Barefoot running has been around for a while – since before shoes were invented, in fact – but thanks to a growing number of low profile trainers it very much in fashion.
Vibe’s Jim Palmer tested a pair of Merrell’s Run Bare Access 3 trainers to see what all the fuss is about.
It seems to me that runners enjoy a fad and a bit of technology as much as foodies.
For every kitchen-lover’s bizarre juicer or food dehydrator gathering dust in a cupboard (guilty on both counts), there is an equally daft compression sock with or a miracle energy gel being abused on a 5k Saturday Park Run (guilty on one count).
One of the least weird choices made by eaters is to eat organic.
For my money, that’s basically what barefoot running amounts to.
Proponents – with whom I tentatively include myself since I trying these shoes - say that running with minimalist shoes (you’ll want at least a thin layer of rubber on the tarmac) is more natural and builds strength.
With a lack of padding and support, your muscles need to be stronger to support yourself and your body naturally adjusts to protect itself, thus making your running style more sympathetic and reducing the likelihood of injuries like shin splints and runner’s knee.
This theory was floating around my head, though not yet proven, when the trainers arrived.
On first opening the box, my reaction was a little bit ‘oh’.
They looked just like shoes, not super ‘barefoot’ shoes. But then I picked them up and realised how light they were and how thin the sole was.
The Bare Access 3 is so light it feels like it has been stitched together by fairies from the very top, wispy bits of cloud – and then daubed in fluorescent paint.
What they are made of, by the way, is a mystery to me as they are supposedly vegan friendly. Great news if you do decide to mix passions for food and running.
Popping them on my feet, it was obvious why the term ‘barefoot’ was used. It really did feel totally different to my trusted road trainers, which I thought were light and fairly thin soled.
Pottering about the house first of all, I did consider that perhaps it was all pseudoscience and they were maybe just like wearing plimsolls.
But I’ve tried running in those cheap pumps and, trust me, it’s not remotely the same.
If you are a runner who naturally lands on your heel then running in these shoes will quickly force you out of that. Landing on your heel in a nice pair of Asics can be OK but try it in the Merrells and the vibrations will shudder up your spine.
I naturally land on my toes anyway – though I did used to drag my feet a bit when tired – so it wasn’t a huge adjustment for me to be comfortable. What I did immediately notice was the muscles all up my legs working to support me more.
The makers do suggest you ease yourself into barefoot running and perhaps that’s why.
While I love my conventional running trainers, I did feel more fleet-footed in these minimalist ones.
I found I was running more upright and felt more nimble – like a sports car rather than a motorway cruiser.
Merrell’s Run Bare Access 3 are available in sizes 6.5 to 14 at merrell.com and cost £80.