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How Minimalist Running Changed My Life

This is me running through Snow Canyon in St. George almost ten years after the doctor told me I should never run again.

The Doctors Said I Should Never Run Again

After running for several years, I began experiencing some knee pain. It got worse and worse until it couldn’t be ignored. Just standing for long periods of time became unbearable.

I went to several doctors after my knee started bothering me, and as much as I appreciate the help that doctors provide, I wasn’t very pleased with the advice I kept getting over and over again.

After several appointments and even an MRI, nobody could tell me what was wrong with my knee. The only thing that all of the doctors agreed on: I should never run again.

Those were horrible words that I just couldn’t quite swallow. Running had become a passion for me and even a bit of an addiction. After losing nearly 100 pounds, I had a huge fear of putting on the weight that I had worked so hard to lose.

There was only one option. I had to keep shopping around for new doctors until I found one that would give me a more feasible solution.

Eventually I found a fantastic doctor who told me that if I wanted to keep running, I needed to do some other exercises to strengthen my quads. My doctor taught me about iliotibial band syndrome.

IT band syndrome is fairly common in runners. When you run, you are repeating the same motion over and over again. This causes friction and can eventually cause problems for the runner.

My doctor suggested that I take a temporary break from running. She said I should take up swimming and do wall-sits for five minutes, three times a day. After I had strengthened my quad muscles enough, I should be able to run without having too many other problems.

I liked this answer, so I immediately took up a program of swimming and wall-sits.

What would you do if your doctor said you could never run again?

Learning a Little More About Human Anatomy

While I was still in recovery mode, I toyed with running from time to time, but still felt like my knee was a weakness.

One winter day, a book called Born to Run by Christopher McDougall caught my attention. It had been snowing for months, and I wasn’t confident that I would be able to run even when the snow finally melted away. I thought if I couldn’t actually run, I could at least read about running.

That book was literally life-changing for me. Not only did it have exciting and motivating stories about amazing ultra marathoners, but it taught me a few things about anatomy that I never knew before.

It seemed like I was always hearing about how running was just going to ruin my joints, but this book pointed out that humans have some amazing similarities with other creatures that were built to run.

In fact, it appears that the human body was definitely designed to run, but that most people run in a way that is contrary to the way their bodies are meant to perform.

This book reminded me that some of the best runners in the world come from places where they don’t have access to fancy running shoes. In fact, there are a lot of places where people grow up running just in sandals or even in their bare feet.

McDougall claims that running shoes aren’t really doing us a favor, and after reading all of the explanations that he had for this, I tended to agree with him.

This book gave me my first introduction to the minimalist running movement. It turns out that there is a whole world of barefoot and nearly barefoot runners that I never knew existed.

They wore these shoes that I was absolutely intrigued with, that had extremely thin soles and resembled toe socks.

It sounded crazy at first, until I learned that by maintaining this extremely minimal design, they allowed the feet to grip the ground the way they are meant to. I don’t think I had ever thought about whether or not my toes were gripping the ground before.

Again, I know this sounds crazy to some people, but it rang true to me that we aren’t born with shoes on, and maybe we really don’t need them.

I will warn you that there is some strong language in this book. The representation of the characters is very true to their actual personality, and it appears that they don’t all use G rated language consistently.

Have you experimented with the minimalist running movement at all?

Buying My First Pair of Minimalist Shoes

I was extremely excited to get my hands, or rather my feet, on some of these unique shoes so that I could give them a try.

After doing some research, I discovered that there is quite a transition process to go through if you want to switch from regular running shoes to minimalist shoes, but luckily all the details were right on the Vibram Five Fingers website.

I was a little nervous about buying this type of shoe without trying them on, because they were so different from any shoes that I had ever worn before.

I decided to make a trip to a local running store, and I discovered that my dream shoes were on sale for 50% off.

This next part is important: The shoes were on sale because so many people were getting stress fractures from not going through the proper transition process when switching to minimalist shoes.

I was informed by the sales clerk that it was absolutely crucial for me to do the foot and calf strengthening exercises recommended on the Vibram Five Fingers website, and ease into my shoes very slowly.

I was advised to do my exercises for a few weeks before even walking in my shoes. After a few weeks I could try walking in my shoes for short periods of time and then gradually build up to walking in them for longer periods. It was essential that I go through this transition before running in my new shoes.

