following a great observation in relation to the post:

Very good article. I had considered minimalist shoes as a viable alternative to racing flats, as they are equally light (lighter even) and have a very low drop. They also seem more cushioned than racing flats, which is why I figured they might be a suitable candidate for longer distance races (distances for which I couldn't comfortably wear a racing flat). You seem to be suggesting that a minimalist shoe isn't a long term racing proposition, but rather an intermediate shoe to help improve running gait?

 Straight away I'm going to hedge my bets and say its all down to the individual :)

When barefoot running became more mainstream a couple of years ago, there was a lot of anticipation and hype due to the inspirational read that was Christopher McDougall's book 'Born to Run' conciding with the launch of the much lauded +Vibram FiveFingers footwear. In fact most would agree that 'Born to Run' was a major factor in creating and supporting demand for the funky 'Toe Shoes'.

So motivating was the book that in +Amphibian King Galway I often would hear the claim: 'I've read the book, I'm born to run, I want the shoes!!' from some of the most unlikely of mouths.

The whole barefoot arena was definitely a talking point  and the Vibrams, a focalpoint for the talk.

Where's the point?

Well, the running shoe companies were obviously reluctant to do anything about it, I mean, it's a fad isn't it? Like, honestly, barefoot running? It won't catch on, really!!

The thing is, it did and has. While barefooting will never threaten the business of mainstream technical running shoes, I mean never, they did spur quite a lot of research to be done into the mechanics of running. Most of what know is derived from reading and discussing mechanics of running off the back of barefoot studies. Some people conducted studies to support barefoot, others studied to disprove it as a fad, a joke, temporary, nonsense.

However, the shoe companies whether driven by what was happening or through natural progression started to make changes.

Some possibly made knee jerk reactions to be on the bandwagon, others made considered decisions through their own biomechanical studies and introduced shoes that were not quite traditional shoes but also not quite barefoot.

The shoe companies knew there were advantages to be gained by racing flats with their low profile heels giving runners an aggressive stride when racing. Racing flats and gutties have been around, since a long time, so they are tried and tested. The whole nature of the barefoot running seemed to strike a cord though. 33 joints in the foot, designed to be mobile, proprioception & feedback etc.

By enabling mobility you are creating stability. 

How Zen is that?

Minimalism was born.

+Nike Free, Saucony Kinvara, +Brooks Running Green Silence (ahead of its time) were some of the key innovators in the area. +ASICS created the Hyper 33 range, +New Balance have their Minimus Road & Trail shoes (been a big hit, especially the 4mm trail),  +Mizuno Running are launching the Wave Evo Levitas shortly.
Brooks Green Silence

ASICS Hyper 33

Nike Free Run

Mizuno Evo Levitas - sole

As you can see, all in some form or another feature low heel to toe profiles with a cushioned midsole and segmented forefoot to allow the feet to feel the road.

So, back to the original question:

You seem to be suggesting that a minimalist shoe isn't a long term racing proposition, but rather an intermediate shoe to help improve running gait?

That is pretty much exactly how I would view the shoes. 

If you are looking for out and out performance and responsiveness, ie. you push off and get an immediate reponse in resulting drive then go with a racing flat.

If you are training to race 5, 10, half or even full marathon then by all means minimal shoes will be ideal for training, conditioning the lower body, remapping running form and still comfortable; then switch to flats on race day.
However, if you are conditioned to the low heel to toe profile the minimal shoes may, just may, be a better proposition for races of long duration (50k + ) where efficiency of stride and a bit of extra cushioning become paramount.

We don't want anyone suffering stress fractures now, do we?

As always, if I've left you with more questions than I've answered, just post a comment below & I'll do my best to clarify.

Happy running!  


tunney said...

So someone who runs in Kinvara and Virrata - what would be a racing flat for them?

Unknown said...

At the pointy end of the pack: for your shorter races 5 -10k shoes like the Saucony A4 with a thin midsole and 4mm drop would probably be ideal. In longer races look for more midfoot cushioning with, say, the Saucony Fastwitch still 4mm drop but more comfort in the forefoot for longer distances.

Mid pack: the performance gain from the firmer forefoot of the above shoes is not a factor so I would say go with the more cushioned shoe but I would also suggest going with the 4mm 'lift' in the heel of the Kinvara (given your personal choices above) to ease potential strain in the calf / achilles as form drops due to fatigue over longer distance.

Naturally, it depends on the training you're doing too.

Thanks for reading & asking.

Unknown said...

Of course, its the Type A5 now (though I happen to know of a Type A4 in a UK9.5 going very cheap ;) )