My name is Tim. I am a runner. I am an orienteer. I prefer to run off road. This is my blog about my transition into natural running. This is where I explore and review the various barefoot, minimalist and natural running shoes on the ‘barefoot’ market, along with any other interesting running stuff I come across along the way.
Firstly, let me just clarify something. Jogging. I don’t jog. I run. It’s just unfortunate that running doesn’t rhyme with blogging.
I had always made the distinction between the two as jogging being a recreational leisure activity enjoyed by people who feel they ought to do a form of light exercise to justify an otherwise sedentary and indulgent lifestyle, whereas running is a more committed, competitive form of the same thing, for which one trains and takes seriously.
More recently I have come across a more scientific distinction. Running is what the human body in its current form evolved to do so that we as a species could survive. It involves making use of the body’s natural shock absorbing mechanism through the forefoot, ankles and legs, and it involves a light-footed, fast-paced, smooth and efficient running motion. Jogging didn’t exist until the last half-century when the advent of heavily cushioned running shoes allowed us to land on our heels. Those shoes have become the norm and we have inadvertently adapted our running style to one of jogging, in which we land on our heels, take longer strides, bounce up and down more, and consequently lose the efficiency of natural running.
Running is the real thing. Although very few of us these days run to survive, it remains in our nature and in our physiology. Most people just don’t know it or don’t want to know it because they’re perfectly happy not running in a modern world in which there is generally no actual need to run.
Yes of course I’ve read Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, and I find his message most compelling. I’m no sports scientist but I love running and have done for as long as I can remember. I’m no champion runner, but I’m fairly good at it. I’m no girl, but I like shoes. Running shoes.
After many years of running and competing (mostly off-road, I hasten to add) while tolerating a recurring pain in my calves, I was starting to get concerned about the lack of benefit I seemed to be getting from ‘specialist’ sports shops who analyse my gait to identify the most cushioned and supportive (and seemingly most expensive) shoe for my ailment. None of these expensive gimmicky shoes improved my pain. If anyone’s interested, the pain was in my soleus muscles (the soleus is the muscle in the calf that lies beneath the main gastrocnemius muscle), and would ache for several days after a long tempo run or after a hill race.
I’d heard about barefoot, or minimalist, or natural running but had never really considered it as an option in the modern built environment. However, I was drawn to the idea of it and I found several convincing accounts of how this is the way were designed to run, and that shoes with cushioning are a very modern, and perhaps even wrong, idea. Maybe my aching calves are due to them being weak after a lifetime of wearing deeply cushioned shoes. If I train myself to run barefooted maybe my calves will strengthen, as they have to do to permit the change in running style, and will become strong enough for the pain to stop.
That’s when I discovered the world of ‘barefoot shoes’ – shoes that enable you to run as if barefooted; with no cushioning underfoot, with your heels flat to the ground, landing on the forefoot, and generally being more efficient. These shoes promised to allow me to develop this natural running style to hopefully rid my calves of the aching, and would answer my concerns about running in my bare feet in a built-up environment. Maybe I might even get faster in the process.
My journey began with inov-8 because I liked them and was used to them. They had for a long time made minimalist off road shoes but by coincidence were at that time launching a new range of minimalist road shoes accompanied by a training programme to guide you through the transition from ‘normal’ running to natural or barefoot running.
After ‘transitioning’ for a couple of years through inov-8’s shoes and programme, and having left my old cushioned shoes for dust, I started to explore other brands of minimalist and barefoot footwear, each with their own approach to barefoot running.
This blog is about my journey through all of these shoes on and off the road to natural running. I hope it offers readers something of an insight into the transition period as well as some assistance by providing opinion on the various shoes that are available. A lot of the shoe reviews have featured in CompassSport, the national orienteering magazine for Great Britain.
All of the footwear I have reviewed has been given to me by their respective manufacturers for which I receive no reward or payment, apart from of course the vast number shoes that now outnumbers my wife’s collection. I am grateful to the following companies for their generous support: inov-8, Vivobarefoot, Merrell, Asics, Salomon, XeroShoes, Icebug, Freet.
Thanks for reading. Feel free to comment on the blog or write to me privately via the form below.