Category Archives: Barefoot running journal

My experience with moving to barefoot running (well minimalist shoes).

Maximalist is the new minimalist: The absurdity of fitness trends

I saw my first pair of maximalist running shoes in a store last summer and I had to do a quick self-check: is it April fool’s Day? Nope, it’s August. This was the shoe I saw on the shelf in a reputable running and triathlon shop:

I was there waiting to pick up my bike but I had to ask about the shoe. And that’s when I learned about the new maximalist running shoe trend. Apparently extra cushioning is what we need to prevent running injuries in 2016. That’s one mighty big pendulum swing when you consider that in 2010 we learned that we need minimalist running shoes to prevent injuries.

Aside from putting an amused look on my face, the Hoka (the clown-like shoe above) brought me back to two conclusions that I have often hold:

  1. Scientists and/or companies claiming that “this is the one true answer” is your first sign that you should be sceptical of everything else that person or organization says. Science is rarely that certain, and it is never that certain before the science has had a chance to be vetted by other scientists. This typically takes years, which means by the time there is evidence that it is “the one true answer”, it’s probably not that exciting any more so nobody is talking about. So pretty much if you’re talking about an amazing new scientific discovery, understand that it may or may not be true at this point. This is not a dismissal of the scientific process. That is sound. It’s an accusation that most of the science that makes it to the mainstream has cut corners out of the scientific process.
  2. There probably isn’t a “one true answer”, but rather there are different best answers for different people and different scenarios. Minimalist running shoes may be the best option for you; so may maximalist. Heck, maybe the running shoes that got run out of town in 2010 are the best option for you. Or maybe running isn’t great for you. How can you tell? Great question. I’m not an expert in running shoes, but I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that trial and error is probably your best bet.

Unfortunately the “this not that” mangling of the scientific process is also prominent in the nutrition world. I just read an interesting article about how “leptin resistance is the main reason people gain weight and have such a hard time losing it.” Some of you will remember that not long ago “The real reason that you may have struggled to lose weight is insulin resistance.” It would seem that leptin is the maximalist shoe of the nutrition world.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is an engineer turned personal trainer who is both amused and annoyed at the inadequacy of what often passes as science.

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My barefoot running journey: “barefoot” on concrete?

This is the fifth entry in my barefoot running journal. Head over here to start at the beginning.

Sometimes I wonder if we take things too literally. I started thinking about this in terms of minimalist running. I have been running in my New Balance Minimus Trail running shoes. They are extremely minimal, having no cushioning whatsoever. It is a trail shoe, and I bought them primarily for trail running, but also for occasional city runs. And this is what I have done; with gradual increase in mileage. All is well, but on one of my runs last week, I was in a position where I was running on a sidewalk that was lined with a patch of grass between the sidewalk and the road. I moved over to the grass as I passed a couple with their stroller and was struck by how different it felt.

That’s when it really hit me: we can’t really apply the notion of we were “Born to Run” to the modern urban situation. Our ancestors may have run barefoot, but they didn’t do it on concrete. Natural ground, whether it is grass or dirt, has built in cushioning. It provides a dampening effect for every step, reducing the force that is transferred to our body when we run.

As soon as I noticed that, I opted to run on the grass as much as possible for the rest of that run, and noticed a considerable difference in comfort. Running in my minimalist shoes on grass felt amazing: I could almost feel  my feet moving in response to the ground. But as soon as I moved  back to the concrete, my body had to adapt to take on the additional impact. There has been no pain from running on concrete, so perhaps it will be fine, but it doesn’t feel as right as running on grass did.

And the more I thought about it, the more I considered that if we will run on concrete, we should have some cushioning in our shoes to mimic the cushioning that the natural ground would give us. I started to think that the guy who sold me my shoes was half right (click here for that story). He had suggested that I buy a less minimal shoe as a transition shoe before moving into the completely minimalist shoe I have now. I still think that was bad advice for someone who was just ramping up their running. I think if he had suggested the transition shoe as a sidewalk shoe, it would have been excellent advice. In fact it also makes me think that Vibram Five Fingers are ill-advised for city running, although they seem to have developed a degree of popularity among runners. I wonder if that will last? Anyone reading this who has been running in Vibrams in the city for a while? Care to share your experience? Either as a comment below or send me an email through the contact form and I’ll post it as a guest blog.