I was warned that with these shoes it was very important to use a “forefoot strike” running technique, and that if I felt my heels touching the ground at all, it was time to switch shoes or just end my run for the day.

Having already gone through the process of dealing with a running injury I took those words of wisdom to heart and followed those directions very precisely.

Since the shoes were 50% off, I decided to buy two pair. I was fairly dedicated to switching to minimalist running, so I decided I might as well buy two pair while I could get a great deal on them.

How I Transitioned to Minimalist Running Shoes

  • I did the foot and calf strengthening exercises recommended on the Vibram Five Fingers website for a few weeks before even walking in the shoes.
  • I began walking in my shoes for short periods of time and then gradually built up to walking in them for longer periods.
  • Once I began running I used a “forefoot strike” running technique. If I felt my heels touching the ground at all, it was time to end my run for the day. This technique did give me sore calves from time to time, but nothing that I couldn’t address with massage.
  • I did get blisters at first, but eventually they healed and disappeared. Now I’m a complete believer!
As you can see, my two pair of shoes has now multiplied to three pair. I love how the Bikila shoes have reflectors on them so it's easier to be seen at night.
As you can see, my two pair of shoes has now multiplied to three pair. I love how the Bikila shoes have reflectors on them so it’s easier to be seen at night. | Source
Vibram FiveFingers Womens Bikila EVO Yellow/Pink Sneaker 38 (US Womens 7) B (M)

The Transition to Minimalist Running

As I was transitioning into my new shoes, I did make sure to follow the directions on the Vibram website very carefully. I did not want to risk an injury.

Even after doing the exercises for two weeks, it was difficult for me to wear the shoes for any long period of time at first, but gradually I got used to them.

Again, I think it is extremely important to emphasize that you don’t want to rush this process if you decide to experiment with these shoes. When I first started running in these shoes, I would only go a mile or two at a time.

I soon had blisters upon blisters on the bottoms of my feet. I suppose I should have expected that. It’s not like my feet had any experience in running practically barefoot before.

I suppose this unexpected inconvenience could have stopped me in my tracks, but even though the blisters were painful, I didn’t let them distract me from my goal of becoming a minimalist runner. Eventually the blisters faded, and that’s when I became a complete believer.

Why I Love Minimalist Running Shoes

  • Light weight shoes make all the difference. I never had realized how heavy my running shoes were until I switched to minimalist shoes. It’s so liberating to wear shoes that hardly weigh a thing. Literally, at times, I feel like I’m flying.
  • I can miraculously catch myself when I’m doomed to fall. I can confess that I am a pretty huge clutz. If there is anything to trip on, my feet will find it, but somehow when I am wearing my minimalist shoes, I can catch myself. It’s miraculous really. Sometimes I feel like I’m in a movie. I trip and as my face is heading towards the pavement it’s like everything is in slow motion. I think about how ugly all those scrapes are going to look, and how hard that pavement actually is when your body is smashing into it. Then, in a split second, my toes are able to grasp the ground and somehow I’m confidently running again. I would never be able to catch myself like that in the running shoes that I used to wear.
  • Minimalist shoes minimized my knee pain. This is probably the best part. I’ve been wearing my minimalist shoes for over two years now, and I very rarely experience any pain or discomfort in my knees. This is miraculous to me considering I was told my knees were so bad that I should never run again. I will admit that the forefoot strike required for minimalist shoes can give you some sore calves from time to time, but it’s nothing that can’t be taken care of with a little bit of pampering.
As you can see, next to a pair of minimalist shoes, my traditional running shoes look like bricks. I love the weightless feeling of these shoes.
As you can see, next to a pair of minimalist shoes, my traditional running shoes look like bricks. I love the weightless feeling of these shoes.

Lightweight shoes make all the difference. At times, I feel like I’m flying.

Minimalist Running: The Best Running Experience I’ve Ever Had

Well, I’m sure by now you realize that I really do love the minimalist style of running. I know a lot of people would say it’s not a good fit for them, and obviously everyone should do what they feel the most comfortable with, but for me, minimalist running is the only way to go.

I’ve even ventured into a little bit of barefoot running, but I’ll confess that being barefoot makes me a little nervous. After all, you never know when you’re going to come across a shattered bottle along your path.

While I am a little leery about being completely barefoot, I love running in minimalist shoes. I encourage anybody who’s interested to try it, but by all means, please transition properly so that you don’t hurt yourself.

Showing off my running shoes on race day!
Showing off my running shoes on race day!
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