Fast forward to this year, and I find myself once again with the urge to go minimal. This time, however, for reasons beyond just wanting to feel the ground.
In the past several years, the movement for running barefoot has gained a lot of momentum, pushed in large part by the success of Christopher McDougall's book, Born to Run. The argument for and against barefoot running is rooted in biomechanics, and there is already a rich collection of resources online that cover both the pros and cons of running barefoot. (About.com has a nice summary of the general pros and cons, here.)
In my case, I decided to take the (barefooted) leap with two objectives in mind:
- to help prevent repeated stress injuries (RSI), particularly on my knees and ankles;
- and, to improve my running form. (The video below, while doubling as an advertisement for a particular commercially available service, provides a nice discussion about how runners can improve their stride efficiency.)
After deciding to run the barefoot route, the next critical decision I had to make was settling on a pair of minimalist shoes to wear. As of now, there are two lines that have cultural leadership in the barefoot market: Vibram Five Fingers and Vivo Barefoot (by Terra Plana).
|Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) Bikila|
|Vivo Barefoot Evo II|
The sales staff were very nice, if a bit misinformed -- they were insisting that the Evo models were Evo II models, when in fact they were not -- and allowed me to test run both the Evo II and a "budget" variant, the Neo. I eventually ended up buying the Neo instead: not only was it cheaper by Php 1K (the Neo costs around Php 5.5K, the Evo II around Php 6.5K) , it also appealed to my aesthetic preference, with its retro-styled design.
|Vivo Barefoot Neo|
- Transition -- Since January this year, I had been running with a relatively flexible pair of Nike Free. Because of this, the transition effects due to wearing something like the Neo have not been as pronounced as they might have been. That being being said, my calves and achilles tendon do feel like they have gotten more thoroughly worked out, and my feet have felt more exercised than they have in years. Luckily though, I haven't felt anything that could be described as painful -- just a bit of stiffness here and there after runs.
- Protection and Comfort (on rough surfaces) -- I went for a couple of runs in Legazpi City and there were segments where the surface I ran on had more than a couple of rocks. The Neo did well enough to protect my feet from puncture threats: the most jagged rocks barely left marks on the sole. That being said, I may not (yet) take the Neo out for runs on mostly rocky terrain any time soon. The tactile feedback is much closer, and stepping on sharp or jagged objects is less comfortable than it would be with more cushioned shoes. I think the Neo is best suited for somewhat level surfaces.
- Running Stride -- Heel strikes are definitely more painful. (Out of curiosity, I tried striking the ground with my heels, but stopped after just a couple of strides. My feet and legs just felt too uncomfortable with that kind of contact.) Because of a lack of cushioning, the Neo encourages its wearer to hit the ground with the forefoot, or at the very least the midfoot.
- Overall Feel -- Not only does the Neo feel light, it is also very flexible -- you can literally fold the shoe in half. This allows a range of motion almost akin to being really barefoot. Over time this may be more of a net good than a net bad, but of course in the short run, it can prove to be a good thing or a bad thing. If you already have very faulty foot/ankle biomechanics prior to transitioning, or if there is some sort of structural issue that causes instability when striding, then it might be a good idea to consult with a foot doctor before committing to something like the Neo for regular running.