Shoes and Minimalism

This is my story about shoes.

My approach to shoes has always been indicative of my approach to running. In the past that meant that the shoe didn’t really matter; all I wanted to do was run in the mountains. But as I became more proficient in mountain running, and more aware of the mountain running scene (i.e., I read Born to Run), I began to learn about the different types of running shoes and the trends among runners. I happened to enter the sport at the beginning of the minimalist frenzy, and from the beginning I regarded it with skepticism. I was aware of how certain runners were known for cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running extremely long distances, and I heard about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico running ultras in sandals, and I saw in those stories the same romanticism I saw in Born to Run. The public loves the idyllic stories about dedicated athletes just getting by and doing what they love: the crazy party girl who can still win 100-mile races; the dirtbag runners hitchhiking around the country setting records; the forgotten sandal-wearing distance-runner Indians living much the same as their ancestors in a mysterious mountain range. These images are romantic, but are they the truth? I didn’t think so. It seemed like too pretty a picture to be true.

Because of that I was prone to take more stuff on runs, rather than less. I figured the tried-and-true methods of the past were more difficult and less sexy, so they must be the right way. That’s how the adult world works, I was learning: if something is time-consuming, difficult and slow to show progress, it must be correct. Thus, I turned away from the example of the other young guys going too far on too little, thinking it shortsighted, and began going on runs with a backpack filled with things like sandwiches, space blankets, iodine tablets, a compass, a bivy sack, books, etc. To put it another way, I overcompensated to the extreme.

Over time, my views changed almost subconsciously. The more I ran, the more I understood what I did and did not need. The greater experience I gained, the better I grasped the fundamental principles behind long-distance mountain running. Namely, that by running we forgo traditional comforts and safety nets in lieu of confidence in our ability to return safely because we can move quickly. I gradually learned that I shouldn’t be taking a bivy sack on a mountain run; instead, I should be running only where I am good enough not to need a bivy sack. Barring disaster, I should be able to get myself out of bad situations by virtue of my ability to move quickly, rather than having to rely on artificial protection that hinders my speed, or I shouldn’t go to those places at all. With this knowledge I began to leave out items from my pack until after a while I no longer needed a pack. With adequate preparation and understanding of the terrain, summer mountain running in Colorado can be done safely and comfortably with a water bottle, several gels and/or bars, and a jacket. With enough experience, more than that seems unnecessary.

That said, shoes may be a different matter. I have learned to reconcile my skepticism of Born to Run in the following way: it is a book designed to entertain first, and give information second. The book is absolutely right that many trail running shoes of the past were astoundingly overbuilt, however, I have yet to see anybody win a competitive trail ultra while running barefoot, or wearing sandals, or FiveFingers, or some other iteration of the barefoot scene. While barefoot running is totally valid as a way to be strong and healthy, the science seems to indicate that the vast majority of people need some underfoot protection when running long distances. As for the young guys who were cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running super long distances, I can think of two in particular, one of whom races infrequently, at best, due to injuries and the other is now a farmer and hasn’t raced in years. Perhaps those are exceptional cases not to be considered in the overall pool, but their testimony seems compelling to me, so I have included it. Draw your own conclusions.

I drew my conclusions, and decided that minimalism is a very good thing to a certain point, beyond which the risks become too high. I started searching for lighter shoes, realizing that the extra weight in my old shoes was largely unnecessary. With lighter shoes I was a more precise runner, taking more care of each step, and this allowed me to become a better runner because I was more efficient. But lightness is not the only factor that matters – durability is crucial, as well. Especially in the mountains far from backup, shoes have to be able to withstand uneven, wet, loose and rocky terrain for hours at a time, or else the person wearing the shoes will be a sad sack, indeed. That’s why many road running shoes don’t work for mountain running – they lack the durability to survive the mountains for more than a few runs. I found that Montrail’s Rogue Racers worked particularly well for me, and I have worn many pairs since first trying them in 2010. Although they are by no means a barefoot running shoe, they are much lighter than I would have chosen just a few years ago. Despite my skepticism of the minimal movement, I gradually began to see its merit.

What Born to Run did for ultrarunning has been extremely positive. It put the sport into the mainstream consciousness and did a lot to show the public that ultrarunners aren’t crazy after all. Furthermore, the effect it has had on the shoe industry has been profound. Every company I know about is focusing on lightweight, low-drop shoes that provide protection without being heavy or bulky. Rather than the hiking boots that trail running shoes used to be, they now seem to take their inspiration from road running shoes, just adding more support and grip. Obviously those are generalizations, but nobody can deny that the trail running world has been consumed by the concept of minimalism, and nobody has remained untouched.

