A reader of NOLA Running took me to task after last Tuesday’s article about replacing running shoes at the 500-mile point. He said: ‘…great advice if you happen to be one of the…shoe companies… I run 2,000-plus miles a year and my shoes work just fine for 2,000 to 3,000 miles. If my toes don't come thru the top of the shoe, I try to get more mileage out them. And, I don't have "musculoskeletal trouble" or any other overuse injuries.’
I complimented the reader on being blessed with biomechanical efficiencies and the option of running the overwhelming majority of his training miles on trails, two factors I certainly did not possess early in my running life. We then got to discussing the merits and drawbacks of minimalist or “barefoot” running. Minimalists argue that a thick mid-sole in the shoe is not necessary. Instead, the shoe should be little more than a shell for the upper portion of the shoe, the outsole underneath the bottom of the foot and (depending on the running surface) a plate to protect the toes from rocks.
When asked the "do I go minimalist" question, many coaches (myself included) often advise to use the lightest or most minimal shoe as can be tolerated. The hardest part of “going minimalist” may include the definition of “minimalist” in the running shoe world. For example, the K-Swiss K-Ona shoe I used to run IM 70.3 NOLA a couple of years back is classified as "minimalist," probably based on the light weight. It doesn't necessarily have a zero-degree heel like some of the racing flats I used for 5K/10K on the roads.
But why go minimalist or barefoot? Several of my friends in the local running community have started within the last year or two to run in Vibram FiveFingers; a few were former members of my training group and resistant to any gait adjustment recommendation during track workouts. Naturally the "barefoot" shoe enforced (at a somewhat higher cost) what I (and the previous coach) had been trying to encourage for about five years...quicker turnover, shorter stride...which usually leads to a mid/forefoot strike. Even though I like the occasional use/wear of Vibrams or Fila SkeleToes to strengthen the feet, or at least cover them, “toe shoes” and minimalist shoes are not recommended for folks (especially like this coach) who suffer from plantar fasciitis or other chronic overuse injuries.
I’ve suffered from plantar fasciitis for a long period of time. It’s easy to tell someone to rest, walk in shoes which provide support and comfort, stretch, massage and take non-steroidal anti-inflammatories as needed…but as a coach it’s hard to take ones’ own recommendation. Because of that, I’m always on the lookout for exercises and treatments which will decrease the discomfort of plantar fasciitis, and physical therapist Phil Wharton’s video podcast on the Running Times magazine site showed up on my iTunes just in the nick of time.
Is it me or does Wharton look like Jim Carrey from the movie “Dumb and Dumber?” What isn’t dumb is Wharton’s advice and the release technique shown in the video (http://www.runningtimes.com/Article.aspx?ArticleID=26546 ). I could feel the release in the front of my foot as I performed the technique while sitting on my living room couch.