I still think there is validity to the minimalist footwear movement and the emphasis on more of a midsole strike instead of a heel strike. Since this revelation I have gone for a couple of runs in my funky old Adidas, which have no support but a small amount of  cushioning; and in my fun new Adidas Adizero training shoes. They are similar to my funky old Adidas in support and cushioning but a little less worn down.

Much better! They provide enough cushioning that they are comfortable on concrete, but not so much that I lose touch with the ground and revert to heel striking.

If you’d like to circle back to the beginning of my barefoot running journal, you can get there with this link. At the end of each entry there is a link to the next one.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc, CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada. She works with clients of all types, but most come to her for athletic performance, reducing injury risk, and returning to activity after injury. 

My barefoot running journey: the training plan

This is the fourth entry in my barefoot running journal. Head over here to start at the beginning.

I have logged a few more runs in the new shoes, as well as one barefoot run on the beach in San Diego last week. I am definitely getting more and more used to running without supportive shoes. The biggest transition seems to be how much effort I feel in my calves, although I seem to be slowly getting used to that.

I did discover what I think is a design flaw with these shoes (the New Balance Minimus Trail): if the ground is even slightly wet, your feet will be as well. I guess that’s the price of the shoes being so light. Because the little rubber cleats (for lack of a better word) do not cover the entire sole, but rather have gaps that expose the fabric of the shoe, water comes right up. It’ll be interesting to see how they hold up to wet trails.

I’ve also made a change to my approach. A couple of entries ago, this is what I wrote:

I’m going to run when I want to run. I’m not going to train.

I hope I stick to this. The competitive soul within me may try to hijack this effort, but I will do my best to let my free-spirit soul win out. (Yes, I am a Gemini). I want to experience running as a treat, not a job. I don’t care if I run 4 minute miles or 14 minute miles. Or if I log 100 miles per week or 1 mile per week. I don’t know why I’m writing this in imperial, as it doesn’t  really mean anything to me. But I suppose that supports my point: I am going to run free of numbers and goals and judgments. I am just going to run.”

Well that lasted all of 16 days. Oops! It turns out my competitive soul was successful in the hijacking effort, as I have adopted the couch to 5k running plan (or C25k). I actually place the blame for this on my friend Cara. I was chatting with her on Saturday morning and she mentioned that she and a few of her family members will be running the Perth Kilt Run again this summer. She then proceeded to wear me down until I agreed to run it as well. Okay, really all she did was describe how awesome it was last year:

  • 10,000 runners, all in kilts.
  • bands and bagpipes along the route.
  • free beer provided by Beau’s at the finish for all runners.

See? I had no choice but to agree to run it. And so I am now training for a running race for the first time in about a decade. It’s a 5-mile (8km) race, which I think is more than I should do without building a base. Which brings me to the second reason I have flip-flopped on not having a training plan. Over the past couple of weeks, my “no training” plan seems to have evolved  into a “no-running” plan. Or at least a “minimal-running” plan; which I suppose is fitting since I’m doing a “minimalist running” plan. So either I’m not good without a plan, or I need to already be a decent runner before I can go without a running plan.

The first run in the C25k run is a 20 minute effort that includes a 5 minute walk followed by 6 rounds of 60 seconds of running followed by 90 seconds of walking. I decided to geek it up and searched for a timer app for my android. I looked at a few and eventually downloaded “HIIT Interval training”, a free app that allowed me to easily set up my phone so that I could listen to music on my phone and at the end of each interval, I would hear a whistle over the music to indicate it was time to walk or run. It worked like a charm, and I highly recommend the app.

I went to the arboretum for my first training run. I love running there. I am a personal trainer, so I spend a lot of time inside a gym, and I firmly believe that most people should do some strength training. But I also know that everyone should do some training in nature. There really is a magical feeling from running places like this.

Toward the end of the run, I went off the path and just started weaving through the trees as I ran. Such a great feeling!