This is a good thing, because despite the fear-mongering about shoe companies conspiring to hurt their customers in order to get them to buy more shoes, designers have begun to focus on the natural structure of the foot and how that plays into the individual movements involved in running. Runners aren’t just looking for padding to protect us from rocks; we’re looking for a tool that will allow us to connect with the environments through which we run. Muddy trails need big lugs, rocky trails need sticky rubber, loose trails need stiffness and smooth trails need very little of anything. The trail shoes on the market today are designed to maximize the experience of trail running, rather than the trail shoes of the past, which were designed to minimize the damage done by the trails. It’s a subtle shift, but a profound one nonetheless.

This brings me to the latest stage in my evolution of running shoes. First, I wore whatever they gave me, but as I became better at running I began to seek out lighter shoes that wouldn’t fall apart. Now, I am interested in specificity to a degree I have not needed in the past. No longer am I interested in just running; I want to be climbing and adventuring, too. Normal shoes can only do so much. To truly move to the next level of mountain running, specific shoes are required.

 

That’s why I have recently tried out Salomon’s Fellcross and La Sportiva’s Anakonda. They are both suited to specific terrain that eludes the range of most other shoes. The Fellcross is designed for mud in places like the UK (“Fellcross” being derived from “fell running”), but also works very well for places like the San Juans which feature steep grass, loose scree- and boulder-fields, and snow of all consistencies. The Anakonda’s value comes in the vertical world. They have sticky rubber, which means they are good for rock climbing. Those interested in the progression of mountain running will know that one major direction of the sport is into steep and technical mountains. And the Anakondas are suited to the task.

For most runs I still stick to my trusty Montrails (and this is a secret, but I trust you – Montrail and I are working on some pretty cool products along this idea of specificity right now). When the terrain requires something more specific, I like to test the value of specific shoes. The sport today is becoming so popular that companies can afford to invest in new technologies that will make shoes more minimal without sacrificing quality. That is the real benefit of the minimalist trend: it is placing the industry’s focus on creating high-performance tools for athletes, which will allow more people the opportunity to be their best. I wouldn’t pretend to know the best way to be a mountain runner, because for everybody it is different. The above is what I have learned from my experiences running long distances, and it is helping me move into the future more prepared to achieve my goals. I know I will continue to change my opinions on these matters as I learn and grow, but that’s the best part – it’s always a learning process, and nobody has the right answer. We’re all just doing our best to be our best. Besides experience, the best way to learn is from others.

So I ask all of you reading this:

  • How do you choose shoes, and why?
  • What makes you like certain things and dislike others?
  • What would you like to see in running shoes?
  • What would your perfect shoe look like?

The interplay of opinions is a powerful force. Tell us what you think. People might take notice.

There are 219 comments

      1. Trygve

        Indeed she did. Abebe Bikila also won the olympic marathon barefoot in 1960. Yes, it's a long time ago, but you can't argue with the competition in an olympic marathon.

        1. Warren

          Her name sprang to mind too but so too did Jones' choice of words. "…win a competitive trail ultra." Whether that was deliberate, who knows.

          I chose my shoes after a lot of online research, testimony etc. At the moment, Innov8 have worked out well for me so I'm sticking with them for the time being.

          Durability is something I'd look out for.

  1. olga

    Them were 2 examples yes:)

    I choose lightweight, not minimalist. Light, flexible, yet with rockplate. Wider toebox, good grip, narrow around ankle to protect from debris, good draining. If Crosslights ever made wider forefoot, it'd be golden.

    1. dogrunner

      That is about a perfect description of the "ideal" shoe. Of course, ideal seems to be different for everybody. But light (< 8 oz), flexible, not too much cushion but some underfoot protection, sole with lugs enough for good traction, low drop (preferably 0 drop for me, but no more than 4 mm), wide toebox, snug-fitting heel. Turns out to be a difficult combination to find! Especially the light and wide-tox box part.

  2. Dave T.

    Yeah I can think of two examples (Muir and the "sandal-wearing distance-runner Indians"), but only two examples and you can't make the exception the rule. Therefore your general point stands. A little something underfoot helps during an ultra, especially a mountain ultra.

  3. Sniffer

    First please design a montrail shoes that doesn't get shredded in three months.

    I love my pure grits for shorter runs and bondi b's for the longer ones. Seeing low drop with padding is where its at for me.

  4. Charlie M.

    Ran my first marathon in high-top basketball shoes, back in 1997. Perfect Zero-Drop platform, but toe-box was a bit narrow :)

    The Born to Run thing shouldn't be bashed too much, it's helped alot of people strengthen their footsies (and probably sent an equal number to the hospital).

    Montrail climbing/adventuring/running hybrid shoe? Will it be called the Montrail Dakota? Don't forget to sign the inside of the shoe and include a map of your favorite climbing route…

  5. Andrew

    Agree 100%.

    Full on Minimalism is for hippies and those who mince along mid / back of pack.

    Light and low is the way forward.

    Personal favourites: NB 110 (but not for longer than 40km), NB 1010 (but don't last long) and even road racing flats have great feel for technical stuff when it's dry.

