They May Take Our Lives, But They’ll Never Take Our Nike Free-dom

[barnes and noble]Good afternoon, from my fourth favorite locale in the world, trailing only Las Vegas, Atlantic City, and Italy—Barnes and Noble! Every time I come here, I find about six more books I want to read, mostly in the math, science, and economics sections, and sometimes a new cookbook or two. I try so hard to tell myself that I can wait a month and they’ll be in the library, but it’s just not the same, you know? Something about having it on your own shelf, I guess. Breaking news: Barnes and Noble finally got free wi-fi, so now it’s even better!Β  See if yours has it.

The Running Shoe Diaries

My legs are sore after the 20-mile run yesterday, but as usual, it’s the good kind of sore. No weird knee or hip pain like I used to get following long runs. Actually, the most painful part of my run yesterday was my feet; I even felt a blister developing on the foot that doesn’t have one yet, in the exact same place! I’ve been chalking it up to the “new shoes” excuse, but it just occured to me that my shoes aren’t exactly new anymore. I’ve had them for almost two months and put 200 miles on them. The fact that they’re still giving me trouble is probably an indication that they’re not the right shoes for me.

[running shoes photo]The shoes in question, by the way, are a pair of Asics Gel Cumulus. I ran my first successful marathon in an older version of these shoes; back then I dealt with major shin problems and I absolutely loved these shoes because of all the cushioning they provide. Once I got past the shin issues though and started thinking about running faster, I switched to the Brooks Defyance, a much lighter shoe with less cushioning, and therefore less energy loss in every step. I liked them so much that I bought them three consecutive times.

As part of my current training, though, I hatched a new plan:

Step 1: Do most of the training in the soft, pillowy comfort of the Asics Cumulus, minimizing the toll of the mileage on my legs.
Step 2: About a month before the marathon, switch to the lighter, stiffer, more energy-efficient Defyance to get it broken in, run the marathon in it, and qualify for Boston.
Step 3: Celebrate like a madman.

But this blister issue is making me rethink the plan. I never got blisters when I wore the Defyance during the training for my last two marathons. So I’m thinking about switching to it now, a little ahead of schedule. This would probably mean having to buy a new pair a few weeks before the marathon, too.

[nike free photo]But I’m also really intrigued by something else I’ve been reading about recently—the Nike Free. The Nike Free is designed to simulate barefoot running, providing little of the support and cushioning of modern running shoes, which, shockingly, are thought to have increased the frequency of running injuries rather than lowering it. I won’t pretend to be an expert about this, but I believe the rationale for the Nike Free is that when we run barefoot (the way we’re designed to, or evolved to, or whatever you want), lots of small muscles in the feet are engaged. When we run in cushioned, supportive shoes, those muscles don’t have to work anymore. As a result, they don’t develop properly, our running form changes, and we get slower and we get hurt.

I can only imagine that incorporating barefoot or simulated-barefoot running into a training routine increases the risk of injury during the first few weeks, since it’s so foreign to our oh-so-pampered feet. Especially if it’s not introduced gradually. So two months before the biggest race of my life might not be the ideal time to make the switch. Nevertheless, I can’t stop thinking about it. It’s so hardcore! Maybe just for track workouts? Anyone tried it?Β  Whadda ya think?



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  1. Interesting concept… you usually can’t go wrong when you go back to (natural) basics. But you’re right- you definately don’t want to start up a problem right before the qualifying race.

    • Yeah, I’m thinking I’ll probably wait, and get them after I qualify (if I do, of course). I’m kind of worried about what might happen if I no longer have that goal for motivation to run, so maybe the shoes would be helpful for a change of pace.

  2. I have been thinking about the same thing. I want to switch to the Nike Frees or Newtons. But I am afraid to switch until after the Marathon. Brandon’s Marathon has a lot of information on forefoot running. I look forward to reading about your decision.
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..Great Customer Service! =-.

    • Robin, just like you, the more I think about it, the more I think it’s a good idea to wait until after the marathon. It would be such a shame to have wasted all this training to BQ because of a completely unnecessary injury.

  3. There is an article in a recent Men’s Health about this. I have it at home and it really made me want to do this. This guy in the artcle was running is some pretty rough conditions too. He said he had all sorts of problems and after he switched to barefoot it all went away.

