Has the barefoot bubble burst? In light of the recent U.S. court case against Vibram, you might think so. Its been 4 years since my first article about barefoot running and since then Ive had a lot of experience in barefoot and minimal shoes and read widely on the subject. In that time Ive moved away completely from conventional,over-protective shoes and managed to stay largely injury-free, despite increasing my training mileage.
I still do some running in my FiveFinger Bikilas, but I don't run very far in them (rarely more than 3 miles). I use them as my technique improvement shoes, but they're also great fun. I wish my technique was better but its not,so my main mileage shoe is the Saucony Kinvara. Its still a very light shoe and, with a 4mm heel-to-toe drop, definitely in the natural category, which encourages mid to forefoot striking. However, its tolerant enough so that when I do get tired and my form deteriorates, its got a bit of cushioning. When I first started using them, I only used them on shorter runs but I quite quickly had the confidence to run all distances up to ultra marathons in them. I love these shoes! The other thing I do is to wear barefoot shoes most of the time. I have several pairs of VivoBarefoot shoes which I wear at work and casually. They're really comfortable and I'm convinced that they help to strengthen my feet and help with my overall posture.
So, what have I learnt in this time about barefoot running? I'm happy to say that I still think that what I said in the 2 previous articles is true:
The basic ideas of barefoot and natural running make sense. We weren't born with shoes on and we were Born to Run! The human anatomy is adapted to run and, biomechanically, we are particularly efficient at distance running. Unfortunately, many of us lead a more sedentary lifestyle than the one we were arguably designed for so we often need some protection in our footwear, particularly when running on unnatural surfaces. We also need to build things up carefully, whether we're new to running or adapting to a different style of running.
Most people will benefit from trying to improve their running technique. New Balance raised the concept of Good Form Running. The idea behind this is that by trying to improve running form (good posture, increased cadence, midfoot strike and forward lean), most runners will run more efficiently and be less prone to injury. This doesn't have to mean running in different shoes, although a lower profile shoe does make it easier. For people skeptical about the whole idea of natural running, I often suggest trying to incorporate a few short intervals of higher cadence (aiming for something close to 180 strides per minute) in the middle of a regular training run just to see what it feels like. It may seem a little odd to be taking shorter strides but it should be less impactful.
As with most things in life, the majority of people don't operate in the extremes, so as few people will run completely barefoot as will use motion control shoes. Having said that, barefoot running has definitely had an influence on mainstream shoes. For example, the maximum heel-to-toe drop on any Saucony shoe is now 8mm(compared to around 12mm previously) and most running shoes are noticeably lighter and more flexible than they were a few years ago. These changes are helping people to run in a more natural style without consciously trying. It's not about being up on your toes like a sprinter. Its more about landing in a flatter position, closer to your centre of gravity.
In conclusion, I would say that if you've been enjoying running for years in conventional, supportive shoes without problems, then why change? If you're going to heel strike on hard surfaces then have some cushioning! However, if you've had running-related injuries (and most regular runners have at some point) or you're aspiring to run more efficiently, either to run faster or further (or maybe just to have more fun), then try a more natural style of running. As has always been the case, it's about trying to match the shoes you wear with the way you run or are aspiring to run.