    1. Kim Neill

      …Mince along at mid/back of pack? Excuse me…? There are mid/back of packers who have perfectly great running mechanics, have run ultras for years and perhaps are older and slower than we once were. So please have respect for your elders or those who are not as fast. Thank you.

    2. Nate B

      check out the anakonda dakota mentioned, i was running in mt110s last season and jumped into some anakondas this year, they have a similar feel all around but handle rocky descents far better.

  6. Brandon

    I really think that the package NB came out with for the MT 1010 (Minimus Amp) is the quite possibly the best ultra shoe. It weighs less than 8 ounces, has 4 mm drop, plenty of foam underfoot, and a rock plate, all while remaining flexible, resposive, and grippy. Too bad that they would fall apart after 150 miles. Hopefully that has been fixed in the update.

    Here are the most important factors in shoe buying for me in order:

    1. lighweight (under 8 ounces)

    2. breathable

    3. 3-6mm drop

    4. protection

    1. patrick t.

      I completely agree with you. Easily the best mountain running shoes I've tried, but mine were DESTROYED after only a few runs…the little pods on the sole just completely sheared away. I was pretty disappointed with the durability…but, man, those couple of runs were so good it was almost worth it. I hope the update addresses this problem!

  7. Tatiana

    Love Inov-8 X-talons… Could give many reasons… but, the truth is that they are really comfortable and I feel sure on the trails

    1. dogrunner

      I'm going to sound like a broken record on this thread (remember those :) ), but while I love the X-talon 190 in most ways, I wish they had a wider toebox. They are toe squeezers for me, even with sizing up and the softish upper fabric.

  8. mylesmyles

    For me the choice comes down to a few simple factors, one of which I am surprised more people don't need. I like a shoe that is under 10oz, has a 4-8 mm drop and what I REALLY look for is a firm toe bumper. Maybe I have lazy feet, but stubbed toes kill me. The shoes I've found that fit that thus far are:

    PI Peak 2

    PI Streak 2

    Saucony Peregrine 3

    TNF Hyper Track

    Maybe it's the rooty rockyness of the eat coast, but those seem to be working for me at the moment.

    1. art

      doesn't the PI Peak 2 claim to have a 10-11 mm drop ?

      in any case, I like it too, about as minimal as I'm willing to go.

      and yes, that firm toe bumper is a major selling point.

  9. David

    How does everyone find shoes they like? No running stores near me carry a good selection of trail shoes. Does everyone do a lot of online purchasing and returning?

    I've been stuck in Cascadias for years and I am coming to realize that I just don't like them.

    1. James D

      I have the same problem here in south Texas. My wife and I typically order 3-4 different shoes from runningwarehouse.com and return whatever doesn't suit us. Their return policy is quite liberal. I'd rather support the local stores (and do so when possible) but there are many models/brands that these stores will not/can not carry.

      1. Ryan G.

        Check out Running Warehouse. Have a great return policy and free 2 day shipping. Can purchase a pair, run in them, and if they don't work out return them for something else within 30 days.

    2. Nate B

      check out backcountry.com! we have a huge selection of trail shoes/gear and an unlimited lifetime return policy. try them out, if they suck, don't fit, whatever, just ship them back for a refund.

  10. Mark

    I run in both minimal and semi-cushioned shoes like the green silence and sketchers GoRunRide. While I feel faster in minimal shoes the truth is that I'm quite significantly slower on the watch… maybe not the case for everyone but certainly for me.

    Another argument that says minimal running will improve general posture and lower leg strength are things I agree with in principle but in practice I only run for an hour each day, maybe 7% of my waking day.

    Considering I walk around all day on flat canvas shoes I prefer to protect my feet that bit more and allow myself to go faster for the short amount of time that I am running. Would love to try some of the Altra's but hard to get hold of here in the UK!

    On another note, can't wait to Transvulcania – pity you're not there Dakota but still crazy level of competition.

  11. David Sutherland

    I find my form and agility are improved if I train in minimalist shoes (Trail Gloves, huaraches). I do believe such shoes will improve foot and ankle strength, so long as you're careful and don't break a metatarsal in the process!

    Come race day, though, I want something with some cushioning and a rock plate (Inov-8 TrailRoc, Merrell MixMaster). Every rock on a CO trail appears to be tilted at a 45 degree angle in order to maximize pointiness (who's brilliant decision was it to install the rocks that way anyway?), so a more protective shoe is a must if you want to move at maximum speed.

  12. Lstomsl

    It may not qualify as a major ultra but Pat Sweeney won the 50k at Born to Run last year in Luna's

    Also, people who are fast enough to be competitive generally are sponsored by shoe companies to support their habits and thus there is some bias in the idea that minimalists don't win. In fact minimalists have won and broke course records in the past. It may not happen often but it's a fairly recent phenomenon so I'd say the jury is still out.

    Finally, I think the whole point of Born to Run was about form, not shoes. Running barefoot forces one to run with proper form, but you can run with good form in Hokas as well. I'd say focus on form (and minimalist shoes will help with that) and then wear whatever is comfortable for you.

