by John Schrup, Rogue coach and retail manager
So the other day, I got to thinking. (You’re going to want to time this.) Anytime I preface anything with “I got to thinking” you are wise to turn and run and avoid the ad nauseum that is soon approaching, so go, NOW! Save yourself!
So I got to thinking about the introduction of the new Brooks line, the Pure Project. If you aren’t familiar with the Brooks Pure Project–Wait. WHAT deficit are you talking about?–it is their foray into the “minimalist” footwear category (I have great dislike for that word unless we are talking Philip Glass or Donald Judd.) The PP follows the introduction of New Balance’s Minimus and the Saucony Kinvara, and numerous models from smaller companies.
And if you don’t know about minimalism in footwear, which I think should be called “biomechanically appropriate”, it is the design of running shoes that allows the body to move through the gait cycle more naturally than “traditional” running shoes, which are hardly traditional at all, if you’ve been around as long as I.
This design change is most noticeable in the reduced height of the midsole foam, the notable absence of the proprietary technologies, more anatomically correct lasts and lighter weights. For example, a traditional running shoe’s midsole foam is roughly 24 mm thick under the heel, 12 mm under the ball of your foot, for a 12 mm differential, or offset, or drop or whatever they’re calling it. The Minimus, Kinvara and now the PP have drops of 4 mm. There are several shoes out that have zero drops, if you’re into the Five Fingers thing but want a bit more protection from earthly surfaces. The lower heel/toe ratios allows for a more natural foot strike, similar to what one would have if one were barefoot.
Anyway, so there are three big companies, including the number one, all introducing minimalist lines of running footwear. What does that mean? Well, it means that for the first time, running footwear design is driven by what the consumer actually wants, and not what some yahoo marketing focus group thinks the consumer wants, and then tells them that they “need.” (Don’t get me started.) Do I think the new design trend is an improvement on the traditional model? Absolutely. Let me put it this way: Knowing what very little I know about the big picture of running footwear, including biomechanics, shoe design, biology, evolution and marketing, were my son to come to me one day in the future and say, “Papa, in your very limited knowledge of running specialty footwear, and knowing that I want to take up running for health, happiness and Olympic glory, and that I may or may not have some sort of biomechanical inefficiencies, what shoes should I wear?” My answer would be, very generally: You can choose from this part of the menu.
The change is coming, and it is to be hoped, sooner rather than later. Do you want to change your running footwear? Do you need to? One of our mantras here at Rogue
is “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That means that if you are healthy in your running, with no injuries, and you are running in KISS boots, then you should probably continue to run in KISS boots. Why change a variable that need not be changed? Running was, at one time, the “simplest” sport: All you needed was a pair of shoes. Alas, no longer. But I digress; we were talking variables. But IF you do want to transition to the more biomechanically appropriate designs, then perhaps you need to take a similarly conservative approach.
In the same way I would not suggest to someone that they do a 30K long run when previously they have only done 20K, I would not suggest that someone make an immediate switch to the New Balance Minimus Road from, say, the ASICS Kayano, Most of the people we work with are training for some event: a favorite 5K, the Livestrong Austin Marathon, whatever. Training for an event is a stress–10 Wilkes or a 10 mile progression run are NOT stresses?–that need not be muddled by the introduction of another stress–getting used to a new biomechanical design in your running footwear, for example. It is best then to introduce it slowly and with very conservative approach. If a customer was taking the racing season off and just getting strong and fit, then I would say, let’s go for it; let’s make you strong all around so that when you begin to train again, you are more efficient, more resilient than you have ever been.
Why should you transition to a simpler shoe? For a couple of reasons, but my big picture answer is because I believe, as the sun rises in the east, that you will be a better runner–a more athletic runner–if you make strong your entire body–head to toe, inside and out, mental and physical. And by switching to a simpler, less structured shoe, you will find out where your structural weaknesses and inefficiencies are and you can make corrections and improvements accordingly. It will take away the variable that allows you to blame your injuries and your poor race results on your footwear. It will allow you to begin to own your running.