Barefoot with My Shoes On: The Transition

A continuation of talking about minimalist shoes and running.

“Like giant bees took twin dumps on my feet.” That is how I described these shoes when I first purchased them:

Photo of black and yellow running shoe. In this photo, the shoe is just over 6 months old.

My New Balance MT10s, minimalist trail shoes.

When I bought them, I really did feel like they were garish enough to warrant such a description, though I’ve definitely toned down my opinion now. (In particular, I tend to feel like yellow is an impossibly bright color. Many other people, it seems, do not share this intense reaction.) However, the first time I tried them on in the store — and even more during the first run with them — the physical feel of these shoes was absolutely liberating. The big clunky heel that made my last running shoes so heavy was gone. The wide toe box meant there was enough room for my feet to flex and grip and move. Best of all for me, it no longer felt like my shoes were forcing my feet — and therefore my legs and the rest of my body — into an unnatural and uncomfortable position when I ran.

For folks who are into the foot-feel and foot-strike kinds of things: The sole on these shoes is much thinner and more flexible than a traditional athletic shoe but still thicker and with more tread than most Vibram FiveFingers. While there is still technically a heel drop on these shoes, it’s only 4 millimeters. It is possible to get a mid- or forefoot strike in these shoes, but I bought them before I deliberately shifted to a forefoot strike, and hitting heel first in the MT-10s never bothered me. In retrospect, I think this was an excellent shoe for me while I was first thinking about and then actively transitioning to a more “barefoot” running style. I could run for the first 5 or 10 or 30 minutes with a forefoot strike then switch to a heel strike in the same shoe — and be fine both ways.

For folks who are into lower leg muscle sorts of things: Yes, I did start to feel this in my calves in pretty short order. (Although also yes, my shin splints did start to subside here.) I did have moderately strong calves to begin with, so while it was noticeable and maybe twingey but not actually sore or painful. (I did not feel any changes in my ankles, but I never did have problems with ankles before.) Now, I am sure that my changing stride contributed, probably in large part, to feeling my lower legs develop. However, I think the shoes may have also played into it, and here’s why:

For folks who are into cute story kinds of things: The day after I bought these shoes, I was supposed to help out a former student with her final registration for her first semester at college. I wore the new shoes, as I thought I’d be doing a lot of bus riding, waiting in line, filling out forms — in short, lots of sitting. I figured it would be a good inactive day to help break the shoes in. However, several confounding factors — mistimed buses, confusion about the campus where we were meeting, dead cell phone batteries — found me hauling ass across large swaths of my city. Not running exactly, because I was carrying a heavyish backpack with no hip belt, but power walking to put every mall walker in America to shape. (Yes, even the ones in the matching velour sports suits.) We did find each other eventually, her red tape loose ends were tied (stuck together?), and she’s still in college now, so that’s all good. From a shoe-centric perspective, what’s important is that I probably put four or five (admittedly walking) miles on them the first day I wore them and had zero complaints in my body: legs, feet, or anywhere else.

Long story short: I’m really glad I tried these first before moving into more pronounced minimalist shoes. They are different enough from conventional running shoes that I got a good feel for what more “barefoot” movement entailed. That said, they’re also close enough to mainstream shoes that I wasn’t really shocked by the difference. That is, my brain might have been surprised sometimes, but my body was always comfortable enough that it knew what to do and could do just that.

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4 comments on “Barefoot with My Shoes On: The Transition
  1. Princess R says:

    (I hope this is okay, but I’m trying to get back into running as exercise, so I have a couple questions about the shoes… :) )

    I have a wide toe/narrow heel, do these shoes seem like they would accommodate that type of foot?

    How high do they seem to come towards the ankle (does the cut hug the ankle bone, or are they lower)?

    Do you happen to know what sort of pronation you have?

    • Tori says:

      (This is totally fine. No worries!)

      I do think these shoes would accommodate the foot shape you describe. First off, because I have a variant of it (medium width across the ball of the foot, narrow on the posterior half). Second, the toe box on these shoes is notably wider than toe boxes on more traditional running shoes, so it seems like the general shape of the shoe goes wider at the front to narrower at the back.

      On me, the cut of the shoes comes just under my ankle bone.

      And I underpronate — mildly or moderately, depending on a variety of factors.

  2. G says:

    I love my MT20s, which are similar. Love them. I do wish my calves were to the point where I can wear them to run in all the time, but they still stress my muscles so I rotate them with neutral squishy shoes. But they are super comfy and I love wearing them around, too. (I get lots of comments on them.)

    With my wide foot, I found the men’s 2E to be really accommodating. Snug in the midfoot but plenty of room for toes to wiggle.

    • Tori says:

      OMG, they come in widths, too? (Admittedly, with my medium foot, this is something I have the privilege of never checking.) That’s even more awesome.

      I purchased my MT10s this past summer when the MT20s were just coming to my local retail shops. Which, conveniently enough, placed the 10s on sale. :)

      But yeah, I tend to think they’d be running shoes with a fairly wide appeal. I mean, in the understanding that no one type of shoe is going to work for everyone.

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