Saturday, March 26, 2011

Minimalist or Maximalist?

Most running stores these days are zealously advertising the benefits of minimalist shoes, such as the Vibram Fivefingers. Shoes as such are supposedly going to "make your foot healthier by allowing it to move naturally and freely."  This idea of barefoot running largely gained popularity from McDougall's book, Born to Run. A fan of the book myself, I was definitely intrigued by the minimalist movement - the success stories from runners, the scientific research - in theory, it makes sense. 

But there is always an exception. 

Back in 1996, at my very first cross country practice, one might say I dabbled in minimalist running.  I threw on a cheap pair of Nike shoes that had about as much support as a training bra.  After four hellacious miles, my body felt as if it had been mangled by a combine (we had lots of those in the country, obvi).  Thus began my journey on the road to figuring out the perfect combination of support for my Forrest Gump appendages.

Dear Mom and Dad: WTF?!
Although I vaguely remember being in corrective shoes as a toddler, I'm living proof that the only thing those braces corrected was my curiousness.  And I'm sure my parents felt at ease having a two-year-old who was unable to get herself into much mischief due to her inability to run around with normal baby legs. 

Yes, somewhere along the way, a doctor noticed that my feet severely overpronated, a term I would not fully understand until twenty years later, when I found myself working at a speciality running store.  You see, in order to run virtually pain-free (or with as little discomfort as possible), one's foot needs to land in a neutral position.  For someone who overpronates, support is needed in order to achieve this. 

Medial posting = support
Support can come in many forms.  Some shoes have built-in support.  This is indicated by the gray area, otherwise known as "medial posting," on the side of the shoe.  The more gray, the more supportive the shoe is.  People refer to this as a stability shoe.

While some suckers can get away with only needing the support of a shoe, others (such as myself) need to double-up.  I'm talking about orthotics + a supportive shoe.  When I get the combination of orthotic and shoe correct, I am able to run long distances without much pain.  However, if my support is even slightly off, it gets ugly.  My knees hurt from too much support.  My hip hurts from not having enough support.  High-heels are my shoe of choice because they give amazing arch support.  Too bad I can't run in them... 

So when it comes to minimalist shoes, I'm not jumping on the bandwagon.  I am a maximalist, through and through, and no matter how much I try to "train" my feet by sauntering around the city in flip-flops during the summer, it always ends the same way - at my chiropractor's office.  Therefore, I'll keep my orthotics and thank my parents for trying to "correct" me at a young age.  Perhaps some things were never meant to be mended after all.


  1. I'm on the orthotics train too! There ain't nothin wrong with a little extra support (up top or down below ;).I think the minimalist shoes are super cool looking, but I know they aren't for me either...

  2. Over the years I've been put in stability shoes but most recently neutral shoes. The only time I had a big problem was junior year of high school 3/4 through the season I had stress fractures in both feet! It was HORRIBLE! After that I had custom orthotics for the rest of my HS career but haven't used them since and luckily haven't had any more problems. Glad you were able to find what works for you!