  13. Daniel

    Road, XC and Track runner here, (I'd love to be up in the mountains of CO but I'm a high-schooler living in the city so other than ravines and short city trails I don't have a lot of options). For road running I'm a big fan of the Brooks PureConnect, 4mm drop and wide-ish toe box for natural form, lightweight at 7oz, super flexible and with plenty of cushioning for the road (Bio-Mogo midsole oh my god it's like running on a cloud). It's basically the perfect shoe for me, the only issue is durability, I may have to switch to the Kinvara once I wear through the Connects just so I can get more mileage out of my shoes. That's my main gripe with more minimal shoes in general, not just road shoes, you end up having to make a trade between more outsole rubber and durability but more weight, or a lightweight shoe (8oz or less IMO) but with less rubber and durability.

  14. bmj

    I've been switching between a pair of Mizuno Wave Ascends and Brooks Pure Grits. I absolutely love the Pure Grits, but I haven't built up the leg strength yet to wear them for more than 14 or so miles. I'm curious to try out the new, lower profile Montrails.

  15. Astroyam

    For your shoe name, how about DJ Ez Rock??

    Personally, any shoe with more cushioning or drop than the Inov8

    X Talon 190 and my shins and IT band tweak. This does mean I have to run a bit slower

    On downhills, but adding a 3 mm Spenco pad helps that and doesnt

    Affect the feel or drop any. I've tried even slightly beefier shoes but invariably they come with reduced stability which in turn flares my shins. Different strokes for different folks.

  16. Ryan G.

    Great column Dakota!

    My go to trail shoe is the Inov 8 Trail Roc 245. They offer a few different versions for an even lighter more minimalist ride, but I like a little protection underfoot.

  17. Ben Clark

    I split time between Telluride, Co. and Grand Junction. I run/train in the mountains, desert, road and Ultras from 50K to 135M-this is my quiver.

    Trail distance: Salomon Sense Ultra, Sense Mantra.

    Short trail-Brooks Pure Grit 2

    San Juan fell running-La Sportiva X Country

    Road: Saucony Kinvara for long distance, Nike Lunaracer +2 for speedwork, short/mid distance

    All are low profile and lighter than 10oz. I look for protection for the feet and traction for trails and then cushion for the asphalt. These shoes can all run in the snow as well :-)

  18. arno kroner

    I train in virbrams because it feels good. When I did my first ultra (North Face Endurance Challenge) I did it in vibrams five fingers… it was great except that I stubbed my toes all the time. Then I bought a pair of NB minimus for races (50mi. 100k. 100mi). It's been great. This year i'm doing UTMB so I bought a sturdier, yet light, pair: the Salomon Sense Ultra. taking them for their first spin on trails today. There are no rules for shoes (or for nutrition, or training) – In my opinion it's for the athlete to tune their own formula.

  19. Andrew J.

    If only the Speedcross 3s had more forefoot protection for rock strikes, it'd be the perfect shoe.

    Also, does the Fellcross' performance justify the $45 premium over the Speedcross 3? Maybe, but that's a hefty price to pay, especially when these shoes only last a season if you're using them right.

  20. Hypatia

    Dakota Jones' "I have yet to see anybody win competitive…" echoes Ryan Hall's interview and perhaps many other runners. But why must barefoot/minimalist running be validated by whether there is a barefoot/minimalist runner winning competitive running event?

    Shoes or no shoes, racing is a different game/mindset. People still get hurt wearing shoes…it's the nature of racing. You pushed your body/legs/feet past their normal everyday use.

    In the context of racing, yes I can see a compelling argument for shoes in a race. While Dakota may have reconciled his skepticism, the "I have yet seen…" argument puts skepticism on something that should not even be doubted: people can run barefoot…nobody ever claims you will for sure win, not like those shoes commercials that say you can run faster, walk on the cloud etc. :-)

  21. swimmons

    I started running 5 years ago on trails and until this year ran only in low drop shoes. I'd always suffered from soleus issues. This year went to 9mm drop to change it up and soleus problems went away. PT says my ankle flex is way more than normal which may be a factor, who knows, but wanted to put this out in case others are out there with similar issues.

  22. Tim Lambert

    I have recently been using the sense ultra and they are everything you describe in the article. Light, yet sturdy and with good protection and heel comfort.

    TNF single tracks are my second shoe choice, but are heavier and dont drain as easily on wet days.

    I think key is durability, lightness, strength, grip and drainability.

    I dont care what a shoe looks like, just what it offers.

  23. Feeeet

    Low to the ground is my main priority for long races as this will lessen the chances for ankle rolls on uneven or rocky terrain. Traction comes in second as I've learned that a shoe close to a moccasin in form can displace mud rather than try to tract through it.

  24. Nate B

    glad you like the anakonda. i'm just waiting for the trails here in the wasatch to start melting out so i can really give them a test. "unfortunately" (i am a skier too) we just hit peak snowpack levels, so it may be awhile.