Throughout that run, the shoes felt phenomenal. The post-run tightness that I’d felt in my calves seems to be a thing of the past, and the combination of the short intervals and the forward lean required for the minimalist shoes made me feel as though I was running fast, which I quite enjoyed. When I used to do distance running, I tended to run pretty slowly. I’m excited to see if I will be able to continue to run fast as I reduce the time spent walking.

The next entry in my barefoot running journal is up. Click the link to read it.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc, CSCS, is a personal trainer in Ottawa.


My barefoot running journey: the streets of Ottawa

This is the third entry in my barefoot running journal. Head over here to start at the beginning.

Today was the day. I ran in my minimalist shoes. I didn’t run far, but I ran. In my New Balance Minimus Trail shoes. At 3.5 ounces, they really are minimal. Although I realized when I got home that I don’t really know what 3.5 ounces means (aren’t ounces supposed to be a liquid measure?), so I put a shoe on my kitchen scale to see: 100 grams. A bit more meaningful. Then for fun, I measured a few other kitchen items to see if I could find a good comparison: 2 eggs. Next time you go into the fridge, pull 2 eggs out of the carton – that’s how heavy one of my shoes is. Minimalism indeed!

I ran to work in them. In keeping with my run-don’t-train philosophy, I did not dress the part. Other than the shoes that is. I had been wearing jeans all day, so I wore jeans while I ran. And a thin down jacket, toque (that’s Canadian for winter hat), and gloves. And I carried a backpack. This was a special purchase so that I won’t choose whether to run to work based on what I have to carry.

I walked out the door, and down the driveway. It was chilly, which I could really feel through the shoes. I started to run when I got to the sidewalk and it only took a few steps for me to realize how different it felt to run in these shoes. Interesting! The most obvious difference from what I was used to, was how heavy my feet sounded. It only took a few steps to stop landing on my heels, but the loud slap-slapping of my feet suggested I didn’t quite have the hang of it yet. In fact my steps were so heavy that I decided to turn this into a walk-run as I was worried that running the whole 1.5km to work would be too much impact. So I ran a block then walked a block. I tried to lean forward as I ran to get that child-like feel, which I had assumed would just come naturally. I mean, I’m childish at times. Not childish enough I guess, as it really didn’t just happen. By the last block the sound of my feet on the ground was almost normal, which was reassuring.

As I ran, I also noticed my calves and ankles. Now I suspect I was overly sensitive to changes – I mean I was experimenting after all. There was one step early on where something a little bit off, but it didn’t repeat. Other than that, there was no pain. It was just a feeling that this was different; and that I was using the muscles in my calves more than I am used to.

When I got to the gym, I took the shoes off (I almost forgot to but I force my clients to leave outdoor shoes at the door, so I figured I should do the same) and walked around in socks for the next few hours as I trained clients, then put the shoes back on and ran/walked back home. It only took about a block to lose that slap-slap sound on the way home – progress! There is a bridge on the commute, which means I get a bit of uphill and downhill. It felt easier to maintain what I think is proper minimalist running posture when I ran uphill, and it felt harder running downhill. I suppose that makes sense: running uphill basically forces you into that forward lean position, whereas running downhill tends to encourage your body to lean backwards into a more heel initiated stride. Mental note: get some tips on running down hills minimalist style.

I felt just fine by the time I got home. I would say that I didn’t feel much different than I had felt on recent commutes running in my funky Adidas, with the exception that my calves felt like they had worked a bit more, but nothing major. The next morning I had some very minor muscle soreness in my calves. Nothing to be even remotely concerned about, but a reminder that this is in fact working the calves more than running in my old running shoes did.

The extra calf work made me think back to a running presentation I attended in the fall.  It was a presentation for sports medicine practitioners that I got to attend (I was working at a sports therapy clinic at the time) by a local sports medicine doctor and a physiotherapist who specializes in running gait assessments. The presenters talked about running injuries, running gait, and the various running styles.  The reason I thought of that presentation, is that one of the points they made was that they were seeing decreases in some overuse running injuries with minimalist shoe runners, they were also seeing an increase in Achilles injuries. I’ll provide a proper summary of what I learned in that presentation (and a bit of context about that comment) in my next blog entry.

