Monday, August 22, 2011

Barefoot in America

When I was last in the States, two years ago, people were equally amused by and curious to know more about the Vibram 5 Fingers I was running around Central Park in. "Born to Run" hadn't yet been published and the so-called barefoot running scene was very much underground and undiscovered. I tried to buy some racing flats in New York to complement my VFFs (would that I had: I was unknowingly only a few miles away from a stress fracture from overdoing it) but no shop stocked any shoes that could remotely be described as "minimalist" in my size; only small runners were considered suitable for lightweight shoes.

I was surprised, then, to see an advert on mainstream TV for the New Balance Minimus, the shoes developed in conjunction with the ultra marathoner Anton Krupicka. I also finally found a copy of Runner's World in a Safeways: it features reviews of oxymoronic "barefoot shoes". Rather disappointingly, most of these look like moonboots to my eyes, the only exception being the Vibram Five Fingers Bikila, the model which has gone so far from the original versions that they look more like an ordinary trainer with the gimmick of separate toe pockets. I think what made the VFFs special was the hard but flat and thin sole - the toe pockets allow your toes to splay but no more than a wide toe box. But most depressingly of all, the reviewer is asked a few questions, of which one is "what hurts after I run": "my Achilles tension" is his answer. It seems like the idea of barefoot or minimalist running has finally permeated Runner's World but I can't help thinking it isn't without a certain dose of cynicism.

On Thursday I plan to do a race in San Francisco - I will be checking out what shoes the other runners are wearing.

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