Barefoot footprint in the sand.

The ‘almost’ included in the title means two things: first, I’m not really running barefoot – – the *Merrell Vapor Glove 2 is as close as I get to that; and second, it’s actually treadmilling that I do. My interval training does include peaks at 10 on the treadmill, but real runners are outside, right?

*This is not a paid endorsement in any fashion, but these have become what I wear all the time now. Everywhere!

How It All Started

While enjoying a nice evening with the kids about a year ago, I picked up from their coffee table a book about barefoot runners. I was captivated not only by the incredible capabilities of the long distance runners described, but I experienced a personal revelation regarding a debilitating problem I had with shin splints forty years earlier. It occurred when I was participating in Platoon Leaders Class, which is the officer candidate school for the Marines. The intensity and duration of the training left no time for recuperation. The pain that developed in the front of my legs made walking barely tolerable. Never had I given thought to the biomechanics of running before, and even after the incident I simply forgot about it…until I read in this book about the significance of landing on the front of the foot while running. All along I had been slapping the front of my feet on the ground by landing heel first. That severe pain in my shins during my training in Quantico made sense now.

It also made sense that after sheltering my feet and all their accompanying ligaments and tendons in elaborate foam containers (shoes) all these years, I should ease into it.

I don’t ease very well. Poring over the Amazon reviews regarding minimalist running shoes, I decided on the Merrells. I bought what the marathoners and trail runners liked. That simple.

Their cautionary words in the reviews were correct – – it definitely takes getting used to. And it won’t happen fast if you’re used to nothing but foam or stiff leather containers surrounding your feet. 

What you will find is that you have to learn to walk differently, paying attention to the landing of your steps. 

If that sounds like a bothersome and trivial task to you, don’t spend the money. These shoes will not let you bang your heel down. (Actually they will, but once you do, you’ll try hard not to do it again). In the beginning I thought that they were simply too minimalist – – that I wouldn’t be able to get used to them. Now, I have no problem running on the street and wearing them all day long. They are extremely light weight, flexible, and breathable. It is this fit and flexibility that distinguish them from any type of padded foam or thin leathersoled shoe. And they really do fit like a glove – – with an arch that follows the exact upward curve and shape of my foot.

The Net Effect

I never had calves before. Of course I did, really, but you just couldn’t see them. Not only have I noticed muscular development, but undoubtedly my ankles as well as my feet have become stronger and more flexible. I enjoy feeling how my feet touch the ground as I walk, and sensing the pressure of the ground beneath me.

Sound a bit strange? It would to me if I hadn’t experienced it myself.

(If you give the Merrells a try, pay attention to the size. My size in any other shoe is 11.5, but the Merrells that fit me are 10.5)

UPDATE:  

“Training based on barefoot running, practised correctly, produces significant changes in foot support, regardless of the athlete’s speed: forefoot support (metatarsal), tends to minimize impact peaks and, therefore, leads to a lower risk of injury.”

Footnote Update

Check out this NY Times article on the importance of ankle strength as we age. 

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About The Author

Steven Siemons's picture

As a lifelong fitness enthusiast and armchair philosopher (BA in Social Science, UC Irvine), Steven communicates his passion for health and wellness with an offbeat slant. It's a lifestyle, he will insist; and fitness is really a journey to find what fits--for you. His personal fitness journey has primarily centered on resistance training for more than fifty years. An intense three-year exposure to Shotokan Karate under Sensei Ray Dalke and Sensei Edmond Otis in Southern California during his thirties (he is now 65, since you're wondering) had a significant impact on his appreciation for the martial arts as fitness disciplines. It is his sincere hope that you will find insight, inspiration, and knowledge from the ideas he sends your way. Find more of his work at The Senior Health and Fitness Blog.
 

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