Shoe Solutions: Case Study No. 1—Seeking Minimalism with Traction

New Balance Trail Minimus.

New Balance Trail Minimus.

The New Balance Trail Minimus passes one runner’s test.

Written by: Matt Fitzgerald

I tried to return to serious training too quickly after running the 2009 Boston Marathon and developed a bad case of plantar fasciitis in my left heel. Then, with Ironman Arizona looming in November, I panicked and tried to train through the injury by replacing my natural, mild heel strike with a forefoot landing, and consequently developed a compensatory Achilles tendon injury that was even worse than the fascia problem.

In fact, that Achilles injury never fully healed. No amount of rest, rehabilitation, or therapy brought it around fully. However, after 18 months I was able to run a fair amount with a modified Groucho Marx stride that seemed to take some stress off the Achilles tendon. The only problem was that this way of running felt unnatural and wasn’t as much fun as running without thinking about my stride. The modified stride was also less efficient than my natural stride—this was proven to me in laboratory testing done at Eastern Michigan University.

So I decided to fiddle around some more. To my surprise, I discovered through this fiddling that running in very minimal shoes—specifically the Nike Free 3.0—and with a very moderate forefoot weighting—seemed to take as much stress off my battered Achilles as the Groucho Marx style of running and enabled me to relatively comfortably. Interestingly, it didn’t work in regular trainers. When I wore thick-heeled trainers and tried to weight the forefoot on landing, I could not seem to help but exaggerate the adjustment, which put too much strain on the tendon. But in the Frees I could make the modification more gently, almost without thinking about it, and the difference was felt. Go figure.

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