On Running Injuries and Finding The Perfect Shoe

By Crista Tappan - May 09, 2012

Undeniably, one the biggest things that runner's always discuss and argue about is shoes. Recently, the minimalist movement, thanks to individuals like Barefoot Ted and Christopher McDougall, the big brand shoe companies have started their own lines of barefoot-style shoes. Vibram, a company which originally designed the Five Fingers for sailors and surfers, was contacted by Barefoot Ted. He had ran the Boston Marathon in a pair of their five fingers and argued that human beings have perfect form-- so why wear shoes? Because he completed the huge feat without major injuries, many people jumped on the minimalist bandwagon.

This is a photo of one of the original Five-Finger designs by Vibram. 

Including Vibram, who within five years time would sell their patent to over six different shoe companies (Including Merrell and New Balance, to name a few). Funny thing is, they only sold the sole patent, which means there are countless running shoes being sold currently with the top half made by the shoe company and the soles made by Vibram. Those who did not purchase the Vibram sole-patent (I'm looking at YOU, Nike) tried to follow the minimalist movement on their own accord. Nike developed the Nike-Free, a relatively mid-range running shoe that is a cross between the standard running shoe and a minimalist one.

In all of this excitement over a "new style" of running, many VERY important pieces of information were overlooked. I'm going to go over a few things that I have learned the hard way. Many people looked at Barefoot Ted completing the Boston Marathon in Vibrams to be the ultimate show of why human beings don't need to wear shoes. What went completely unnoticed by the majority of the population (AND shoe companies) was the fact that Barefoot Ted had been running barefoot for over twenty years prior to running in the Vibrams during that race. Although on his personal website and in his books he discusses running barefoot to be more like "orchard growing-- slow and gradual over a number of years", nobody was listening to the important bits of information.

They wanted to be faster, they wanted to be trendy, they wanted better form, and I WAS ONE OF THEM.

Last year, I jumped on the Nike-Free consumer bandwagon. It was recommended to many runners as being a great transitional shoe.

I, of course, am hardly one to listen to others when they are giving me advice I don't want to take. I have to admit I did hear a few different times that you should gradually transition into new shoes (this goes for any pair of new shoes, minimalist or not). The point was that your muscle groups must develop enough to support your body. Over the years, wearing nice and cushioned shoes have atrophied our muscles to the point of (almost) no return. Because of this, jumping right into a pair of minimalist shoes with underdeveloped muscles is WORSE than whatever you were doing before.

How do I know this? Because I made the Mistake Number 1: Not allowing my feet/legs/body transition slowly to running in a lesser protected and more injury prone style of shoes.

The confusing part about minimalist shoes is the constant claim that they prevent injury, perfect your style, and are the ultimate, end-all, best thing ever.

This is NOT TRUE.

If you are overweight, it's already hard enough on your joints and body to handle the shock of running. The LAST THING you want to do in this state is allow your sloppy running style to destroy your feet.

When I first started running in the Nike Free's, I took nobodies advice. I not only logged twice the amount of miles I had previously been running from one week to the next (come on...new shoes are exciting!), but I also ran much harder and faster.

....It took me about a week to injure myself. I had pains in the arches of my feet, my knee's burned whenever I walked down stairs, and my hips felt like they wanted to go out. I was 22 at the time and felt like a crippled old woman.

The last thing a new runner needs is an injury to de-motivate them and convince them that "running is bad for you!"

But, of course, I didn't want to admit the injuries were a result of the shoes. So instead I blamed my increase in mileage instead.

Two months later, I purchased a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves. These trail shoes are designed with the Vibram sole and glove-like fit. The idea for this is, if you weren't down with the Five-Fingers (and wanted more of a traditional "shoe" fit with the Vibram sole advantage) this would be the next best thing.

So cute, right?! ....Once again, I didn't listen to advice from others OR experience from previous shoe injuries (how ignorant can you get?!). It took me another week or so to get injured in these guys. This time, I completely blamed the shoe. I developed a stress fracture on the top of my right foot which put me out for three weeks. I threw the shoes into the corner of my room and never looked back.

By this point, I had been running (carefully) in my Nike Free's. Little did I know, my muscle groups were slowly developing to the Nike Free's. Asking them to jump to the Merrell's while I was still adjusting to the Free's was a silly thing to do. But I didn't think about it. I just did it.

I spent the entire year running carefully and fearfully in both the Nike Free's and Merrell Pace Gloves (Which I forgave immediately after my foot healed). I did not see improvements in my running style whatsoever. I did not see improvements in my speed. All I felt like was I had smaller looking feet because the shoes were like gloves.

The biggest change that I have done for myself in running has been to lose weight and focus on my form. Those two factors are the biggest that come into play while deciding if wearing minimalist shoes is right for you.

If you have perfect form and are at a healthy weight for your body type, Merrells should work seamlessly for you.

When I finally reached my goal weight, I noticed my body start to develop a better running form. It was then that I felt like I was able to reach longer distances more consistently without a pain in my knees or developing another stress fracture in my foot.

It had literally taken me a year to transition (as a non-runner) from normal running shoes to the Nike Free's (a cross between standard and minimalist running shoes). It took another year for me to transition to wearing my Merrell's. I still have to be CONSTANTLY vigilant over my running form. If I get lazy or sloppy with my running style, I can almost guarantee myself aches and pains. There is nothing worse than bad running form in a pair of minimalist shoes.

All this being said, one of the most important things to be mindful of is enjoying yourself while you run. One of my favorite runners of all time, Micah True (AKA Caballo Blanco) once said that it doesn't matter what type of running shoe you have. It's all about form and enjoying yourself. Being in the moment, adjusting your body to the terrain and being mindful of your steps.

My advice is: be cautious while transitioning to any type of shoe. I recently purchased a pair of New Balance Minimus Zero-Drops. My first goal is to NOT GET INJURED while breaking in this pair. Although my body has transitioned to the minimalist style of running, that does not mean didley squat when considering all shoes are designed differently and may evoke different muscle groups.

Whether you decide to wear traditional shoes or minimalist, just remember to enjoy yourself. The point of running is for the joy of it. If not, why run in the first place? That being said, a new pair of shoes can definitely be the motivation that many need to get out running. Either way, get out there and have fun!

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