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The Cheap Minimal Shoe / Cheap "Barefoot Shoe" Review Roundup
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September 17, 2012
6:48 pm
gabriella kadar
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When I was a kid, living in England, I was running daily in 'plimsoles' (plimsolls...). These have a very thin sole and consequently I learned to run with, what I have since learned is a forefoot strike. Even when, later, I was wearing somewhat thicker soled running shoes (here in Canada) my running technique did not change. However, when I did purchase a pair of much thicker soled shoes because that's what was recommended for running, I did not feel as though my running was efficient anymore. It seemed as though I was using much more effort to run due to all the squishy padding.

Possibly the body is programmed depending on what it has learned during the formative years. (I was basically 'ordered' by my father to run a couple of miles every day in order that my heart and lungs would develop appropriately to my growing body. I grew 7 inches in height in one year and then, mercifully stopped.)

At university I did notice that other people ran differently, i.e. heel strike and I thought I was doing things wrong but couldn't change without consciously trying to do a heel strike which was uncomfortable and inefficient.

September 17, 2012
8:17 pm
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Danny:

When you're getting ready to run an ultra, I think easily digested energy…and "a rich beef broth" probably contains only fat and protein, mostly predigested due to long simmering.  (I don't see where carb would come from unless the 'broth' was a soup containing potatoes.) 

There is a theory that you don't want to carb up at all before the race because you'll just make yourself go flat when you must (inevitably) transfer from glucose-fueled to endogenous fat-fueled, which beef broth is compatible with.

"How fast would I run if I had no idea how far I would be forced to run today?" is an excellent guide for pacing oneself on long journeys…and I bet it corresponds closely to the threshold at which we start oxidizing significant glucose in addition to fat.

Dave:

I like Maffetone's original definition of fitness: "the ability to do a task".  Health may or may not enter into that picture.

gabriella:

"Plimsolls" look like what we in the US call "skate shoes" -- or what used to be called "sneakers", before the raised-heel running/basketball shoe styles took over the name.

I was also a toe-striker when I was little, to the great consternation of my parents and everyone else -- who told me I was running the wrong way, and who forced me to heel-strike.  Decades later, it turns out I was right all along!

JS

September 18, 2012
6:18 am
neal matheson
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“How fast would I run if I had no idea how far I would be forced to run today?” is an excellent guide for pacing oneself on long journeys…and I bet it corresponds closely to the threshold at which we start oxidizing significant glucose in addition to fat.

Would there be a way of testing this? It would be interesting to find out. I personally find that having no known endpoint makes tasks much, much harder. I heard somewhere that the US army has a fitness test based on an indeterminate distance.

September 18, 2012
10:28 am
Dave
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When it comes down to it, the shoe is less important than technique. I would prefer to go barefoot. I sometimes run barefoot at a local polo field that is well maintained. But most of the time I have to wear some kind of shoe on the streets and sidewalks of the dirty old town I live in.

I've looked at Pose, Chi Running, and Evolution Running, the three running methods mentioned in Born to Run. My preference is for Ken Mierke's Evolution Running. Do any of you follow one of the methods mentioned?

September 18, 2012
1:21 pm
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neal matheson:

Much of that problem is mental: if we're not enjoying ourselves, it's dispiriting to think "this could go on all day".

It turns out we can measure aerobic substrate oxidation via the Respiratory Exchange Ratio (RER), which I talk about in this article.  Most people start oxidizing significant amounts of carbohydrate above 50% VO2max, though I'm sure this changes in ketosis or with long training.

Dave:

I've never bothered...the times I've seen "how to forefoot-strike" videos, they've all involved tiny, choppy, mincing strides, with glutes so tight you'd think they were keeping their wallet between their cheeks! 

Maybe I just saw the wrong videos, but I can't believe something that looks so awkward is biomechanically efficient.  Correct technique generally has fluidity and grace...and there's a reason we have such a mobile hip girdle.  If you have any knowledge as to what I was looking at, or what I should be looking at, let me know.

