Why I switched to minimal shoes

I recently switched from Brooks Adrenaline GSRs to the minimal New Balance MT110. It’s not an understatement to say it has been a *huge*upgrade. I had been battling severe hip and knee soreness and pain all season whenever I went over 5+ miles.

Fresh off a 28 mile run. Hold your nose.

I foam rolled, stretched, got my yoga on, went to an Active Release Therapist, iced down after my long runs. Although the pain would subside some runs, especially after an ART session, inevitably the pain would come back on the next long run.

With my old shoes, after one run in particular I literally could not walk when I finished and was back at my car.  But as soon as I removed my shoes I was able to walk, barefoot. That’s when the light went on for me and I figured the shoes may be part of the problem. I researched seemingly every trail shoe out there and found myself being drawn to the minimal shoes. In ‘Born to Run’ Christopher McDougal makes a very compelling argument against thick soled, well supported and cushioned running shoes and how they limit the foot’s ability to absorb the impact of running, in turn transferring the shock to other parts of the body. I’m summarizing here but that’s the gist of it.

I christened the MT110 with a 12 mile run with elevation on the Miwok Trail and they felt great. The knee pain started creeping back in towards the end of the run but I’d say it was about 25% intensity of what it usually had been. Two weeks later I took them on a 28 mile run. The first 20 miles felt fine, no knee or hip problems at all and this was with lots of climbing and downhills. My knee started acting up around mile 24 (5 hours) which is much longer than I had gone without pain in my Brooks.

All that stuff aside, these shoes are FUN. They’re super light (7 oz versus 12 oz), I wear them barefoot (I coat my feet in Vaseline and no blisters yet) and I feel faster in them.  I also feel more stable on the trails.

I’ve worn Brooks Adrenaline road shoes since 2004 and they’ve been great but I think this minimal thing is the way for me going forward. As you’ll hear everyone say, you should take your time adjusting to minimal shoes. I’ve worn the NB Minimus to work everyday for the past 3 months and that’s helped my achilles adjust to the reduced heel.

One downside of running barefoot in the MT110 is the shoe smells incredibly awful. I can smell them while I’m running. NB added an anti-odor feature to the Minimus but for some reason did not do the same with the MT110. I can live with that though!

Why I switched to minimal shoes

A tale of Two Runs

(This run was part of my training with Team in Training where we are raising money to fight Leukemia and Lymphoma and other blood cancers.  Please consider making a 100% tax-deductible donation on my donation page: http://pages.teamintraining.org/sf/tam50k12/ebaizel)

Well, take me back down where cool water flows, yeah.
Let me remember things I love,
Stoppin’ at the log where catfish bite,
Walkin’ along the river road at night,
Barefoot girls dancin’ in the moonlight.
(Creedence Clearwater Revival – Green River)

Fresh off our hardest run of the training season the weekend before, I was looking forward to the 14.7 mile run with gentle, rolling hills.  The run was in the Lake Chabot park region and looped up through the hills before winding its way down, down, down and then around the lake.

The First Run

The first half was straightforward enough, we had a few uphills and downhills, ran through a golf course, lots of stuff to look at and good conversations to pass the time.  Then came, the second run.

The Second Run

Then came the notorious stone bridge.  Rebecca, Suzanne, Phil and I checked the map and continued on straight pass the bridge until we found ourselves at a main road.  We pulled out the map again and realized we had passed our turn just before the stone bridge.  As we back tracked, we found Jenn and McKinley had also missed the turn off so now our group grew to six.  Then at the turn we saw a couple other runners scratching their heads about directions and soon our group was over ten people, but at least we were now headed in the right direction.

We had mud on the ground and intensely green hills around us as we started running again on the right course.  Life was good.  The sun was out, birds were chirping.  I was beginning to run low on water but figured I could conserve enough to make it back.  A mile later up ahead of us we saw Amanda and Marisa at the end of the path, map in hand, and scratching their heads as to where to go.  Collectively we figured it out again and basically we had to loop back to get back to the stone bridge where we would then descend down the Cascade Trail.

This is where the Survivor portion of the run begins.  The previous week had had tons of rain, including a torrential downpour on Thursday with lightning displays rarely seen in the Bay Area.  All this added up to a creek that was overflowing with banks so muddy each step felt like your shoe may just stay behind.  To avoid stepping into the creek, we carefully climbed our way over a large tree trunk while removing the prickly leaves that had latched on to our shirts.  But that was for naught as just ahead we had no choice but to step right into the water.

I’ve had some bad blisters before from hiking on wet feet so I still held out hope that maybe the water was not so deep.  But that was not to be.  My foot and most of my shin went firmly into the rushing cold water and I thought what the heck, let’s just go for it.  Both feet in, walked across, shoes and socks soaked, but also now freshly cleaned.  My shoes definitely needed the cleaning.  We walked a bit further before we stopped in front of the creek again, where we had to cross through water even deeper and wider than the first crossing.

The team I run with is made up of gritty, competitive individuals and perhaps more importantly, extremely positive and we needed a big dose of that at this moment. Everyone saw the absurdity of this adventure and we laughed as we once again made our way into the rushing stream.   No whiners on this team, they simply wouldn’t last.

By the time we got back on an ascending hill and started to put some distance between us and the creek, we still had a good 5-6 miles to go.  My water was getting dangerously low.  One bottle was already finished, and the second had less than half remaining.  I knew I would need to save a few hearty gulps to wash down the Gu gel that I would need to take soon.

The remainder of the run was several uphills and single track trails before dropping down to water level and running around Lake Chabot.  It’s a beautiful area I have not spent much time exploring before.  Families were out fishing,  hiking or getting ready to camp for the night.  And I was singly focused on getting back and guzzling the Crystal Geyser water waiting for me in my car’s trunk.  I had run out of water with about two miles to go.  Not good at all.

Our coach Mama Lisa always tells us our weight should be the same after a run as it was right when we started.  That’s a strong sign you’re hydrating well.  When I got back, I weighed myself and saw I had lost 4 lbs.  Phil topped me with losing 4.5 lbs.  Ouch.

What was supposed to be a 14.7 mile run had turned into a 17 mile run with added creek-crossing adventures thrown in as a bonus.  One of our teammates Kate, who had been with us back at the stone bridge, had gone on her own adventure and somehow ended up so far west that Angela had to drive to go pick her up.  Phil joked that she had run to the Oakland Zoo.

There’s a saying in trail running that you need to be prepared for anything to happen during a run, and today was my first experience with that coming true.

Eating and sleeping

Once the adrenaline wore off, I crashed hard.  The run took a lot out of me and after the run, we headed out to Boulevard Burger in San Leandro where we scarfed down some burgers and fries.  When I got home I was still hungry so I put down some more food.  Then showered and slept.  Woke up at 11 p.m., ate a bowl of Greek yogurt with honey and blueberries,  watched an episode of Game of Thrones and then went back to sleep again because I had to wake up at 7 a.m. to…you guessed it, go running again!  This time though, just a short 5k in an urban environment around Lake Merritt.  No creek crossings or stone bridges.  Just good old trusted asphalt beneath my feet.

You can see the full course as recorded by my trusty Garmin watch here: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/168299776

ImageJust a little mud

ImageStepping in a little puddle


Studying the map pre-run.  I’m sure we read it upside down.

A tale of Two Runs