I can’t begin to count the number of times over the past couple of years that someone has come into the running store where I work, an odd light in their eyes, and told me some variation of: “I just finished reading Born To Run … can I try on some of these minimal shoes?”
Of course, many people try minimal shoes, love them, and never look back. But others aren’t so fortunate. Never mind that sometimes their feet don’t stand a chance of fitting properly into most “minimal” shoes – they will twist and turn their feet every which way, determined to squeeze their sizable toes into a Vibram or a New Balance Minimus, only to finally surrender with a look of abject disappointment. It’s as if the door to the Promised Land has been slammed shut in their faces, dooming them to forever plod along in the gray, yesterday land of big shoes.
Then there are people who do manage to fit into a pair of minimal shoes but return to our shoe department a few weeks later – limping, holding their new shoes in front of them accusingly, Exhibit A for problems they didn’t even know their feet could have.
Now, to potentially confuse the issue even more, it looks like the Big Shoe may be making at least a minor comeback. Yep, big ol’ cushioned midsoles will soon be showing up everywhere, made by everyone from committed small-batch minimal manufacturers like Altra to established, more traditional major players like Brooks. Cush is back, baby.
But why? You read Born to Run, took it as gospel, made the switch to flat, uncushioned shoes – and now these shoes with dizzying stack heights and layers of soft foam are coming back? Is everything we think we know wrong? What’s going on here?
What’s going on is a little market correction, made necessary by an inconvenient truth: everyone is different. Having fit a lot of people in runnning shoes over the last two years, I can say not everyone was born to run – at least, not in flat boards with laces on them. I run in minimal shoes and enjoy them. I also run in the Asics Nimbus, one of the kings of the old-school shoe. Some people run solely in Vibrams and those sandal thingies and are fine with that. Others have never run in anything but the Nike Pegasus for 20+ years, and without even a twinge in their ankle or heel. People may be born to run, but they are, based on my personal experience, born to run differently. And as far as form goes, do a little You Tube surfing — you’ll find some of our Olympic-class long distance runners have pretty questionable (and sometimes downright weird) form, if you go with expert advice and textbooks.
Change to forefoot running or keep heel striking? Minimal or Maximal? As with everything else in life, go with what you know to be true for you, based on your own experience. We don’t all need correction, we don’t all need less (or more) shoe. Ask yourself: Do the shoes I’m running in and the way I’m running bring me joy without causing me problems? And if your shoes and form are doing that, regardless of what shoe it is or how much you may heel strike, why embark on yet another exhausting “self-improvement” project? Especially when changes in form can cause as many new issues as correct old ones.
It’s interesting and potentially helpful to gather information from others, including shoe fitters in running stores and books like Born To Run. But, as some old Zen dude once said, “Do not get caught in that place where you think you know.” The best shoe for you is the one you forget you have on. The best running form for you may be, with all of its deviations from perfection, the form you were born with. Don’t create problems, don’t turn your running into another self-help project. Just listen to what your feet say. You’ll find they’re the only ones telling you the real truth.