  25. Noved

    I understand that some people have the ability to run really far, and fast in shoes that are next to nothing. What I don't understand is why you'd want to do that to yourself over a really long haul. I mean, a little cushioning can go a long way in terms of speed, recovery, and ultimately, longevity.

    1. Lstomsl

      The padding and suspension is in your foot. It's what it is perfectly designed for. Why would you want to carry around a lot of unnecessary weight and "padding" that doesn't work?

  26. Jeremy

    I think this is being looked at in the wrong way. If your activity requires a shoe that isn't minimal, maybe it is the wrong activity to be doing. Maybe B2R did us a dis-service when people started thinking ultra-running isn't that crazy. Because we all know that ultra-runners are actually crazy.

  27. rms

    I will put forward a negative example to show what I look for: The Montrail Bajada. This shoe has a long list of bad design traits:

    1) The upper. An ungusseted tongue, with gaps I could stick a pinkie into, that had me taking them off every 5 miles to dump out the gravel, and that's with gaiters (I'm told they fixed this in a later revision).

    2) A steep inclined plane from front to rear. Squishy and unstable in the heel, tapering to almost nothing under the forefoot, so your foot slides forward into the pointed non-footshaped toe-box while your metatarsals receive a nice pummelling.

    3) The outsole. Compounding the lack of midsole cushioning under the forefoot, cutouts in the gryptonite leave pretty much nothing but the rockplate between your metatarsals and the ground. Poking with a finger reveals about 1/8" material between forefoot and pointy rocks right in the middle of the fore/midfoot landing zone. It doesn't stop there, alas, as these cutouts in the middle of the forefoot also cause the entire sole to sag inward from the edges, giving a feeling of lack of arch support under the metatarsals that compresses the foot bones and soon becomes excruciating. Truly a head-shaking design.

    So there you have it: Worst trail shoe ever, that I hope Montrail learns from :)

    rms

  28. jacob

    Shoe choice for me reflects the purpose of the run.

    For recovery/easy runs I wear whatever feels comfortable. that could mean anything from 5oz XC flats to 12oz Cascadias. These runs are not about performance.

    For quality/workout runs I try to wear lighter more minimal shoes for foot and lower leg strengthing.

    For long runs I am either testing a shoe for an upcoming ultra, or, if there is no immediate race, wearing something that I have worn for long runs or races in the past so I know it works.

    For racing, a midweight shoe in the 8-10oz range seems to be the best compromise for me between protection and handling. Heavier than that and I find myself losing precision and feeling a little clumsy. Lighter than that and I find myself slowing down to avoid rocks and experiencing more lower leg fatigue.

    And the specifics of the terrain also influences my shoe choice within a given category: smooth trails vs rocky single track vs snow vs forest service roads etc.

  29. Willy

    Thanks for yet another well written article! I'm quite the minimalist fan, but have to admit people can run really well in a lot of different shoes thick (hokas), thin(vibrams) and everywhere in between! I appreciate your balanced view, and wish you luck in your races to come.

  30. dogrunner

    The ideal shoe:

    Combine the

    traction of Inov-8 X-talon 190,

    Toebox of the Altra Superior or Skechers GoBionic (yes, I said Skechers,

    Heel, stack height, flexibility and underfoot protection of the Salomon Sense Ultra

    Weight of the Mizuno Wave Universe 5,

    durability of… hmmm (I'll have to think about this).

    I have tried a lot of shoes. None are perfect. Some are good enough. Some are nothing but trouble.

  31. Rob M.

    Choosing shoes is unfortunately very specific for me. Unfortunate because of the damage I did trying to acquire the perfect form I read about in Born to Run. Primarily I choose based on arch support and weight. With inserts I can wear almost any shoe except the minimalist styles. The more ground feel allowed by a shoe equals more pain in my case due to the giant bump that formed between cuneiform and metatarsal head bones of my right foot.

    One shoe design issue I constantly deal with is the back dropping away from my heel. I have tried lock lacing and adjusting my step so neither foot is flipping to mitigate the rubbing. Some designs like Salomon's Speedcross is one that meets almost every design requirement for fit…except the to box is too narrow and will go numb after 7 miles.

    Altra's design for the toe box is fantastic and I would love to see other companies follow the design. Like the Speedcross it meets nearly all my foot requirements except arch support. Due to their unique design, no full arch inserts will fig correctly inside and after just a few miles the pain is unbearable.

    Designing my perfect shoe would naturally incorporate the lacking parts of the Altra Superior and Salomon Speedcross. Big lugs for the steep trails, wider and more natural toe box, minimal drop from heel to toe and a higher heel. Hell, I'd invest in the company that produced that design!

