Thursday, May 12, 2011

On the Merit of Reduced Shoes

Barefoot Running University's Jason Robillard posted a compelling article describing Merrell's successful foray into minimalist shoe manufacturing and marketing. Although I am an avid shoe-wearing runner who has yet to purchase his own pair of Merrell Trail gloves, I completely agree with the ideals Jason describes in this article. Merrel is clearly approaching minimal shoe manufacturing and marketing properly.

The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy left the following comment that made me think about my own shoe philosophy:
I wish more companies were like Merrell. Seems like a lot of minimal shoe companies are making shoes with popularity instead of function in mind. I'm seeing a lot of "transition" shoes, the concept of which is completely ridiculous. A shoe that will get you from one shoe to another? Way to invent a problem and then provide a solution shoe companies.

Apart from Merrell, I see the best new minimal shoes coming from startup companies. Altra, Skora, and ZEM will have the best shoes because they don’t have significant investment in a traditional product line.
A barefoot running purist will likely point out that shoes like the New Balance Minimus Trail are merely reduced shoes, not truly minimalist.

Merrell, Inov-8, New balance
Minimal is as minimal does.
Merrel Trail Glove, Inov-8 Road-X 233, NB Minimus Trail, NB Minimus Road
That's fine. I concede that, given its lack of heel elevation relative to the toe box, the Trail Glove is more minimal than the NB MT10. I'm even happy to say that the Minimus Trail should be called a "reduced" shoe rather than a minimal one.

Call the Minimus Trail a fancy slipper if you want. It's still really comfortable for me to wear while running on roads or trails. And, it brings me a couple millimeters closer to practicing better running form.

Moreover, the Minimus Trail's outsole somehow gives me an even greater sense of the ground beneath my feet than my softer f-lite 230s. And, that proprioceptive quality encourages me to add more barefoot training to my running routine in the future.

So, if it weren't for reduced shoes like the NB Minimus Trail in my closet, would I be interested in training barefoot in order to attain better running form? I don't think so.

Just like I'd love to convert to a vegan diet or build a sustainable house, barefoot running is an ideal that's not practically achieved all at once, at least for me. I need to take many steps (pun intended) toward better running form.

I like to pretend that my NB Minimus Trail shoes were made by a different company, not the same New Balance that markets those freakish Truebalance toning shoes. But, New Balance, that behemoth of a business, had the money, ambition, and resources to develop a shoe like the Minimus on a grand scale before the other major companies did. (Yeah, whatever, Nike Free)

And, while their Minimus team certainly made some compromises relative to the minimal ideal, they created a minimal-ish shoe that garnered more attention than offerings from true minimalist shoe companies like the ones mentioned in Barefoot Guy's comment quoted above. I don't see ads for Alta on the Runner's World website. But, the Minimus line is all over the place there. And, I believe, that attention helps redefine the concept of minimal shoes for the general public, makes "minimal running" more accessible.

So, if more curious runners are open to trying something like the Minimus Trail, a shoe that cushions the whole-hog approach to barefoot running, then more runners will get a comfortable sense of barefoot running. And, just as the Minimus Trail makes me feel more confident in the concept of running without shoes, I imagine it would do the same for many other runners out there.

Thus, there is a need for reduced shoes. They're important, because, as Jason mentions in the comment area of his article, they give "people who are generally scared to go zero drop", runners who don't want to put away their $120 stability shoes forever, a taste of how fun and beneficial proper running form can be.

While there are certainly poor decisions being made by some companies jumping on the natural-slash-minimalist-shoe bandwagon (I mean, this is a far cry from the Minimus Trail, don't you think?), we have tons of shoe analysts on the web to help the discerning runner sort through the marketing hype and find the right way to achieve better running form. And, that's the goal of barefoot running, right: Better form?


  1. Great post, I feel like barefoot/minimalism in running is approaching cult like status, which leads to endless internet bickering about who is and isn't allowed to label themselves or their products accordingly while the original science and logic behind it is slowly thrown out. Having racked up plenty of miles in some VFF's, I consider the Minimus Trail to be a nearly equivalent product. I run basically the same way in both. The difference being I can actually step on rocks in the Trail Minimus most of the time and I don't have to do my whole run in an S-pattern like I'm evading sniper fire. Having tried out the Altra Instinct, it is a shoe that encourages barefoot form with zero drop, but it's not a minimal shoe as it has decent sole, support and rigidity (they have the Adam for "minimalists"). For this exact reason I really want a pair of their Lone Peaks when they come out! I can't even wear the Trail Glove as it's too narrow. I find the whole argument about drop to be ridiculous, yes it's important in relation to form, especially on flat surface running, but if you actually run on trails you're never on a flat surface anyways. 4mm over 10 inches works out to be only a 1.57% grade anyways...

  2. I got quoted! I'm not sure how I feel about being used as a reliable source. I'm usually out to spread disinformation ;)

    Now don't make me out to be a barefoot purist. You should see my shoe closet!

    My point in my Minimus post is that folks who are looking for a minimal shoe are buying it without a lot of thought as to what they are looking for, and then getting disappointed that it doesn't meet their definition. So I wanted to explain to folks that just because a shoe company says a shoe is minimal, doesn't mean that it is. The Minimus is an incredible shoe, no doubt, but it's important for people to understand that it's a trail shoe, and therefore has characteristics as such.

  3. I also wanted to add, I've written on the topic of precisely the kind of transition you're talking about in this article.

    Even though I work for the Barefoot Runners Society, whose message is essentially "BAREFOOT NOW!", I'm very supportive of the concept that any move you make toward less shoe is going to increase your enjoyment of running as well as your form and health. If you feel like you need your Minimus Trails, by all means use them! I'm just happy that you like them!

  4. @MGBG: Oh, I hope I didn't give the impression that you were a nay-saying barefoot purist! I reread my post multiple times before posting in order to make sure that I wasn't putting any negative light on your comment.

    Really, I completely agree that the Minimus is not purely minimal. I was simply inspired by your comments and Jason's blog post. And, I felt compelled to develop my own thoughts on the tangential influence of barefoot philosophy.

    I really enjoy your blog, btw!

  5. Word up. If it inspired you to think creatively about minimalist running, then I'm happy to have said it. Apparently my rambling occasionally makes sense! Thanks for reading!



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