road runners Fitness

Go Minimal

One of the aspects I like about running is that it is relatively simple; it is easy to get started and keep at. You don’t need fancy gym memberships or specialised gear, unlike many other activities. What no specialised gear? What about running shoes, you may ask. Don’t I need special shoes for running? Well, let me tell you a little secret — you don’t need these to run longer or faster!

Running shoes, as we know today, is an outcome of some of the best marketing strategies by shoe companies over the past two decades or so. Before that, marathons used to be run using canvas shoes. Even now, many elite West African runners do most of their training barefoot and don a pair of sneakers on race days primarily to satisfy the needs of the multi-million dollar endorsement deals they may have with a shoe company.

My experiments with “not running with traditional shoes” started sometime in 2011. My primary concern was the exorbitant price of a running shoe (Rs 4,000), which I felt was not sustainable in the long run. During the same period, I heard about the book Born to Run by Christopher Mcdougall. Apparently, in this book, he talks about a native tribe in South America, called the Tarahumara Indians, who run long distances barefoot even now. And thus, a decision was made to start running barefoot. The initial runs were hard to get used to — the gravel, dirt and other objects on the road did bother me. The first few months were painful as well. But when you migrate from running with shoes to barefoot running, the way your feet strikes the ground changes. When running with shoes, due to a cushioned heel, you tend to be more comfortable in landing on your heels. Barefoot running, in a way, corrects your form by forcing you to land on the front portions of the feet. The consequence of this front foot strike is that you work your calf muscles more. It took me almost three months of barefoot running to get over this soreness.

At about the same time, my wife realised that I was serious about barefoot running. She suggested that I give minimalistic shoes a chance and introduced me to the Vibram Five Fingers. Now, I have been running in them for over four years, including a number of half and full marathons. I am very sure I will never go back to traditional shoes. But Vibrams are still priced in the Rs.4,000+ range.

Enter the Huaraches. These are traditional Mexican footwear that have gone through various iterations over the years. One of the recent iterations gaining popularity is the version shared here for running. There are a number of “Do It Yourself” websites showing you how to make one yourself. I have made a couple of these for under Rs. 250. These can be made with rubber tire treads and nylon strings. I have not done serious long distance running with these yet, but am hoping to start soon.

Lastly, if you really want to experiment with minimalistic running, you can try the good old canvas shoes, which we used to wear in school . You’ll have to spend only Rs. 400-500 to test whether you are comfortable with the experience or not. Based on this, you can start experimenting with some of the options mentioned above.

Also, over the past few years, based on all the hype for minimalist shoes, the traditional shoe companies have also started bringing out various models of minimalist shoes! And guess what, in some cases, these are priced at even higher than the traditional ones!

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 6:42:05 AM |

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