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Why Are Barefoot Runners Such Shoe Whores?

Posted by on Nov 25, 2011 | 17 Comments

This post seemed appropriate for Black Friday…

I’m a barefoot runner, yet I have a shoe collection that takes up an embarrassingly large space.  Most of my peers are in the same boat.  What’s the deal?

The best way to explain our affinity for shoes is to describe the process of becoming a barefoot runner.  *Note- this assumes you’re not a road-only barefoot runner that lives in a temperate climate.

1. You try barefoot running.  It feels great!  You forever swear off all shoes.

2. You become more proficient; you perfect your form.  You start running faster and longer.  You still consider shoes to be medieval torture devices designed as part of an elaborate conspiracy headed by Nike.

3. Emboldened by your past successes, you begin pushing your limits.  You try trail running.  You test both cold and hot temperatures.  You try racing barefoot.  Sometimes you succeed.  Sometimes you fail.  When you fail, you can’t help but consider the possibility that shoes may have helped you succeed.

4. You find your limit and want to explore more.  You decide to try out some shoes.  You do research to find the perfect pair of all-purpose shoes.  You buy said shoes and enjoy the new-found freedom of minimal protection and great running form.

5.  You enjoy said shoes immensely, but find they’re not perfect for all conditions.  You decide to purchase another pair in hopes of matching the shoes to different conditions.  You find the new shoes work MUCH better in certain conditions.  BAM!   You just took the first step to becoming a shoe whore.  🙂

6.  You begin obsessively matching specific conditions to the appropriate shoes.  You spend all your free time reading reviews and testing new models.  Your collection of shoes grows immensely.

The traveling Shelly and I do perfectly exemplifies the need for a variety of shoes to maximize performance and enjoyment.  Over the last month or so, these are the conditions we’ve encountered.  The red activities could not be done barefoot.

  • The streets of New York City,
  • The ocean beach in Connecticut,
  • The Bimbler’s Bluff course in Connecticut (rocky, technical trail),
  • Eighteen inches of snow on roads of Western Massachusetts,
  • Ankle-deep mud on trails in Southeast Ohio,
  • Cross-training on gravel roads,
  • Semi-formal dinner in Las Vegas,
  • Rocky, sandy desert in Arizona,
  • Snow-covered summit of a mountain in Northern Arizona,
  • Cactus and rock-covered mountain trails in Southeast New Mexico, 
  • Cross-training on grassy field,
  • Country roads outside Dallas, Texas.

For these runs, I used a full compliment of my shoe collection- Merrell Road gloves (crosstraining), Merrell Trail Gloves (most trails), Inov-8 Baregrip 200s (mud), Chaco sandals (casual use), Merrell Tough Gloves (Vegas), Luna huaraches (hot roads), one of the new Vibram models for SS ’12 (cold roads), and even my Hoka One One Mafates (as an experiment.)  Even with all of these, I still could have used a Trail Glove with a hearty rock plate in New Mexico.

I’m slowly approaching the point where I have the perfect shoe for any condition I may encounter, but there are still holes.  I don’t have a shoe that is great for night mountain running, or a shoe that drains well in extremely wet non-muddy trail conditions.  I think the New Balance MT110s or Merrell Mix Masters may be ideal solutions for the night mountain running, but I’m still searching for the water trail shoes.

Why are we shoe whores?  We’re searching for the best tools for each condition.  🙂



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  3. Aaron
    November 29, 2011

    That’s my problem. Every other race I encounter something that none of my shoes can handle well, so I’m compelled to get some that can. I’m determined to get it down to 3 pairs–mud, rocks, and dirt/road, and finally get rid of the stuff that I’m not crazy about instead of keeping them around in case they someday fit a niche I haven’t encountered yet.

  4. JoggerTunes
    November 28, 2011

    It’s not just barefoot runners… I think it applies to all sports. I only recently (a couple of months ago) started with barefoot running, but I’ve been running on road and trails for a long time and have way too many running shoes.

