Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any companies/products mentioned in this post. All opinions expressed are my own.
Switching to minimal running shoes not only reignited my love for running but made me a more mindful runner in the process.
By the time this post gets published I'll have been running consistently for around a year; my first run being around the beginning of the Pandemic last year as a sort of release from the repetition of working from home. I didn't choose running due to any kind of preference; more simply that it offered a chance to get outdoors with the fitness benefits being considered an afterthought.
I've already discussed my early journey into running in a previous post where it became clear very quickly that running was a habit that was going to stick around. Whether it was time for a break from work, needing time to mull over ideas, or just seeing if I could go that little bit further today, running became a mainstay in my life in the weeks and months that followed.
However around the 6 month mark I noticed that my general performance had started to wain. I wasn't able to comfortably run as far as I had previously and I found that recovery periods were taking much longer than usual. I had initially chalked this up to over-training and took some time out to let things recover. Following this however, I found I was still encountering issues in subsequent runs so started looking for other options; I ran less frequently, more frequently, further, shorter, trying whatever I could to figure out where I was going wrong.
Beginning to realise I was running (pun intended) out of options, I decided to try more experimental approaches and started looking into minimal running. Outright barefoot running didn't seem like the right fit for me so I started looking at minimal running shoes: shoes specifically designed to get as close as possible to the sensation of running barefoot. Although I don't have any kind of fitness/health background, there are various scientific studies that point towards minimal/barefoot running positively encouraging proper running form. With little other options available to me, I decided it would be worth a shot.
Following some shopping around and research, I ultimately settled on the Vivobarefoot Primus Lite 2[^1] having seen various reviews point towards them as being the best place to start. I ordered them and a few days later they arrived. I got to work.
[^1]: I believe in the time since I bought them that this model may have been superseded.
So after 3 months and about 160Km, how does minimal running stack up? Did switching to minimal shoes help put me back on the right track with running?
Absolutely. Within days I was starting to see my distance climb again and without any of the aches or discomfort I'd experienced previously. After a few weeks I'd found I was actually able to run for longer in the minimal shoes than I ever had with my old cushioned ones.
I have to say I'm really surprised with just how seamless the transition has been. Several sources I'd read beforehand had stated that switching to minimal running would require me to basically start from scratch - to relearn how to run. In my experience however I found that I could basically switch overnight.
The only minor wobble I found was getting used to the feeling of minimal running. To go from my previous running shoes which had so much padding you could have used them as a pillow, to a pair so thin that you can literally roll them into a ball[^2], was among the strongest of my concerns. It wasn't hard to imagine the thinness of the shoes causing issues running over less desirable terrain such as stray pieces of glass or stones etc. that might be encountered when out.
[^2]: That's an actual selling point!
In reality, with minimal shoes you are definitely more aware of the environment. You can feel every groove of the pavement, every subtle dip and curve of the trail. Despite this, even on the aforementioned more rugged terrain, I haven't had any issues. Stones, rocks, gravel etc all pass underfoot without a hitch.
Of course there's more to minimal running than simply that tactile feeling of each step, there's also benefit to be found in minimal shoes improving your form. Any sort of poor practice, such as heel striking or off-axis foot placement, is amplified as you don't have any cushioning to absorb your mistakes. Instead, minimal shoes promote a more adaptive running style by bringing issues to your attention far faster and allowing you to correct on the fly. Ultimately this helps you improve your form faster and leads to a more natural and comfortable running style.
So after an extended testing period I have to say I'm surprised with not only how seamless the transition has been to minimal running shoes but also how surprisingly comfortable it has been. Going forward I'll almost certainly be using minimal shoes for all my running as the improvements have been as clear as night and day.