  4. B&N is pretty awesome! That is FANTASTIC that they got free wi fi! Starbucks, books, free wifi? What else do we need??? I could be in there all day. It truly is amazing the difference a shoe makes.
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Happy Anniversary Joshers!!!! =-.

  5. I don’t know if I’d ever run “barefoot” (mostly because I really love the cushy feel of my sneakers) but I have a good friend who LOVES the barefoot running movement. He read, and really enjoyed ‘Born to Run’ and he’s working up to his first barefoot half marathon in October!

    If you decide to go for it, I can’t wait to read about your experience here and I hope it’s a good one πŸ™‚
    .-= katherine´s last blog ..Negligent Mama =-.

  6. I love running barefoot but rarely do it. Maybe after your marathon you can try it out? I’d love to try the shoes that simulate barefoot running! (Although it’s a really funny concept, one must admit…)
    .-= Sagan´s last blog ..Poll: The Difference of Five Pounds =-.

  7. I do most of my running in the Asics GEL-Hyper Speed 2s. Some cushioning but very low heel. I did experience increased stress in the feet and ankles as I ran on these (especially if you are running on grass and dirt and other less-than-even surfaces). But I do think they encourage me to run more naturally, more in touch with the ground I’m on. Plus, they’re a hell of a lot lighter than regular running shoes, and that’s pretty cool. For serious trails, I wear the New Balance 790s (these are also my walking shoes). They too are a minimal shoe, with very little cushioning or heel lift. Lastly, I wear my good ol’ Asics Gel-Cumulus for long runs are harder pavement (like sidewalks).
    .-= Pete´s last blog ..Getting to Where I Want to Go =-.

  8. I LOVE my Nike Frees! I just switched to them a few months ago (I got the 5.0s). I’ve never felt anything like them. When I set out on my first run in them, there was a split-second where my brain said “Oh no, you left the house with no shoes on!” (I promise it was just a split second.) They felt to me almost like house slippers, insofar as how hardly-noticeable they were on my feet.

    Since I got them, the intermittent shin splints I was having seem to be 90% gone, and a rather painful tight right hip flexor I’d developed has disappeared entirely. I’ve also, surprisingly, had a better time with blisters. Usually I get pretty bad ones on my inner heels and the edges of my big toes. Last year, even when I put medical tape over my blister-prone areas, I still routinely got them. This year, I’ve forgotten to tape up on every long run so far, and last week, at the end of 14 miles, was the first time yet that my toes felt the least bit raw, and it wasn’t till the last 2-3 miles.

    Long story short, I say TRY THEM! I don’t know if they work for everyone, but I sure have fallen in love with them.
    .-= Amber Shea (Almost Vegan)´s last blog ..Almost vegan in Dallas II =-.

    • It’s great to hear someone so excited about these shoes! It sounds like they are a perfect fit for you. (That’s not supposed to be a clever pun.) I am really excited about trying them, but I think I’m going to hold off for two more months.

  9. I’ve heard so many pros and cons of running “barefoot” or close to barefoot with sneakers that feel like nothing on your feet. I don’t know…I guess I’m kind of intrigued by the idea but kind of scared of the concept too. I think once injuries were out of sight for me, I would consider giving them a try to see how they felt. Especially on short, slow runs where I wasn’t pushing myself. πŸ˜€

    If you try them, be sure to let us know how you like them! πŸ˜€
    .-= Sarah (Running to Slow Things Down)´s last blog ..No Beach Alternatives! πŸ™‚ =-.

  10. Bookstores and libraries, two of the best places in the world!!

    Thanks for the info. on the Nike Free! I hate shoes, they feel unnatural and I wear them as little as possible. I prefer to walk and run barefoot.(But I do it for funzies, I’m not on your level even in my wildest dreams!)
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..Finally Some Summer Grilling =-.

  11. Nice title btw

  12. Matt, there is an award for you on my blog. You do not have to put it on your blog if you don’t want to (I realize it looks kind of girly). I just wanted you to know your blog is one of my favorites.
    .-= meatlessmama´s last blog ..Award =-.

