Monday, 23 May 2011

A year without trainers: minimal running

Back in October I left the UK for a year of travelling the world.  With reluctance I left behind my Asics GT2150 running shoes.  My already overloaded backpack simply couldn't accomodate a size 12 pair of trainers!

So what am I wearing on my feet this year, and how is it affecting my running?
For day to day use I am wearing either my ultra comfortable Meindl walking boots or a pair of Haviana flip flops.  The boots are great for most walking, but too hot in the Andean sun and in the tropics.  The flip flops are OK but I have never liked them for long walks because of the unnatural way you have to scrunch your toes slightly to keep them on.

Luna sandals, Zems, VFFs, Meindl boots, Havianas
For running, I overdid it and brought three pairs of minimalist running shoes (to be fair, the three combined take up less space than one pair of regular running shoes).  First up, my Vibram Five Fingers.  These are good for running in most conditions, don't require socks, and are very compact.  But they stink and require regular washing.

Next up are my Zem Gear shoes.  These are fun for running in, especially for flying up hills, but they were never designed for running and the soles are ripped to shreds so they won't be around for much longer.

Finally, I have been carrying a pair of Barefoot Ted's Luna Sandals unused for the last few months.  I got frustrated trying to get the hang of lacing them round my ankles and left them in the bottom of my backpack for a while.  But now I have got the lacing sorted, they are comfortable and great for long walks over rough desert trails.  I have only just started trying them out for running, so I'll be reporting back on how they fare soon, but I'm very happy with the barefoot feel of them for walking.  The vibram rubber sole feels good and moulds to the  foot, although as with all minimalist shoes, they won't stop the worst cactus spines from reaching your foot!

Eight months into the trip, running only in minimalist shoes, I can honestly say I don't miss my traditional running shoes.  Of course, I have been running mostly in dry, hot and sunny conditions and not at racing speed, but I am hoping to have built up more foot and ankle strength by the time I return to the UK, so that I can rely even less on the trainers.

Its also been a positive experience wearing the Zems and VFFs when meeting other runners and walkers.  I am surprised at the good reaction they usually receive - the minimalist marketing machine has certainly been working to good effect over the last couple of years.  These shoes are now taken much more seriously, with less ridicule and laughter, and more acceptance and respect as realistic running shoes.

I'm looking forward to trying out the Luna Sandals in anger for running over the next few weeks.