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Journeying Into Minimalist Running

Born To Run!

Born To Be Wild Run!

A year ago, like any new runner, I jumped head first into a brave new world with an abundance of enthusiasm, a slight lack of fitness, and very little in the way of knowledge about running.  How hard could it be? Running is running, right?  Just about every human on the planet can put one foot in front of the other.. you don’t even have to think about it.

As I learnt more about the art of running through my own journey, I inevitably ran into the minimalist/barefoot debate, and immediately it captured my attention.  Up until that point I couldn’t imagine how those 5-finger running shoes that were in vogue could ever have replaced my comfy sneakers.  Like anyone who just hasn’t taken much interest in the subject, I assumed that the softer and more comfortable your running shoes were, the better protected your feet would be and hence the more comfortable and better your running experience would be. Isn’t that why everyone runs in “trainers”…?  How little did I know.

Curiosity Piqued

As the miles totted up, I learnt that a primary reason for sudden surge in minimalist running was due to Chris McDougall’s Born To Run… a seminal book published in 2010 about the Tarahumara Indian tribe and how the existence of their perfectly preserved culture gives us clues of how the human species has evolved to run ultra distances, espousing the virtues of barefoot and minimalism over “traditional” footwear which is argued (some would say proven) to alter one’s natural running gait. It made a compelling argument. Dr Maffetone, as always, was way ahead of the curve on this, and has been advising his athletes and anyone else who would listen to run in uncushioned flats for decades. Maffetone has often pointed out that one of the reasons the East-African are the best runners is because they grew up barefoot and so have developed with superior running form. I also quickly became a big fan of Aaron Olson’s “Paleo Runner” podcast which, as the name suggests, is dedicated to running, eating and living way that our ancestors are thought to have.  The wheels were set in motion, and straight after finishing the Berlin marathon I ordered a pair of minimal running shoes and began the transition to becoming a minimalist runner!

Brave New Worldmizunos

It’s been 8 weeks into my reinvention as a forefoot-striking, minimalist running machine with the speed and beauty of a gazelle.  Starting out very lightly was a good idea – nothing longer than about 4 miles for the first couple of weeks. The very first outing of just a couple of miles gave me some very sore calves the next day, so it definitely shows that my stride and footstrike has changed and I’m being forced to use new muscles as a result.  Fast forward to where I am today… I’m pretty comfortable in them now and feel that adaptation to the new shoe is no longer the limiting factor when I go out for a run, although – similar to becoming fat-adapted – it probably takes far longer to achieve become 100% adaptation than most people realise, and I expect that my gait will continue to subtly adjust itself for a few months’ yet.


What’s the running experience like? I have to say that I’m quickly growing to love the feeling of running in these minimalist zero-drops. The sole itself is just 8mm thick and is far more flexible than a normal road shoe, so you have a far better feeling for the surfaces you are running. The wide toe box also suits me right down to the ground, with my feet EE-width feet.  On the couple of occasions that I’ve gone back and used my old trainers for a run they felt unnecessarily heavy and clumsy in comparison. I’m quickly falling in love with the whole minimalist experience… so much so that I have taken to doing my running drills, as well as offskate exercises and my warmup routine completely barefooted.

Your Body Knows

They say that your feet are a good reflection of your overall health, and over the last couple of years I have seen a pleasing improvement in the state of my own feet.. my toes are stronger and straighter, and the corns and calluses that I just to have to scrape or cut off (yuck) have largely disappeared.  I attribute this to an improvements in balance, posture, gait and muscle balance. Improvements in base fitness, strength, diet, and footwear have all played a role in this.


Changes to your feet are an important biofeedback marker… your body tells you when it’s on the right path, if you take the time to listen to it. If, like me, you believe that the human body is a natural success and that it already has everything it needs to do what it was meant to do – rather than a failure that needs all manner of aid and assistance – then the case for minimalist footwear makes a lot of sense.  In any case, I’m looking forward to many more happy miles in training and racing with as little material between my foot and the ground as I can get away with….  all this and I still  haven’t read Born To Run… call me a believer.

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2 comments on “Journeying Into Minimalist Running

  1. Aaron Olson
    November 21, 2014

    Great post Van, I have wide EE feet as well, what shoes are those?


    • Van
      November 21, 2014

      Hey Aaron, they are the Mizuno Wave Levitas. Unfortunately I think Mizuno have discontinued their Levitas/Cursoris range as they are becoming increasingly difficult to get hold of as retailers are dumping their remaining stocks. I’ve been keeping my eyes peeled to try to grab a couple of extra pairs while they are still around.

      Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on November 21, 2014 by in Equipment, Running and tagged , , , , , .

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