One final observation that I had with my first minimalist shoe running experience is that this style of running seems to make it easier to run faster. Now consider that I’ve always been something of a plodder when I run (distance that is! Not on the field. I had to note that as I feel like I’m setting myself up for ribbing from my ultimate player friends otherwise ). In other words, when I strap my running shoes on and head out the door, I’m not going to beat any records. I used to run the 10 km event every year as part of National Capital Race Weekend, and I was very comfortably a 55 minute finisher. So far I feel that the few blocks I’ve run in these shoes have been faster. Now that could also be a reflection of my being stronger now than I used to be back in my old  running days, or that I’m only running a block at a time, so fatigue is not setting in. But I suspect the posture that I’m using with these shoes encourages a bit more speed.

More entries to come as I continue this minimalist running journey!

The next entry in my barefoot running journal is up. Click the link to read it.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS, is a geek masquerading as a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada. 

My barefoot running journey: Testing the shoes

Did you miss the first barefoot running journal entry? If so, you may want to read it first.

It’s now been 4 days since I bought my saucy new minimalist trail running shoes, the New Balance Minimus Trail.

minimalist running shoes

Technically I haven’t actually run in them yet. I decided to wear them around the house first, so on Sunday afternoon, I wore them at home, figuring this was a good way to ease into them.  Within about a half hour, I started getting pain (minor discomfort really) where the arch meets the heel. It was something that I had experienced many years ago with a pair of cleats. In that case, I ended up switching to a pair of cleats with a different cleat pattern and the problem went away. Hmm. I took the shoes off and continued to wander about the house just in socks. The discomfort went away quite quickly.

The next day I decided to wear the shoes at my training studio. Within a half hour, the same thing happened. So I took them off and continued training clients in socks. The discomfort went away. Based on that, I decided I would return the shoes. I figured that the fact that I could switch to barefoot (socks) without discomfort suggested it wasn’t a question of my getting used to minimalist shoes, but that it was the location of one of the bumps (for lack of a better word) on the bottom of the shoe that was a problem for me. I went for a trail run on Tuesday morning without the new shoes and with the intention of returning them that afternoon. I ran out of time that day, so brought them in to my personal training studio Wednesday morning with the intention of returning them that afternoon.

For some reason I put them on one more time. This time, they didn’t hurt. At all. I wore them for a good 2 and a half hours while training clients and then during my own lifting session. No problems. Needless to say, I’m pretty happy that I didn’t just return them. I mean, did you see how awesome they look?

This afternoon marks an exciting moment for both me and my saucy new shoes: the first outdoor run!

I will run to work this afternoon. It’s a short run – 1.4 km (ya, living close to work is awesome). And realistically, I’ll probably stop once on the way. I am after all, just starting back into running – it’s only been about 2 weeks now. Intermittently.

I am also reviewing my form. I have read a bit about Chi running, have attended a great workshop by a sports medicine doctor and a physiotherapist about running, and have seen some instructional videos. Last night I downloaded a copy of ChiRunning to my ipad, although i haven’t started it yet (but you learn just by buying, right?). The few times that I have run recently in my funky Adidas, I have tried my interpretation of Chi Running. I am sure it’s not 100%. Really I’m working on just leaning forward and then letting my feet catch up to me. I’m sure there’s more to it than that, but until I learn more (will start reading tonight and hoping to take a course), that’s what I’m going with. In my head I’m thinking of myself as a kid running. You know how little kids look like they are constantly about to fall over forward when they run, but somehow their feet catch up? I see two benefits to thinking of this:

  1. I think it might actually be correct.
  2. It feels hilarious, and I like hilarity.
  3. I know, I said 2 reasons. But bonus reason number 3 is that I have a good friend who skates this way. As an adult. It’s hilarious. I’m going to start thinking of him now when I run. If you see me running by laughing, now you know why. I wonder if he’ll read this. If so, I wonder if he’ll know I’m talking about him. No, this has nothing to do with Barefoot Running. But everything to do with not taking running too seriously. Which is a great lead in to the rest of the article.

Running Goals

What are my running goals?   I dunno.

Will I run a 10km race? A marathon?   Doubt it.

