minimal shoes: an overview

on my shoe rack (l to r): Vibram Five Fingers Bikila, Merrel Trail Glove, Vivo Barefoot (model unknown)

I have written a fair bit about minimal shoes over the years here, here and here on this blog.

I have worn the above three pairs as my day to day shoes (Luckily I work in an office where I can do this ;))
I have done a little running in the VFF but that totaled less than 50km and only about 5km at a time. My thinking has always been that you can get most of the benefits with very little risk of injury by wearing minimal shoes every day rather than expose yourself to the pounding of running and run the risk of injury.

The minimal shoes that I have worn the longest and in some way are my favorites are the Bikila from Vibram Five Finger below. Well I noticed something rather interesting over the months. Let’s look at the bottom of the shoes at the wear. First of all I am amazed how little wear there is after two years of wear most days to work. Have a look at the image on left closely.
You can see that there is uneven wear on the left and right feet. (just remember that the left shoe is actually on the right in the image)

Let’s look at this more closely:

For some reason I can not place these images next to each other. Please excuse the unnecessary scrolling.
My right foot (image left) has got a lot more wear in the ball of the foot. Not sure if you can see but there is hardly any wear on the big toe. I tend not to roll through very well on this foot and it shows on my running shoes too.

My left foot has a good bit of wear in the big toe. Otherwise nothing else weird here.

Now a look at the heels:
First of all I was surprised by how much wear there was on the heels but then I was standing a fair amount and not actually running as per natural barefoot runners.
Right heel show way more wear than the left.

Next up the Merrel Trail Glove:

I got these so that I would have a more “normal” looking pair of shoes. They worked pretty well. One issue I have with them is that the transition from midfoot to toe area somehow goes through a dead spot which is really annoying.

Enter the Vivo Barefoot:

As you can see the sole is flat as a Karoo landscape and the forefoot is super wide. I really love these and they are a close favorite, especially when worn with injinji socks.

Maybe I can get some people who know more about wear in shoes to comment. Right now I just wanted to document my experiment of one here.
I like all of the above shoes for what they do and the “close to the ground” feel I get. But then I like a bit more protection underfoot when pounding down a rocky trail.
Let’s have your comments and experiences below!

The Impossible Road

Any running store worth its pepper will tell you that the Asics Kayano and the Saucony Kinvara have nothing in common. In fact they are pretty much at polar opposites of the footwear spectrum.
Saucony Kinvara
The Kayano (now in model 17) is the top of the range stability shoe with lots of cushioning. I started my road running in a pair of these. (That was after a short stint in trail shoes on the road) I was told by the guys at my local running store and physio no 1 at the time that I pronate on my left foot and hence this was the shoe for me. Fast forward to today where I am buying a pair of ultra light, ultra flexible, neutral Kinvaras on line. But let me tell the whole story. (If you want to skip the boring details scroll down the last paragraph)
The Kayanos did me well. I was given exercises to strengthen my core by physio no 1 as I had started to develop ITB in my right knee. I could not really do the exercises well at all. In fact I could not do them at all. I kept telling my physio that I felt my leg was not aligned. The treatment did not really change. I gave up and sought help elsewhere.
At some point I went to visit the an alternative practitioner who had an affinity for telephone books . She did her tricks and it helped – to a point.
I continued to run dealing with various levels of discomfort.
I was recommended to see a healer who had brought the wounded back from the wheelchair. Some swear by him. I have never been in as much pain as after one of his treatments. I was not allowed to run for 3 days after being treated, no sleeping on your stomach….
Posture and symmetry is what I learnt from him.
All this helped – to a point.
I remember stopping mid run and wanting to take my road shoes off and throw them in the bin and just give up! The pain was just too much. The point is not that I don’t like pain. The point is that dealing with it every step of the way and not seeing improvement lets me question things!
I heard about myofascial release and made an appointment with physio no 2. I listened to him talk about these mythical fascia. I bought a foam roller. The best R300 I have ever spent! We had competitions at home to see who could grimace the most in pain. Those of you who have tried will know.
We tested bunkies and bum stretches and he worked his stuff.
Within a couple of months I went from pain to running the 100km Skyrun. A year later I felt better than before but still at about 70% of what I believed was my potential. I still felt out of alignment at times.

Modified Asics Kayano 16
(shows loads of cushioning and the holes I drilled into it)

At about the same time I visited my friend the orthotist who uses the rsscan. This fantastic machine tells him exactly what is wrong with your gait. Turns out my left foot pronates (just as the running shop guys said). My right though first supanates, then immediately comes back into pronation in the toe area. I modified my Kayanos by drilling holes into the medial post. I used wedges and now orthotics. In my mind these were getting more and more.
I have bought a pair of five fingers which I blogged about here. I wore them for a day before visiting The Orthotist. He was amazed. My left foot was as before but my right pronated and supanated worse than ever! How could this be? My only explanation is that my feet are not strong enough to deal with no support. After a day in the Vibrams they had tired.
Enter physio no 2. He treated my symptoms but not the cause.
Last week I finally got an appointment with the queen of alternative treatment. Yes she is eccentric and yes she is different.
I have been told to buy a pair of neutral, flexible shoes and never use my orthotics again. Orthotics you see block your body pretty much like a motion control shoe.”Why control the natural motion of your foot?” asked the Queen.
She worked on all the wrong places (my left ITB, left calf etc when my right hurt).
It sounds like she has a plan and I am intrigued enough to stick with it for the next three months and see. If I can get this right then A+. If not then I can always go back to my orthotics and tested methods. I certainly don’t want to because I believe that I am entitled to run pain free.
So what is the point of this drawn out tale?
* Don’t settle for second best when you feel that the “experts” aren’t fixing the issue.
* you can learn something from everybody. (I learnt about posture, foam rollers, that trying to do an exercise without correct alignment is no use)
* I am not an ueber human runner. I just will not give up in trying to improve. Like all athletes I have niggles which need treatment.
This story is not finished. I doubt that it will ever be! What I am sure of though is that I will continue to improve. Otherwise what is the point?


I came across this interesting 2 part blog by Joe Friel (part 1, part 2) the other day. This is one of the better perspectives I have read on barefoot running.

Barefoot running or minimalist running (Vibram Five Fingers etc) seems to be all the rage lately. I am not sure if this is the cure for all but as Joe says the aim should be for us all to run in the least supportive shoe that we can. Not necessarily that we all run with no support at all.

Barefoot drills are really fun and I am incorporating them into my weekly training. Just avoid the dubbletjies!

Would love to hear your ideas and who of you run barefoot, why, when etc.