  32. Rudy

    I'm super curious if anybody has had problems with simply the way they run and minimal shoes, in the sense of pronation. I'm by no means a leader of the race in competitive ultras, but I'm usually in the front portion of the race. I LOVE minimal shoes (NB 110), but because I mildly overpronate I can't wear my 110s for more than three days in a row or else I'll get annoying ankle pain. I've accepted the fact that I'm not a perfect neutral runner; that doesn't make me a bad runner; I just wish there was some middle ground in the shoe scene. Hence me taking a big liking to the sense mantras, although I get similar ankle pain after 50k (and their breathability is pretty bad). For longer races and second runs on back to back weekends I go to the s-lab XT 5's, which I absolutely love. Their feel is great but still seem a little bulky after running in the mantras. Only if Solomon made the new s-lab XT's with an 8mm drop…I'm surprised there aren't any middle-ground shoes out there. Could we get some semi-stripped down, 6-8mm drop shoes with a little bit of pronation control? The vast majority of stability/semi-stability shoes have traditional drops and are tanks. Thoughts?

    1. T.S.

      I'm in more or less the same boat. Shoes like the Salomon XTs or (personal favorite) Montrail Mountain Masochists are great for rocky trails and major vertical but not so good for actually running down singletrack or dirt roads. I run a fair amount in the Montrail Rogue Racers because they have the right idea when it comes to the midsole, but the upper is way too flimsy for its own good and the outsole is not good in mud/snow or rocky terrain. Personally, I'd love to see a shoe with an upper that fits like the NB 110, a midsole like what's in the Rogue Racers, and an XT outsole. But I'd be really psyched to see some more specific shoes from Montrail–e.g. a Mtn Masochist with a full-rubber sole (that plastic cutout in the middle is frustrating) and deeper lugs for snow.

    2. Astroyam

      Rudy, This may surprise you , but I have found that ankles feel better with the thinner shoes, like the inov8 xtalon 190. I only start to pronate with more cusioned shoes, including the stability type shoes. This was validated on a treadmill in my case, and the sales folks were surprised to see that I didnt pronate at all in shoes wih 'no support'. In some way or other the x-talon 190s end up preventing pronation.

      1. Nick J

        A few pure barefoot sessions will strengthen the ankles and iron out any gait problems, then you can port that good form back over to your shoe wearing.

      2. dogrunner

        I had the same experience. Ran for years in stability shoes, had custom orthotics, the whole treatment, but still had chronic ITB problems and medial knee achiness. The PTs I went to all said I need to control overpronation, which was very evident when I ran. It all went away – the excessive foot movement, the ITB problems, the knee aches, as soon as I started using low drop shoes with little cushioning. I like some underfoot protection (not extreme minimalist shoes) but cushioned shoes or motion control / stability shoes cause nearly immediate knee pain and eventual ITB problems.

  33. Kris

    When interviewed on Ultrarunner Podcast, Christopher Mcdougall said that he thought many people misunderstood his point in Born to Run. It wasn't about tossing away the shoes — it was about running with good form, the natural form that is safest for our bodies. Minimalist shoes might provide runners with the means to train to do that more effectively, and overbuilt shoes might make it harder to develop the proprioception to know if you're on the right track, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.

  34. Edward S

    Sniffer, meet the Mountain Masochists–the damn things are nearly indestructible, albiet >10oz with a 10mm heel-drop, but still, indestructible. I've got a single pair with 4 100-mile races in them and over 950 miles overall (trying to sneak them over 1000 just because).

  35. Roger

    The ideal shoe would be a custom made one…..go to a running store, have your feet scanned, fill in some parameters (drop, lug pattern, mm of cushioning) and wait for the 3d printer to finish your shoe…….will we ever see this come true?

      1. Lstomsl

        It would be nice but I doubt we're that close to printing a functional shoe. Even a simple shoe is pretty complex needing different materials for sole, padding, support, uppers, etc. having all those materials durable and bonded together is non-trivial. But I bet custom made shoes are not that far down the road. This will just make things easier.

      1. Alex

        I don't know anything about skiing… but sure, why not? It's funny, I was talking with a computer engineer friend of mine at a coffee bar today about 3d printing. He mentioned that scientists had successfully printed human stem cells (http://www.gizmag.com/3d-printing-human-embyonic-stem-cell/26178/), which has all sorts of obvious and mind blowing implications. If we can manufacture basic human material, I see know reason why we couldn't produce a custom shoe.

  36. phil jeremy

    Personally I can only afford one pair of shoes at a time. They either work or they don't and I can't afford to keep replacing them. I know Cascadias always seem to get a bad rap but I find them really comfortable and I never get blisters etc but then I do weigh 190 pounds so maybe I need them.

  37. John K

    I'm about to run my first ultra – 50 road miles. It'll also be my first 50 in Luna sandals. I wear them because they are the most comfortable shoe for me. Mostly that's because they allow my feet to spread out properly. I can't see much difference between them and my NB Minimus MT10s though. As I tell my wife, the (Leadville) sandals are a bit thicker-soled than the shoes I have run marathons in. The only real difference is sandals have a toe strap only to keep them on, rather than an upper.

