Saturday, February 2, 2013

Minimalist musings

I had dabbled in minimalist shoes since I started running regularly in December 2011. My first shoes of choice, to my friends' horror, were the Skechers GoRun.

Why the GoRun? I didn't know much about shoes then (thank God!), and when I first had a chance to handle them, I liked the GoRun for its feather-weight and flexibility. And, I was a victim of the "mid-foot strike sensors" marketing materials.

My previous shoes before the GoRun were the Nike Frees, and the GoRun became the "logical next step," i.e. lighter and more flexible.

Since then, I'd accumulated quite a number of shoes, more than half of which fall into the minimalist category (labeled in the photo with following numbers):

1. Brooks Pure Drift
2. NB Minimus Trail
3. Skechers GoBionic
4. Vivo Barefoot Neo II
5. NB Minimus Ionix
6. Skechers GoRun
7. UA Charge RC
8. Nike Frees

FIT: I have wide feet (the NB store people says I need 4E), and this plays a lot into my shoe choice. In fact, the reason I purchased the NB Ionix was because they had the 4E width at the store (the first time I came across minimalist shoes available in 4E).
I had the Adidas adizero feather and they gave me a nasty blister around my forefoot, most probably because of its narrow width.

Fit-wise, using "snug-but-comfortable" as the parameter, from best to least = NB Ionix (4E), Skechers GoBionic, Brooks PureDrift, Skechers GoRun, UA Charge RC, Nike Frees, NB Minimus Trail, the Vivos (they may be half-a-size too big, and my feet feel "loose" in them).

TOEBOX: I believe adequate toebox is an important "feature" of a minimalist shoes. Going sockless is probably the ideal way to "use" minimalist shoes, but since I still prefer a layer of protection (and sweat absorption), I always use Injinji's 5-finger socks now. Using normal socks feel constricting to my feet, and I would encourage people to either go sockless or wear 5-finger socks (for those wanting to shift to natural running).  I believe an ample toebox space would allow our toes to "splash and splay," aiding in balancing our strides to (hopefully) become more natural. In this respect, best to least = Brooks Pure Drift, NB Ionix (4E), Vivos BF, Skechers GoBionic, Skechers GoRun, UA Charge, NB Minimus Trail, Nike Frees.

HEEL to TOE: Of these eight shoes, half of them have 4mm differential between the heel and toe. The zero-drop in this crowd are the Skechers GoBionic and the Vivo Barefoot Neo II. The Under Armour Charge and Nike Frees are at 6mm, with the rest at 4mm (the PureDrifts have removable insole that will make them zero-drop if removed, but I prefer the insoles intact). I've found that I cope well with shoes with 6mm to zero-drop heel-to-toe differential. I do find that I am more careful with my strides when running with the zero-droppers, i.e. the GoBionic and the Vivos. I still use traditional shoes occasionally (more support, cushioning and higher heel-to-toe drop) and, for inexplicable reasons, my legs get tired faster with these. To summarize, I've found that the heel-to-toe drop factor plays less significant role, at least for me, compared to other "features" of the shoes (as long as they fall within the range of 0 to 6 mm).

RIDE and COMFORT: minimalist shoes by definition will have minimal material between your feet and the road. And this may mean harsh impact for those feet that have been shielded by thicker shoes in the past.

My first 'minimal' shoes were the Nike Frees, and they felt marshmallowy to me. I much prefer the feeling of the Skechers GoRun, which is firm but adequately soft, during running (yes, they feel weird if you are just standing in them, because of the middle-bump. But I don't feel the bump when I run in them).

The "hardest feel" amongst these, for me, would be the NB Minimus Trail and the Vivos Barefoot.

In terms of overall ride and comfort, my best to least: Skechers GoRun, Skechers GoBionic, Brooks Pure Drift, UA Charge, NB Ionix, Nike Frees, NB Minimus Trail, Vivos BF.

SUMMARY: So many things come into play when determining the right shoes to wear. If I have to name a favorite amongst these eight, I'd have a hard time choosing one, because each shoe excels (or under-perform) in at least one area. 

My top four (meaning they get the most in terms of wear-rotation) would be = the Skechers GoRun and GoBionic, Brooks PureDrift, and the Under Armour Charge.

For those who've gotten their feet in minimalist shoes, which one do you like? And why?


  1. I plan on buying Sketchers GoRun (blue) next week. I'm experiencing back pain every after marathon (usually, I do 10k runs), and I found out it's not me, it's the shoes.

    Nice Review, btw

  2. Thanks, it seems shoes do make a difference. Have you tried running (to the extent the store allows it) with the middle bump of the GoRun's rocker sole? If that proves to be uncomfortable, perhaps you can consider the GoRun 2, it's just as light, and there is practically no middle bump. Hope it works out.

  3. nice review, i'm using saucony virrata but toebox is too narrow, i can't run more than 10k with this shoe. So i'm planning to buy new running shoes. im thinking the gobionic or merrell bare access 2 but i read that bare access has arch support which i'm not sure if i'll be comfortable with.

  4. Thanks. Have hou tried the GoBionic Ride? It's the cushioned version of the Bionic. I haven't tried the Viratta but have heard largely positive sentiments about them.