Running around Mueller in Minimalist Shoes

Alison Raffalovich Article, Front Porch Flyer

By Drew Harris, from the February 2021 Front Porch Flyer

One of my favorite things about life at Mueller is the greenway trails for running. You will often find me on my near-daily runs around the neighborhood. But I’m running differently these days, more specifically, in a very different kind of shoes.

I have been running for a long time, both in marathons and triathlons as well as casual jogs around the parks. I took pride in running the Austin Half-Marathon every year for about a decade. I even started running the half-marathon in a taco costume to help keep Austin weird.

But years into my running, I started getting serious pain in my foot. After going to a sports doctor, I found I had the bane of many runners: plantar fasciitis

Plantar fasciitis is the inflammation of the fascia tissue connecting your heel bone to your toes. It made long-distance running excruciating. I gave running a break, but the condition persisted even a year later. I bought new running shoes with even more cushioning than before, but still my half-marathon days were over. 

Then I learned about a new movement to ditch the shoes with extra cushioning, and try running closer to how we evolved to run. Humans can beat most other animals in a long distance endurance race. Our feet evolved for running over millions of years running across Africa’s vast savannahs. 

But these days we run in engineered shoes with cushioned heels and stability reinforcements. While this makes running more comfortable, it also makes the muscles in our feet work less hard to stabilize ourselves — and thus they become ultimately weaker. More importantly, it encourages a running stride where you more commonly land heel first, rather than on the ball of your foot. This “heel striking” significantly worsens plantar fasciitis. 

So I have abandoned my cushioned Asics running shoes in favor of minimalist running shoes, which more closely mimic the way we naturally run when barefoot. I started with a pair from Vibram, and I’m now running in Xero running shoes with a 5,000 mile sole warranty. 

Unlike normal shoes that have a cushioned, elevated heel, these minimalist running shoes have a “zero-drop” flat sole. They take a while to get used to and to train your foot muscles to work harder to stabilize. Researching this method first or even consulting with a trainer can help you get started. I have been taking it slow, initially only running a mile a day. But now, three weeks in, I am back to running three miles per day, and most importantly, I am experiencing no plantar fasciitis! 

So if you see me running around in my blue Xero running shoes, say hi!