    Like I say, I wear them for long runs because they are comfortable — more comfortable than other shoes I've worn. They're what enables me to run distance at all.

    I can't say whether they'll work for 50 miles, but I'm going to find out :) Ruby Muir winning Tarawera in VFFs gives me hope (even though she's half my age and actually talented!)

    People should wear the shoes (or not) that work best for them. That's all.

  38. Chris Cawley

    I have tried to like flat shoes for years, and while I like how nimble shoes with low heel-toe drop feel when trails get interesting, I find that I'm putting in significant volume day after day, my feet/calves appreciate a little help from a raised heel.

    I think my perfect shoe would be a montrail rogue fly with a lower volume upper and firmer midsole foam: these things seem significantly deformed after a couple runs, and completely dead after 100 miles. I noticed the same thing with the original rogue racers, of which I had two pair.

    Another qualm I have with trail shoes in general that is especially apparent in rogue fly's is that the heel-toe drop happens in the wrong place. Shoes that have significant heel-toe drop–most road shoes, for instance–are built to assist runners in "toeing off," and they have their most pronounced sole profile change occurring in the ball-of-foot area; this has always seemed quite natural to me, as that is where your foot bends. On lots of trail shoes, however, the sole becomes lower profile right under the arch. This is likely to facilitate quick feet and ground feel in challenging terrain, but it makes lots of trail shoes, even light weight options, feel clunky to me.

    1. Chris Cawley

      also, I think the Salomon Sense series have the best uppers ive seen in trail shoes. A stripped down version of the speedcross series, which for me have been the most durable shoes I've worn.

      Now that I think of it, my ideal shoe would be a Sense mantra with the heel-toe drop of a speedcross three. That, or a lighter weight speedcross three.

  39. Cory Kohm

    backcountry.com is the place! great selection, fast shipping, and easy site to navigate/use. Just want to give a second thumbs up to support the site. I frequent it second most, after irunfar :)

  40. George

    Nice article, Dakota. I am also glad that the days of motion control vs. stability vs. neutral vs. trail (shoe categories that I never fully understood) are behind us. What do I want in a shoe? Something that is light, responsive, flexible, has some drop (4-10mm), and some cushioning. A wide toe box and dark colors are also personal preferences. But most importantly, since I don't have the luxury of logging all of my miles in the mountains, I need a shoe that can handle a variety of surfaces (road and trail) and distances. My favorite shoe to date is the NB 101, which I have raced track 5ks and trail 50-milers in. I agree with others that the updates to that shoe do not hold up as well over longer distances, and they are simply not comfortable on the road (even when I'm just running a couple of miles to the nearest trailhead). I understand that there are different shoes for different purposes, but if you can simplify things by designing a shoe that I can log most of my miles in, I'm ready to give it a try.

  41. Vanessa L

    I agree with Ryan. RunningWarehouse.com has free 2 day shipping, free return shipping, liberal return policy, no sales tax (unless you live in CA), and offers a 15% discount for running club members on top of their low prices. I purchased my La Sportiva Helios from them. They only have a 4mm drop, are very flexible, wide forefeet, narrower heel – I love them! http://runningblog.dallasnews.com/2013/03/la-spor

    1. Mark

      I can't see any critique of AK & KS in the article. Dakota writes about some well-known facts to illustrate his argument and put it into the context. Besides, overload your body for a long time, and you'll pay the price, i.e., get injured – this applies to any kind of activity.

  42. Spencer

    New Balances mt110's are my favorite shoes. I will wear them for practically everything. I used to really enjoy wearing merrel trail gloves, vivobarefoots, and just going barefoot, now I just really dig the mt110's.

  43. Noved

    I don't like a whole lot, but in my non-humbled opinion I'd rather carry an extra 2 ounces on each foot for a little less pain over long distances. Love the NB110 and the MT10, but can't do much more than 50k without totally destroying myself. The PI N1's are a little less than 10 oz. while the NB110 are less than 8. I'll carry those extra 4 for a little more confidence and security on harsh descents any day. For me, the padding "works". Though the legs and feet act as great suspension, I have mostly bones in my feet.

  44. Allisa L

    Great summary. I work for an outdoor/active retailer and I wish I could just give a copy of this out to anyone debating about minimalist shoe/gear selections. I usually caution people to resist the hype and wait until something has been on the market long enough to start to see long-term effects (not the typical sales technique but since my company sells little TRUE minimalist gear, it helps me build trust with a customer). Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example, as a consumer you don't buy a new drug that has just hit the market, you wait and see how it affects people over time. Same thing applies to minimalist footwear. I think we are starting to see the long-term effects (INJURY!) and so brands are beefing up their minimalist shoes and paring down their bulkier shoes to find a happy medium.

    Side note: Heartily agree with the durability thing. People should remember that a brand is very happy to sell you 3 pairs of shoes that can handle 200-300 miles each (ie. the very popular Pure Project shoes) instead of just one durable pair. More minimal shoes are marginally cheaper per pair but much more expensive per mile. Smarter consumerism will hopefully lead to better product development.

