New Canaan runners who want to simulate barefoot running are flocking to try out the new minimalist shoes being offered by New Balance, Nike, Saucony, and Vibram. The shoes are light, bright, and give new meaning to the term, "where the rubber meets the road."
"It feels like you're running barefoot," said Mike Shinsky, general manager of . "Our shoes are less than 8 ounces and force you to run on the balls of your feet, which is the natural way to run."
At first glance, it looks impossible to run in Vibram's "FiveFingers," the trend-setter of minimalist shoes. Think of a glove for your foot. Think of shoes E.T. might have worn. The "FiveFingers" has slots for every toe, which makes getting into the shoe an experience in and of itself. The first time you try them on, allow a good 15 minutes to get your feet comfortably in — seriously. (See video at right.) They weigh 5.7 ounces and appear to be more about style than substance.
"We get the customer that comes in and says, 'Hey, these are cool and different,' and they walk out with them," Carlos Martinez, manager of the said. "There is definitely a novelty to them."
But there is not much cushion in them. No gels, no foams, and apparently nothing that provides a lot of comfort for a runner.
"This is basically a flat shoe," said Shinsky, whose company New Balance, is set to launch "Minimus", its entry into the minimalist market, on March 1. "This shoe will force you to run the proper way and decrease the pounding that one normally takes from the heel-strike."
The minimalist shoes, which run from $75 to $125, favor technique over technology. Proper form is a must, and you must crawl in them before you can run.
"You have to ease your way into these shoes. You should walk around in them for a while," Martinez said. "People that try to go out and run five miles right away are going to hurt themselves."
Those sentiments were echoed by Dr. George McGinniss, orthopedic surgeon at Orthopedic Surgery and Sports Medicine in New Canaan.
"They are a great shoe as an aid for conditioning," McGinniss said. "But they should be used by the right person in the right condition."
According to McGinness, there are three types of conditioning: anaerobic, strength, and soft-tissue conditioning.
"These shoes aren't for the 45-year old runner who has a mortgage, three kids, and runs on the weekends," McGinniss added. "Runners have to ease into these shoes and build up the soft-tissue in their feet."
Time will tell if minimalist shoes are a fad or here to stay. But in this day and age, where different is good, these shoes definitely stand out.