Earlier this year, I started and quickly finished the book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, which could be considered a bible for the barefoot/minimalist movement. I honestly had never heard of the book until Kristin Armstrong mentioned it to me after she visited Troy for my church’s lecture series last fall. Even if you don’t buy into the arguments put forth by the minimalists, the story of the Tarahumara Indians as told by McDougall was entertaining and captivating. It should be on every runner’s reading list.
Admittedly I have not read a lot of research on both sides of the debate, but I immediately sided with the minimalist point of view. In my mind, the Tarahumara Indians were great example of how we don’t need all the technology and cushioning that have dominated running shoes in the past several decades. After attending a Good Form Running clinic, I started to plan my strategy for transitioning to a more minimalist shoe. While still in my Saucony Progrid Omni 9’s, which have been my shoe of choice for the past couple of years, I shortened my stride and started to concentrate on turning over my feet more quickly. At just under 6 feet tall and 190 pounds, I did not expect nor did I desire to run a marathon in Vibrams, but my goal was to run more efficiently and a lighter shoe would help me achieve that goal. In late March, I purchased what I considered a transitional shoe, the Brooks Ravenna 2. Two weeks later, I bought a pair of Saucony Progrid Mirage, to use for speed work once spring rolled around.
My first few runs in the Ravenna’s felt great. I could tell they were lighter than my Saucony’s, and the shoe’s design seemed to force me to land more on my midfoot. Perfect! However, with a little over a month to go in our training for the Flying Pig half marathon, I started to experience pain in the front of my left ankle while running, which later turned into pain and burning in my shin. As stubborn as I am, I tried to ignore it and continued training. In retrospect, this was a bad choice, and during our last long run before the half, I could only finish 11 of the planned 12 miles for the group. Two weeks prior to the half, I shut it down and stopped running.
Fortunately my realization didn’t come too late, and I was able to run the half marathon in Cincinnati on May 1st, after a lot of ice and several ultrasound sessions on my shin, including the night before the race. Although I don’t know for sure if my change of shoes, or changing my stride, contributed to or was the direct cause of my injury, I was probably too quick to jump on the minimalist bandwagon. Recently, while in New York City for a meeting, I visited with a couple of friends while they were working at JackRabbit Sports, and I was able to have my gait analyzed. After being videotaped running in a minimal shoe, my current Ravenna’s, and a pair of Saucony Progrid Omni’s, the conclusion was that I should go back to my Omni’s. I plan to do shorter speed work training in my Ravenna’s. (Due to the quick onset of my injury, I still have not run in the Progrid Mirage shoes.)
I will continue to recommend reading Born to Run because it is really a great book. But as Jess at Fit Chick in the City writes, every runner is different so don’t change shoes or your form just for the sake of doing so. Do your research, have your gait videotaped and ask yourself if you really need to change your shoes and/or stride.