    I own a couple of “normal” running shoes, a special one for triathlons that lets water and sand drip from the bottom, a couple of Salomon for hiking, plus my new barefoot one.

  5. mark lofquist
    November 28, 2011

    i wish i was Jason’s size and received his hand-me-downs! 🙂

  6. Liz
    November 26, 2011

    So true! Barefooting has given me an “excuse” to expand my Imelda-like collection. Sadly, I’m now unable to wear most anything I purchased (for fashion) more than 2 years ago… I have some very lovely Fluevogs and Dr. Martens (among others) wasting away. Even for fashion’s sake, I can’t abide them. 🙁

  7. jgoreham
    November 26, 2011

    For me, I’ve really enjoyed barefooting, but once in a while, I have a bad run and it’s heart breaking. I feel so let down by my feet. So I have shoes as a backup for after that run when I feel rejected by barefooting and weak and vulnerable. When you’ve been barefooting, you become a lot more caught up on shoe details, so that’s why you people all have so many shoes. Can’t settle on one pair for the once in a while when shoes actually is a good decision for you and a run, because you’ve become picky. That’s my theory anyway!

  8. Heather
    November 25, 2011

    Also, now that I know the true joy of going barefoot, I’m not willing to put up with a crummy pair of shoes.

  9. Erik Lee Skjon
    November 25, 2011

    Thanks, that’s an interesting perspective for someone who just runs 3-5 miles on city sidewalks and park asphalt.

  10. Angie Bee
    November 25, 2011

    I think that I am very qualified to test minimal shoes based on my solid barefoot running baseline.
    I know what they SHOULD Feel like and I have a frame of reference from my years spent barefoot running so I can critique a shoe based on whether it supports or hinders my form.

  11. seret
    November 25, 2011

    so funny and true! I’m between 5 and 6 right now. I give away the shoes that aren’t working for me instead of growing my collection though. But that makes it worse maybe because now I have room for another pair!

  12. The Maple Grove Barefoot Guy
    November 25, 2011

    This phenomenon probably also explains why there are so many barefoot bloggers. If every barefoot runner needs 10 pairs of shoes, how are you supposed to afford them all?

    I think you can do 90% of your minimal running with one good trail shoe, one good road shoe, and a pair of huaraches for summer. That’s all I use when not testing footwear. For me, the Moc3 for roads and light trails, Trail Glove for trails, and Bedrock Sandals in the summer.

    Adding to your collection should be a pair of trail shoes for sloppy conditions (I use the VIVOBAREFOOT Neo Trail) and maybe something for cold or wet conditions.

    • Kittyk
      November 25, 2011

      Yep, I was about to add:

      7. Realise your Credit Card is maxed out and become a barefoot blogger in the hope of getting free shoes.

      Saying that, I only have limited success in obtaining Free Swag. Might have something to do with the fact I am very lousy at writing reviews. There is a flaw in my cunning plan. 😉

    • Erik Lee Skjon
      November 25, 2011

      Thanks for breaking it down like that. I’ve already taken up your suggestion of Moc3 for winter running. If I start doing trails, I’ll probably go with your Trail Glove rec.

  13. Tyro
    November 25, 2011

    Very good points!

    For me, it’s also that minimalist shoes have been such a rarity/novelty that every one (so far) has had some real plusses but also some real drawbacks so I’m always queued up to buy the next shoe with promise.

    But there’s also the fact that my minimalist shoes take a long, long time to die! With my former support shoes, I bought ten times as many but you’d never know because they’d go into the discard bin every couple months.

    Loving this style of running!

  14. Chadisbarefoot
    November 25, 2011

    Welp, you nailed it Jason. If only I had an unlimited amount of funds…

    BTW: This is the first I’ve heard of the Merrell Mix Masters; I had to Google them. Interesting!

  15. terry
    November 25, 2011

    I LIKE the look of the Inov-8 Baregrip 200s. I’ve started running a lot of muddy wet and very slippery trails recently, and as much as I love my Merrells, they don’t provide the grip i need Must have the Inov-8 Baregrip 200s!!! Thus, proving the thesis of your entire post!!