How long will each run be?   Dunno.

How many runs will I do each week?   Some, I guess.

Here’s the deal: While I’m going to jump in feet first to this new minimalist shoe trend, beyond that, I’m going to do the opposite of what most runners do. But I actually think is the core message of Born to Run. It’s not entirely about the shoes.

I’m going to run when I want to run. I’m not going to train. 

I hope I stick to this. The competitive soul within me may try to hijack this effort, but I will do my best to let my free-spirit soul win out. (Yes, I am a Gemini). I want to experience running as a treat, not a job. I don’t care if I run 4 minute miles or 14 minute miles. Or if I log 100 miles per week or 1 mile per week. I don’t know why I’m writing this in imperial, as it doesn’t  really mean anything to me. But I suppose that supports my point: I am going to run free of numbers and goals and judgments. I am just going to run.

As much as possible, I’m going to run in awesome places.

Places where trails weave through forests and along rivers, and up and down hills. Where chickadees will eat out of your hands, where deer sightings are normal, and you sometimes have to stop because the Canada Geese are blocking your path. Jack Pine trail. The Experimental Farm. Gatineau Park. Mer Bleu. Ottawa is blessed with some fantastic nature locales and there is something truly magical about running in nature’s glory.

If I am running and I feel like walking, I will walk. If I am walking and I feel like running, I will run.

I did the latter on the weekend, and it was awesome. I was meeting friends on Elgin St for breakfast, so I decided that instead of walking, I would run/walk. I didn’t change into running clothes. I wore jeans; not running pants. A regular bra; not a sports bra. My sporty-casual 3/4 length fall coat; not a running jacket. And the funky Adidas, which I probably would have worn anyways. I didn’t run enough to get all sweaty so that I’d wish I had put on workout wear. But I ran enough that it took less than 15 minutes to get there instead of 20+.

Remember when you were a kid and you just ran? Why don’t we do that anymore? I’ve decided to start. Anyone else?

Click here to see the next entry with the results of outdoor run #1. Well, not the results. Cuz you know – there will be no results since I’ll just be running. :) But I’ll let you know how it felt.


If you’d like to circle back to the beginning of my barefoot running journal, you can get there with this link. At the end of each entry there is a link to the next one.


Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS is a personal trainer in Ottawa, Canada.

So begins my barefoot running journey

I love listening to audio books on long drives. I was heading to Toronto for a movnat workshop about a month ago and so picked up the Born to Run audio book. If you haven’t read (or listened to it), I highly recommend it. It is partly a book that puts forth a thesis and supports it with convincing (but probably one sided) physiological arguments. But it is also a book that weaves a great tale about life and people and running. Unfortunately I didn’t get to listen to much of it on the drive to Toronto as a big snow storm cut that drive short (going in May now instead). But I’ve since listened to the book in bits and pieces as I drive around Ottawa. There have been many days when I arrive somewhere and remain in the car because I don’t want to “put the book down”.

This book came to me at an opportune time, as I’ve been thinking about getting back into running. I used to run regularly, but for the last 5 to 10 years, I have done very little distance running. Initially it was because I was focusing my training on sports performance for Ultimate, which is a field sport requiring intermittent bursts of speed. Distance running is a very poor choice in terms of training for sports like ultimate (or soccer, tennis, basketball, hockey, football…) because it effectively trains you to run slowly in sports that require speed. I no longer play ultimate at a competitive level, and don’t aspire to. I still play at a fairly high level, but my training focus now is more broad. I still train to be able to perform, but performance has taken on a new meaning. For me, it now means being fit enough to be able to do the activities I want to do. And over the winter, I’ve been thinking that I’d like to take up both cycling and running again.

I actually only started running again about a week ago. I decided to start running to work, which is less than 2 km from my house. I pulled my old running shoes out, put the orthotics in, and ran out the door. I went about halfway, walked for about a block, and then ran the rest of the way. It was pretty cool. But I noticed two things:

  • when I looked in the mirror, I could see that I supinated (standing on the outside edges of my feet) in my shoes.
  • I started to feel some discomfort in the outside of my calf on one side.