    1. John K

      My NB MT10s (a minimal shoe) already have 500+ miles on them, and will last another 500 quite easily. My Luna sandals also have 400+ miles on them – apart from wear on the treads, they are still in perfect condition. I expect they'll make it to 1000 miles too. If you have shoes without a "midsole" in them, there's no need to worry about the midsole "compressing", or the shoe becoming wobbly. Durability is in the eye of the beholder too.

      1. Allisa L

        You sound like a smart consumer. And like you said, if there is no midsole it doesn't matter. It's shoes with a low heel-toe drop but with a good dose of quick-to-wear-down cushion (again like the pure project shoes) that are more problematic. People buy them because they think minimalism is "healthier" and they don't want to go through the transition period that you had to go through with your true minimalist footwear. Even if you took a runner who only trains 50 mpw they would need new shoes every 6 weeks. That gets expensive. And if you don't buy new shoes then you get injured. Obviously you put a lot of thought into your footwear and I'm sure you put in the hard work required to get your feet to run far in minimal shoes. Unfortunately the average shoe-shopper doesn't do that.

    2. Lstomsl

      At the risk of sounding snarky "minimalist" footwear was the only thing that existed for almost all of human history. It's shoes that should be thoroughly vetted and tested before wearing. Of course that can never happen because manufacturers constantly change models in order to create marketing hype. How about if manufacturers retain tried and true models that people like??? Maybe then we could get some really useful data….

  45. Alex L

    Life-long forefoot striker, structure detester, cheapest-shoes-i-can-find wearer. I recently converted to moderate heal striking and high stability. It's the only way I can run without pain in my ankles. Peroneal tendonosis from chronic instability. There are dudes who can go damn fast with a little bit extra weight on their feet. We should bring a weight-weeny from the world of cycling into this discussion.

  46. Dan H

    In my experience, your feet will adapt to whatever you run in. Run in cushy trainers, you'll have weak feet and need cushy trainers. Run in minimalist shoes, your feet will grow stronger. The advantage is that minimalist shoes will more closely adapt to natural biomechanics rather than making your foot adapt to a bunch of gimmicky features and heel lifts.

    1. Mark

      You say “in my experience.” Good for you, but to me it sounds like the minimalist mantra: Minimalist shoes ARE GOOD for YOU, regardless of your age, running experience, biomechanics, etc. All you need is to take your time and you will adapt sooner or later. In my experience, and I run in many kinds of shoes, the adaptation: A) is limited by factors like genetics, mileage, posture, etc., and B) at some point you stop adapting and get injured. This is body self-defense mechanism. Adaptation gets you to some point and it’s not a never-ending story. For different people the adaptation stops at different cushioning point.

      Besides, shoes are just one of many other factors of adaptation and running experience. This mantra clearly ignores this fact.

      I got injured (achilles tendonitis) after few years of successful running in minimalist shoes. Adaptation period was way over. What happened was the result of overuse of minimalist shoes. I took me few months to recover. Now I mix my shoes and abandoned the faith in one perfect idea or a perfect pair of shoes.

      1. Lstomsl

        I had the same experience. Changing my form by running barefoot ( on an indoor track). Fixed my knee problems and allowed me to quadruple my mileage and run ultras but after 1 1/2 years I had Achilles problems. Now I switch between a variety of footwear with few problems. I know many others who have had similar experience.

        I expect to return to full minimalist over time though. I still believe its the way to go but it's silly to think that 1 or even 3 years is enough time to overcome the lifetime of damage that shoes have done to our feet. And I'll always be open to switching back at the first sign of Achilles issues, but the real issue is form.

      2. Allisa L

        Totally agree. A runner like Anton (and most Tarhumarans that I've seen pictures of) work hard to stay at a low BMI. Their kind of footwear works for them, but may not be healthy for a "Clydesdale" runner or an older runner. There is no silver bullet when it comes to footwear. Like Dakota was saying, specificity in matching the right shoe to the right terrain is important – but I would add the specificity in matching the right shoe to the right body type, biomechanics, etc. is also very important.

        1. Lstomsl

          I would say that it has more to do with the fact that Anton was a minimalist from a very young age so he never damaged his feet. Same goes with the Tarahumara, most of whom have never been in shoes. Those of us in the states who discover minimalist footwear in our middle years after our tendons, bones, and muscles have atrophied have a harder road.

          Nobody bothered to collect data 40 years ago when American runners began wearing "padded" shoes although there is anecdotal evidence that that is when running injuries became prevalent. Some of the Tarahumara are beginning to wear shoes to run in, it would be very interesting, albeit difficult, to see how that affects them.

          Also the fastest marathoners today come from countries where most kids still grow up shoeless. There should be opportunity to study the affects, but probably unlikely as the only parties with the ability to fund such a study ( shoe companies) have no interest in proving the uselessness of their products…..

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