JS

September 19, 2012
6:45 am
Dave
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JS, I'm not sure which videos you are referencing. Could they be Pose or Chi Running methods? Ken Mierke studied African barefoot runners to find out what made them more efficient. I think his Evolution Running method is the most straightforward approach. As for "tiny, choppy, mincing strides," both Chi and Evolution Running recommend a stride frequency around 180. There's a reason for that based on human biomechanics. I think Dr. Mark Cucuzzella explains it well in this short video:

Principles of Natural Running

September 20, 2012
1:24 am
pam
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ps.

vibram 5 toe are also too cold for winter cause the ground is too cold, as the sole is pretty thin.

anyway, i dont' wear "bare foot" shoes/sandals in winter (too cold)

September 20, 2012
1:24 am
pam
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ps.

vibram 5 toe are also too cold for winter cause the ground is too cold, as the sole is pretty thin.

anyway, i dont' wear "bare foot" shoes/sandals in winter (too cold)

September 20, 2012
4:32 pm
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Dave:

That's a great video.  Dr. Mark has a very mobile hip girdle, and as a result, his strides are elegant.  His fast cadence is just a consequence of not being slowed down by overstriding and heel-striking.

I've looked at some more videos, and Pose running seems to be the worst offender: many Pose runners are so concerned about not overstriding that they end up bouncing up and down with nearly immobile hips.  (There are a lot of Chi runners doing the same thing, except they don't bounce up and down as much.)  In contrast, Dr. Mark emphasizes hip mobility and the arm motion required to compensate for it, which results in a much more elegant, "liquid" stride.

Thanks for the video...that's the one I'll start recommending to people when they ask about barefoot running technique!

pam:

There are a couple minimal "boots"...but it's a fact that thin, minimal soles will be cold even if water doesn't soak through the upper!

JS

September 21, 2012
10:11 am
Danny J Albers
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Neal I think another way to find that magic pace is to see if you can carry a light conversation, or sing softly along to your music.

You should not feel like you are accumulating exhaustion. It should be a relaxed run.

Forget the clock, previous bests, etc... and just focus on having a quality enjoyable run where you can pay attention to nature and not your heart rate. Your body will find the right pace if you just relax into it.

September 21, 2012
9:37 pm
Laura
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I wear crocs on a daily basis. I have some that they no longer make with a cross strap over the top which don't bind or rub my very wide feet at all. Although the sole is much more padded than your minimalist shoe, I consider it an advantage, as I am a teacher and stand 7 hours a day on a concrete floor. The soles are very flexible and there is little rise in the heel. I love my crocs, and I don't care how ugly they are, they make my feet happy.

I think the picture of contrasting running styles was very interesting. When I was in middle/high school, I would run around in my yard for fun, always barefoot. I developed a classic barefoot running style naturally. When I was forced to choose a team sport I elected X-C as the lesser of evils, and rapidly developed a raging case of shin splints from running in the recommended sneakers. I distinctly remember the coach re-teaching me how to run, because I was doing it "wrong." I also developed a case of asthma and sat out a great deal. Hmmmmm......

September 30, 2012
8:35 am
Tee
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Great post When you wrote about the Speedo Surfwalker Pro Water Shoes, you stated that "The newer version (not pictured) has a better-designed sole that lasts a lot longer."
Are these "newer version" available?
Thank you.

September 30, 2012
8:41 am
Beth
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I'm glad to see someone exploring the cheaper minimal options. I purchased a pair of Vibrams before I saw a discussion of cheaper options, and I wish I had saved my $80+! The Vibrams really only fit if your feet/toes are in perfect proportion and alignemnt, which apparently my big toes are NOT. I have had much better luck with cheap "water shoes". Also, I live in Wisconsin and winter temps here can easily approach zero for days on end--no way that Vibrams are warm enough for that! However, a pair of wool socks and water shoes work just fine for me, no matter how cold it gets.

Yes, the water shoes do wear faster, but I have had good luck repairing thin spots with Shoe Goo (you can find it online), which does even more to keep costs down for your footwear. So often I see discussions in running or "Primal" forums about minimalist footwear, and often I will post about these cheaper options, but it seems many times that people don't even want to consider anything but "real" minimalist gear, leading me to wonder if it's really about what minimalist shoes do for your feet or what minimalist shoes do for your image...

Anyway, interesting article!

September 30, 2012
9:18 am
Jo H
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In the summer I just I go barefoot whenever possible - yes in the city, and no I've never stepped on glass. There's nothing cheaper than your own two feet, and they never wear out!

As for shoes, I've tried most of the minimal ones. VFF KSOs (only one color fits me right and my dog keeps wrenching my toes), Vivo Barefoot (poor ground feel & uncomfortable), Leming (cute but make my plantar fasciitis flare), Barefoot Ted's Luna huaraches (fall off my heel), Merrel Barefoots (the plate in the sole is awful).