    • Meatlessmama, thanks so much! That is so nice of you, and I’m very flattered to know that you enjoy my blog. Haha, but you’re right, that is one girly looking award! πŸ™‚

  13. Brian Gallagher says:

    I don’t have big problems w/blisters nor have I been greatly impacted by running (maybe a shin splint once or twice, same with plantar facisitis) but I’m with you and others intrigued by the “barefoot” running. Got talked out of Free a couple years ago in the shoe … and I also read the Men’s Health article, had the author post to the Delaware ultra running group, and this was in the Wash. Post last week … giving you a quick feel for the MH article.

    On Saturday, a woman who I ran a extremely low key 4 mile race, wore those toe sock-thingys (the name of the brand I forget), and had no problems & talked highly of them. Maybe one day one of us barefoot-curious folks … will start playing for the other team …

    • Thanks Brian, that’s a great article. I love the part about the evolutionary idea that long-term, we are much better in a pack, perhaps explaining why people of different ages, sexes, and fitness levels can perform similarly in ultramarathons. Also, this is about the 5th time in the past week I’ve heard about Born to Run, so I’ve decided I just have to read it.

      Maybe the women’s shoe was a Virbam Five-Fingers?

      I’ve decided that I’m going to wait until after my October marathon before I make any changes. I tried a barefoot cooldown mile on the track this weekend. It was really rough on my feet, so I ran in the grass alongside the track. Rolled my ankle on the second lap and put my shoes back on! Lesson learned; it’s not worth it yet. But I am really excited about it for afterward. If you try before that, let me know how it goes!

  14. While I agree that the “barefoot movement” is the best thing to happen to running in a very long time, I disagree that the Nike Free is the way to go about doing it. While shopping for shoes to get back into running, I found myself trying on (and rejecting) scores of huge chunky over-cushioned running shoes. The Nike Free, while lacking the overall structure of a modern running shoe, in no way simulates barefoot running. 3cm of padding under the heel (this is easily as thick as most other running shoes, perhaps more) encourages you to run just like you would with shoes, leading with the heel. The core concept of “barefoot” running is that your feet TELL you when you’re running correctly, as you very quickly (and naturally) learn to land on the ball of your feet, quickly rocking back toward the heel. I purchased (and have begun to use) Vibram Five Fingers shoes which are essentially mesh-topped water shoes with a thin but tough rubber sole molded to the shape of a foot. The toes are separated in individual compartments (not so important) and there is no foam, gel or air cushioning whatsoever (very, very important). I can feel my form becoming more natural, as I exercise and strengthen foot and calf muscles. Google “barefoot running” and “vibram ffv” to read more… it opened up a whole new world to me.

    • JIIIA, thanks so much for this helpful info. I’m going to be getting a pair of these shoes in a few weeks, when my marathon is over. And I bet most running stores would be very happy to sell me the Nike Free and not mention this kind of important stuff to me.

      I’ve looked at the Vibram website before, someone else suggested them too. I have a feeling this is what I’ll end up going with. Thanks again!

      • I’m so glad you found my input useful! Expect an adjustment period. The Vibrams are designed to protect your feet from glass and debris, NOT cushion them. After your first few miles, the soles of your feet may feel sore (as if you WERE running barefoot). Also, your calf muscles may ache like never before. I understand this is normal, as they’re getting a new kind of workout.My girlfriend and I each bought a pair of these, and starting as non-runners our goal is to eventually run a half-marathon in them.We purchased them in-person (I bought the KSO model, she bought the Sprint) at the City-Sports in Philadelphia, where one employee wears them every day in the store and a few others (including a marathoner) claim to have switched over to them for running.Make sure to try them on in person before buying, and have fun!

  15. That book Born to Run is great read and it was the catalyst for my switch to a more “barefoot feel” running shoe. I’m training for my 3rd marathon and first one with the Nike Free 5.0

    I’ve had these shoes for about 3 months now and have been running injury free thus far. I’ve tried going back to regular shoes on the slower, longer runs but now that I’ve made the switch I just can’t seem to go back. My legs feel quite a bit stronger and my stride is shorter so no back pain.

    I can’t recommend the Free 5.0’s enough. Going to get my 2nd pair in a few weeks.

  16. Hi Matt – I recently came across this article and it reminded me of your post. There’s some really good information in here – just thought I’d pass it on!

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