There was a time when I wore orthotics for everything. This was one of the many prescriptions I received during 20 years of on again/off again hip pain on my left side that eventually led to surgery 3 years ago for femoro acetabular impingement, a labral tear and early arthritis. About a year after surgery (which was a big success), I started to ween myself off the orthotics. Very slowly. I started with “barefoot” warmups for my own training, and then spent more time walking around without shoes at home. Eventually I stopped wearing the orthotics for any strength training, and then stopped wearing them for normal daily living. I kept them a bit longer for long walks, tennis and ultimate. During this time, I also spent a lot of my training time in the gym with single-leg training. Until very recently, I actually had no plan to go beyond that. A little more history: I was born with a partial clubfoot that was corrected with special shoes when I was a baby. It wasn’t quite 100% corrected, and I’m pretty certain that there is a relationship between the partial club foot and the hip trouble I had. And considering that, I figured that I am one of the people who has a structural issue in my foot and therefore would need orthotics forever.

But as I looked at how I was standing in my running shoes with the orthotics in them, having just been listening to Born to Run, I started to second guess. And I decided it was time to give this barefoot running concept a try. Well, more specifically, the minimalist shoe concept. I don’t want to actually go barefoot, but there are now many shoes out there that have little to no support. If you believe the message from Born to Run (and I do), then you will be of the opinion that most running shoes are actually bad for us, and that when it comes to running shoes, less is more. I then looked over at my funky casual Adidas: they are pretty minimal – no support to speak of. So the next day I ran to and from work wearing them.

Two cool things happened:

  • that little lateral calf pain went away
  • I noticed that I naturally started to run with a midfoot strike instead of a heel strike, just like they suggest in Born to Run (for those who don’t know what this means, stay tuned for a future blog article about a great running biomechanics presentation I attended last year or…read Born to Run).

So it’s true what they say! I was encouraged.

And I decided I would take a stand: I’m not going to go spend a tonne of money on expensive “minimalist shoes” sold by the same big brand running shoe companies who introduced these horrible running shoes to us in the first place. I would just wear my scrappy 2008 casual runners. No purchase required. I’m so sticking it to the man that soon I’ll be living in the woods! Or am I? The next day I went for a trail run with my best friend. I ended up wearing my old running shoes because the casual shoes have pretty worn treads and a funky aeration screen on the bottom, making them a poor choice for trail running. I wore them without the orthotics and I was happy to see that the calf pain did not return. But they felt clunky, and it was a struggle to keep the midfoot strike. So much for my stick-it-to-the-manedness: a couple of hours later I was at Sports 4 trying on minimalist trail running shoes.

The guy at the store tried to convince me to get a “transition shoe”, because we need to introduce minimalist shoes gradually to avoid a host of other injuries. I pointed out, that I am still in the process of ramping up running in general, so gradual is not a problem. The notion of transitioning to a transition shoe so that a few months from now I have to transition again, this time to a minimalist shoe, seems absurd. Or more accurately an attempt by the shoe companies to get me to buy new shoes more often than I need to. Eventually I convinced him that I don’t need the transition: I already do lots of barefoot or socked-foot training, and will only be running 1 – 3 km initially with the shoes.

I ended up getting the New Balance Minimus trail. Look how cool they are:

minimalist running shoes

And they only weigh 3.5 ounces. Crazy!

I got some support for that decision a few minutes later. I was walking down bank st and a woman at the bus stop who had been at sports 4 when I was talking with the sales guy stopped me and told me that she thinks I was right to skip the minimalist shoe. As it turns out she is a physiotherapist and had recently attended Blais Dubois’ running clinic. I had previously heard good things about Blais Dubois’ clinic from Richard Gregory, a fantastic osteopath and athletic therapist in Ottawa, so when she spoke about it, it did not come across as a random argument. I felt reassured. Both in my choice of shoe and my constant feeling that Ottawa is a small city.

I’ll fill you in on how I’m making out with these saucy shoes in the next article. If you want to be notified when the next installment of my barefoot running journey gets posted, let me know in the comment section below.

Click through to get to  the next entry in my barefoot running journal.

Elsbeth Vaino, B.Sc., CSCS is a personal trainer in Ottawa.