Although not cheap, the hands-down best minimal shoes I've tried are my Steger Mukluk moccasins. Just pull the insole out and you're in a real moccasin - only rubber-dipped moosehide between you and the ground. They have amazing ground feel, even with socks on. The sole lasts really well even on rough city sidewalks (still on my first pair!), and apparently they're fashionable because everyone keeps telling me they're cute. Not great in the rain, though - I switch to my Vivo Barefoot boxing boots in the rain since they're the only shoes I have that keep my feet dry.

Steger Mukluks make fantastic winter boots too - polar explorers wear them. So for those of you in colder climates they're definitely worth looking into.

September 30, 2012
10:26 am
Erik
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I ran a half marathon in canvas TOMS with the arch support ripped out, but those aren't cheap and the fabric falls apart really quickly. I try to run barefoot whenever possible, but when I can't I've been using Onitsuka Tigers (Asics) Tai Chi shoes. I think it's the same shoe Bruce Lee and later Uma Thurman wore with the famous yellow motorcycle suit. Anyway they're not as cheap as the options mentioned here, but it's a real shoe with a thin, flat, and flexible rubber sole and real leather upper. I just wish the insole weren't glued in so strongly and the tongue were leather.

September 30, 2012
11:02 am
Kevin
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One I'd like to add, but probably not available anymore is the Shawn White slip on casual/surfer/skater show they had a while back. They come in black canvas with lime green accents or gray with orange accents. They look a little bit like sanuks/vans, but the bottoms are UBER thin. And they were only $20 at Target... and went on clearance for about $9. I stocked up on several pairs... but only got black. Wish I had some gray ones too. They are the thinnest shoe I've ever worn.

I tried working with cheap water shoes, but they were so stretchy that my foot kept sliding inside causing blisters. These Shawn White's on the other hand are awesome and haven't caused any problems at all. I really hope they bring them back.

September 30, 2012
11:53 am
Alex
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I tried a pair of the Vibram Five Fingers, and they were never comfortable. I then tried on various minimalist shoes at the mall and finally found one that is truly comfortable: Merrell Road Gloves.

September 30, 2012
1:55 pm
Julia
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I hope Soft Star Shoes (softstarshoes.com) will be reviewed soon. I have a pair of Run Amocs (2 mm sole) and love them! Besides being a minimalist shoe, I also love that they're made in the USA by a family-run company.

September 30, 2012
1:58 pm
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Laura:

You and me both…I was a forefoot-striker when I was little.  I was punished out of it because my father thought it make me look effeminate.

Tee:

The newer version is what you'll get when you buy the Surfwalker now, unless someone has some very old stock sitting in a warehouse.  (The picture on Amazon is of the old version for some reason, even though the shoes you'll get when you order are the new version.)

Beth:

My toes aren't quite VFF-shaped either, so I feel your pain.  And both my parents were runners, so I know Shoe Goo very well!  (Yes, it'll postpone the inevitable for a while.)  The key is to make sure you've cleaned the sole very well and dried it completely before applying, or (in my experience) it just rolls right off.

Jo H:

Moccasins and mukluks are great if things are either dry or frozen solid…as you point out, it's the muddy in-between that causes problems.

Erik:

Onitsuka Tigers are a classic…and they come in some excellent colors!  They're a bit narrow, though, if I recall correctly.

For my other readers, keep in mind that you want the OT Tai Chi shoes (black and red available here…you can find the other colors with a web search).  OT is just the Japanese company that makes Asics, and they use the brand in the US for a few other old-school athletic shoes that aren't minimal at all.

Kevin:

You've found the problem with cheap skate shoes: they change season to season, so if you find a pair you like, buy all you can find in your size!

However, between Target, Wal-Mart, Payless Shoe Source, and the other big-box stores out there, it's usually possible to find one brand that works at any given time.

Alex:

I like the Merrells too, but they're not cheap! 

One caveat for would-be purchasers: the Tough Glove fits differently than the others.  I couldn't get it to fit me no matter which size I tried, whereas all the other Merrells fit perfectly.

JS

September 30, 2012
2:06 pm
Cal
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I think you do Invisible Shoes a great disservice with regards to "slap."

Initially "tying" them properly will take a little time to get right (as mentioned in the instructions) – in order to find the "sweet spot" where your huaraches are comfortable (and no slapping occurs).

Initially I had slap, slip, and every other problem till I read the instructions properly. For further help read Steven's reply in this forum thread: Just Took My First Walk

I hope that's some help. (BTW I don't know how old this article is but hole punches have been provided with Invisible Shoe kits for quite some time now.)

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