Over the last few weeks, I’ve gotten a few messages about the frequent shoe discussions here at BRU. This is typical, it comes with the territory. A few days ago, I received one that I feel warranted this letter. A newer barefoot runner chastised me for supporting running in minimalist shoes. This person had been running barefoot less than six months and only trained on sidewalks and a local high school track.
For all newer barefoot runners- here’s an important lesson:
Don’t knock minimalist shoes until you have actually tried running on a surface or in conditions that requires minimalist shoes.
Here’s the deal- I run in shoes for two reasons. I am either a) running in conditions that are too technical, cold, or hot to comfortably be run barefoot, or b) I am training for an important race that will require shoes because of one of the two previously mentioned conditions. If I don’t meet either of those conditions, I run barefoot.
I have spent several years experimenting to find my own barefoot limits. As a trail ultrarunner living in an area of the country with a fairly long, snowy, cold winter, I’ve had plenty of opportunities. I’ve pushed my limits of temperature (up to95°; down to 0°), terrain, and distance. I’ve run a trail 50 miler barefoot and about 33 miles of a 100 miler barefoot. I’ve run 50+ miles on asphalt. I routinely do ultra-distance training runs on trails barefoot.
What have I learned? I have limits. In less than two weeks, I’m running the Western States 100 miler. I’d love to be able to run it barefoot. I could probably train to run on every surface and temperature I’d experience in the race, but it would take a ton of training on that course. That leaves me with two options- avoid the race because it is beyond my barefoot limits or wear shoes. I’m not the kind of person that shies away from adventure to maintain some bullshit barefoot “purity.”
If you DO avoid adventure to maintain your “pure” barefoot status, that’s great. Just don’t preach to me. Here’s a simple rule:
You cannot condemn others for running in shoes if they have run barefoot in more adverse conditions than you.
THAT earns you the right to criticize others. It’s that simple. Don’t be a preachy douchebag. Until you earn your chops, shut up and learn from those that have come before you.
What Role Should Shoes Play
Shoes are protection, nothing more. They’re a tool. I always recommend people learn to run barefoot BEFORE moving to minimalist shoes. Once they learn good form, use shoes as needed. Listen to your body and be aware of the potential to do too much too soon without tactile feedback.
Understand what qualities make a good minimalist shoe. Learn what characteristics you need in a shoe. Match the appropriate shoe for the conditions. That’s all there is to it.