People have long seen me as a pessimistic person but I prefer to think of myself as more of a realistic person. Why plan to win a million dollars when you only play the lottery once a year? Be realistic and plan to never win the million and instead hope to win the million. Better yet, hope to win two bucks, that's even more realistic.
So my motto of sorts has always been "hope for the best but plan for the worst."
And that's what I used when I jumped onto the minimalism bandwagon last year. Saucony came out with a super-cool shoe called the Kinvara and not only did it get rave reviews from runners, it simply looked cool. I mean, bright orange shoes, how can you beat that? Anyway, I read BORN TO RUN by Chris McDougall and loved the book. It transformed me into the runner I am today. And while many people, both fans and critics, say the book is nothing more than a veiled advertisement for minimalistic shoes, I saw it more as a man on a journey. His journey just happened to take him down the path of running on shoes with little or no sole (but plenty of soul).
After reading the book, I knew about Vibram Five Fingers and the various other shoes that have little to no heel-toe drop. I knew about the various injuries that have been caused by running on shoes with a very large heel-toe drop. But seeing as am a bit of a skeptic, I didn't believe everything I read. You see, being skeptical is part of being realistic. You've seen those emails before that you've won the lottery for a million dollars and all you need to do to claim your prize is send your credit card info to a Nigerian prince. That's something we're all skeptical about because we're all realistic in knowing we didn't win the Nigerian lottery.
And that's how I felt about the whole minimalism movement. I mean, running in shoes with barely any cushion can't be good for you, right? After all, we all have tender feet, so let's protect them from all the harm that's out there by wearing shoes with plenty of cushion. Sure, there's scientific data that supports minimalist shoes, but there's scientific data that supports super-cushiony shoes too.
So where is this all going? My back injury from last month. As I was watching the HAT50k race in Maryland (which ironically Chris McDougall ran in), I was having a normal day. I watched the start, walked around to watch some more runners, and in the mid-stride WHAM! I doubled-over in pain. I felt like I got stabbed in the back. For days I wondered if I had gotten shot but the lack of blood convinced me I hadn't. It took me a week to recover and another week of running with a sore back before I was back to where I was before the injury.
From the date of the back injury up to yesterday, I've been racking my brain about what caused the injury. I didn't do anything special when it happened. I wasn't running, jumping, twisting, or moving in any abnormal manner. I was carrying a bottle of water and nothing else. I didn't step in a hole or trip or anything. Just walking and BAM! As I made my way down the road to recovery, I had tons of advice from my friends at the local YMCA as well as my faithful training partners on DailyMile. Everything from baseball bats to chiropractors to space aliens was suggested as the cause or remedy. Nothing worked beyond some muscle relaxers and pain pills and lots of rest. And the mystery cause was still unknown.
Until yesterday. During an 8 mile run I started to feel some mild discomfort in my back again. Something I hadn't felt in weeks. I nearly panicked. But I managed to keep my cool and went through a self-systems check to see what was different. I had just run a 9 mile race a few days before so the surface and distance weren't the problem. I was well hydrated and well fueled. Clothes were fine. Stride felt a little off. Foot strike felt a little off. So I played around a bit and nothing felt right. I finished my run, stretched and noticed (after having worn these shoes for many miles) I had them laced wrong. Hmm, shoes. I wonder if my shoes are giving me problems.
In the past I've run into (no pun intended) injury problems when my shoes get worn out. Many people claim the magic number is 300 to 500 miles on a pair of shoes before you need to replace them. Well, it's more like 250 or less for me. But it got me thinking about my shoes. In the past when I've had an odd injury, new shoes have helped. I checked my records on DailyMile and sure enough, my 9 mile race was in my Kinvaras while my 8 mile training run was in my Ride 3s. What was the difference?
The Saucony Ride 3 is a great shoe. I've been in Rides since the Ride 1. But they have about a 14mm heel-toe drop and weigh about 11.5 ounces. The Kinvaras sport about a 4mm heel-toe drop and weigh only 7 or so ounces. And even though I laced my Ride 3s incorrectly, my other Ride 2s are laced correctly and mimic the same specs as the Ride 3. So the big difference between them is the weight and the heel-toe drop. In other words, the minimalist shoe worked better.
That's right, anecdotal proof that minimalist shoes work. But I'm still a skeptic. I still find it hard to believe that just my shoes can cause pain. I know I've changed over the past year or so. I've gradually gone from a heavy heel strike to a midfoot strike. I've lost weight and improved my running economy. I'm better able to handle the strain of longer runs and have more experience on the road, on the trail, and in the weight room.
What does all of this mean? It means my next pair of shoes will be Kinvaras. They arrive today. And until I see proof otherwise, proof that I can see and feel with my own body, I will continue to run in minimalist shoes.