Doing it with Sole

Have you seen all of those retro-looking sneakers people are wearing these days? It seems every athletic shoe company is coming out with a “minimalist” version of footwear that’s supposed to improve our lives. More than taking us back to the track shoes of the 1970s, they claim to be restoring our natural gait, circa 5,000 BC.

The company that’s most noticeable in this category is Vibram*, of course, with their Five Fingers footwear. I am completely flabbergasted by the number of people interested in trying and willing to drop $100 or more to wear these monkey-like things. When I tried them on, I felt some empathy for those seeking a cool new piece of gear, but couldn’t imagine either wearing them in public or running off-road in them. I mean, the trails here aren’t exactly free of sharp obstacles, and minimalist literally means that the only protection you’re wearing is a thin rubber coating on your foot.

Vibram's Five FIngers: primal or prescient?

I’m not saying I would never wear them if I had $100 to blow. But I live in a world of pavement and hard surfaces and aging, probably arthritic joints in my feet. It’s notable that the minimalist trend is supposed to take us back to our natural stance and gait, yet few people run on natural surfaces, like the woman on the Vibram Five Fingers website photo who is wearing the minimalist “shoes” on pavement.

Simply put, I am the last person who will be sucked in by this trend. I prefer running shoes with some cushion. It doesn’t mean I can’t adjust my gait to land on my forefoot, as so many now preach, because it does make sense (even New Balance, which has been making cushioned running shoes for decades, has a “how-to” video on their website).

It’s interesting that Nike’s website offers a simple shoe selection option that is light on the minimalist trend. Their “Free” series retains a thick, although lightweight, sole for cushion, claiming that the shoe’s interior construction mimics a barefoot experience because it doesn’t constrain natural movement.

I write this with memories of the most recent Boston Marathon in mind. I was on my feet for 3 days prior to the event, working at the Marathon Expo for runners at the Hynes Convention Center and thankful for my well-cushioned running shoes. While it was great to be amid the showcase for so many running products and services, it amazed me how many were geared to injuries. There were biofeedback units for pinched nerves and sore muscles, athletic tape that is supposed to ease painful joints and muscles, and so many strap-on ice packs I began to wonder why people run when it’s a sure route to agony. Even the Brooks shoe company set up their display to resemble an Army medical tent like those in the tv show M*A*S*H. Anyone else see the irony in that?

Next door to us at the expo was a London-based minimalist shoe company that provided me with free samples. Although I saw the price tag that was above $100, I can only compare them to the jelly-plastic sandals that you generally see in dollar stores. One of my daughters read the accompanying literature and had this observation: “They claim that stimulating different parts of the foot by wearing these shoes is reflexology … careful, if you walk the wrong way they may cause you to lose control of your bladder.”

I may be showing my age but I’ll admit to a general reluctance to dive into new gear that may be fabulous, may disappoint — or may cause harm.

After all, when something’s not broke, why fix it?

I found shoes that work for me, so I've girded against shortages or "improvements" that may make them hard to find in the future

*Vibram is practically printing money with those minimalist Five Fingers, but they also make the heavy-duty soles on many hiking boots. Go figure.


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