Find Your Own Minimalism for Marathon Training

al_running_56059I got caught up.

A lot of runners did.

Minimal running makes sense to me. It feels right to me and mostly resonates with the way I run. Mostly.

After trying three different brands of shoes and one stress fracture here’s what I learned about minimalism and marathon training:

Vibram Bikilas LS

Like many runners, I bought Vibrams. I own two pair and the Bikila LS just might be the most comfortable shoes in my running toolkit. But not every tool works for every job, and for me long runs demand a different tool. Let me explain.

I ramped up marathon training in Bikilas for what would have been my second race at that distance. Slowly, just like all the “experts” say.

Excruciatingly slow. I wore Vibrams for a year before buying those Bikilas so I didn’t think it’d be an issue. Two months of training had given me confidence. That came to an abrupt stop, just like I did, 13 miles into a scheduled 18-mile long run. I had a strange pain in my foot, one I’d never experienced before. Did I step on something sharp? Did I step wrong? I tried to walk it off for a few blocks, but ended up aborting the run and hobbling almost a mile home.

I liken the pain to a dull nail in your foot. That happened to me as a kid, and I vividly recall the warm, uncomfortable feeling of the nail, as well as the accompanying tetanus shot. This felt similar, but emanated from inside.

The doctor did an X-ray, but found nothing. He told me to stay off it and wait a few weeks. It didn’t get better so he sent me for more tests. Those scans confirmed his suspicions: a stress fracture. I got prescribed a bulky boot and six weeks of staying off my feet as much as possible.

I never saw the starting line that fall for the Free Press Marathon, but picked up my race packet and shirt. I used that shirt as inspiration to later train for that same race, to “earn” the shirt.

I don’t fully blame the shoes. It’s easy to. Realistically, though, a stress fracture can happen in more cushioned shoes. Think about it: Each foot hits the ground about 5,400 times per hour during a long run. That’s a lot of abuse.

The experience did, however, steer me toward more shoe for longer marathon training runs. I stand by my Bikilas and still run in them. I just don’t run more than 5 or 6 miles. I use them for short hill repeats, mainly.

New Balance Minumus

New Balance’s Minimus got me through the next marathon. Purists will debate the “minimal” aspect of that shoe. That’s fine. They can talk all they want, but it works for me. The shoes still have a relatively low stack height and zero drop. They still give me the muscular bonuses (particularly in the calves) of the Vibrams, but have more padding to keep my bones in one piece during long marathon training runs. I still feel like I get good feedback from the ground I run on, which is one of the big things about minimalist running for me.

Skora Base

After the Minimus, I bought the Skora Base and liked the fit of that one
so much I bought the company’s Phase-X. That’ll be the shoe I train in this spring for the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Mich.

I’ve seen runners line up barefoot for marathons. Good for them. I must say, I’m a bit jealous. But “minimal” for me means using as little shoe as I can get away with for the run ahead of me.

2 Responses to Find Your Own Minimalism for Marathon Training

  1. Angie Spencer January 22, 2014 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks for sharing some of the lessons you’ve learned along the path to minimalism. I agree that minimalistic running may look a little different for each person. I also think it’s important to use more than one model of shoe for marathon training so that you’re supporting and challenging the feet in different ways. All the best in your marathons this year!

  2. Randy Grein January 28, 2014 at 11:47 am #

    Great review Jeremy. When I was a child we often went barefoot in the summer like many kids of modest means. Post High School in fun runs my legs would get tired after 5 miles or so of a race so I’d kick off the shoes and socks and do the last mile or two barefoot – and run about 2 minutes a mile faster.

    As a mature (55) clydesdale minor knee problems caused me to look at shoes again. A pair of Nike free worked well but wear out too fast. I then locked onto vibram 5 fingers. Adjusting to a ‘no shoe’ took a while but I love them. They work well for shorter runs and anytime I can get to a soft trail. I would like to work up to at least a half marathon with them, but it’s more important to continue to run at all. Oh, yeah – with no cushion they seem to last a lot longer. No cushion.

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