Minimalist vs. Maximalist Running Shoes and Who's Actually Right

There’s a long, tiresome debate that has raged in the running world for millenniums and it has to do with what we put on our feet. (OK it hasn’t been that long but it feels like forever)  There’s the barefoot/minimalist movement where you wear little to nothing on your feet, fueled by the kick ass book “Born to Run”  and now the Spice Girl platform shoe movement, also known as the maximalist shoe movement

If you’re newer to the running world you probably, like me, broke out in cold sweats when you walked into a specialty running store and found a never ending wall of shoes that were so expensive you contemplated selling a kidney to acquire them. It's really confusing! There are so many options and they throw terms like pronating and over-pronating at you. Then they ask you about how often you run, where you run, what your credit score is, if you're single, divorced, and what hopes and dreams are. 

Let’s acknowledge something, the shoes don’t run a race, you do. Does it matter if you are wearing sandals made from old car tires or the flashiest most sparkly magic running shoe? I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. But Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS is (See MPT and SCS, very impressive.) and he wrote a really insightful piece about it. (He also wrote a really, really great book called Anatomy for Runners which I highly recommend. It’s a tough and dense book I had to read twice but you’ll learn all the things about running and your body.)

I, like so many others, get caught up in the bright and sparkly shoe that promises to make my marathon perfect and shave a good 5 minutes off my PR time. I don’t care if the shoe was the most hideous thing I’d ever laid eyes on, if it promised me an injury free marathon training season and an effortless race, I’d refinance anything to buy it.

This is how they get us:

“THIS SHOE IS BASICALLY MAGIC! WE DID ALL THESE STUDIES IN LABS WITH SCIENTIESTS AND THEY ALL AGREE! IT’S THE BEST SHOE EVER!”

“THIS SHOE DOES’T JUST LOOK GOOD, IT’S GOING TO CURE YOUR PLANTAR FASCITIS!”

“THE LATEST AND GREATEST FROM YOUR FAVORITE BRAND! IF IT AINT BROKE DON’T FIX IT! OH AND DID WE MENTION THESE SHOES WILL HELP YOU LOSE 20 POUNDS OVERNIGHT?”

“THE FASTEST GUYS WEAR OUR SHOES! SEE LOOK! FAST GUYS RUNNING FAST WHILE WEARING OUR SHOES! BUY THEM AND BE FAST LIKE THOSE FAST GUYS!”

“WE DON’T CARE THAT NO ONE WEARS OUR SHOES, MEB WEARS OUR SHOES AND HE’S THE BEST. BE LIKE MEB!”

Dicchary gives perfect advice I am not even going to try to rephrase for (because he’s a scientist wizard and I’m not): [Click Here for the article]

1. Shoes do make a difference.

2. There is no single shoe optimal for all runners, or even a single shoe that is optimized for a single runner across multiple speeds. Again you are looking for the “right tool for the job”

3. Its been really interesting to see what is “marketed” vs. what really “works” in each shoe.

Here’s a recipe for success: Put the best foot you can into a shoe that lets your foot do its job. Don’t be afraid to try out a bunch of different shoes to see what works best for you, but don’t skimp on your body. You want it to perform? Learn how to use it, and give it some attention.
— Jay Dicharry, MPT, SCS

Makes sense right? When was the last time your first thought wasn’t “I need the best shoe” but “I need to invest in correcting my running gait.” Probably never! (Unless you’re a smarty pants and then go you, gold star.) The shoe, like Dichary explains, is only a tool. It’s up to you to how to use it. Rarely do runners invest in their bodies. We don't think to! We run to stay sane or because it’s fun. Rarely do we take the time or the resources to invest in how we run. We'd rather spend an extra $100 on a shoe that makes sweet promises it can't keep.

I challenge you to invest in your form, learn how to control your foot, and figure out what your weak areas are. It doesn’t matter if you’re an Olympian or a new runner, we all run for the same reasons. It’s your call whether you are going to be sidelined because of an injury that could have been prevented. Go find someone who can analyze your gait. Get a physical therapist who can pinpoint problem areas and help you fix them.

That being said, what’s your favorite shoe? Are you loyal to a brand or a certain model? How do you choose? If you’re completely lost, CLICK HERE for my how to buy running shoes 101 and let me know what you love. Until tomorrow, #RunSelfieRepeat.

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Kelly Roberts

It all started when a silly joke made headlines back in 2014 when I took selfies with hot guys “hottie hunting” my way through the New York City Half Marathon. But ironically enough, I haven't always been a runner. As the self-proclaimed former President of the "I f*cking hate running club", I spent most of my life finding ways to avoid physical activity. Growing up, I missed over 70 days of PE my senior year. Working out was something I thought I had to suffer through in order to lose weight. 

Then, in 2009, my younger brother passed away unexpectedly and struggling to manage my grief, I gained more than 75 pounds. With the weight gain came a new fight to regain my sense of self and learn to love the body I saw when I looked in the mirror. Then one Thanksgiving morning, drowning in grief and self doubt, I decided to go for a run. I didn't make it half way down my street before I had to stop to walk but for some reason, struggling forward made more sense than getting back into bed. It turns out that running is a lot like grief, neither ever really get easier, you just get stronger. 

Over time, I realized that while some people are in fact born runners, others are made. I created this blog Run, Selfie, Repeat and my new podcast by the same name with the hopes to inspire others to say yes to themselves while making them laugh hysterically because laughing, in my opinion, is the solution to everything. 

Named by Women's Running as one of twenty women who are changing the sport of running and by Competitor Magazine as one of 12 Influential and inspiring runners under 30, my mission is to inspire others to get embrace a healthy lifestyle and pursue the strongest version of themselves possible.