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Typically, runners are told that they need a number of things to fix their injuries and make running more enjoyable. Whether that's a stability/neutral shoe, or an orthotic. Doctors, trainers and ill-informed running specialty stores will give loads of information to get you in what they believe is the "correction" your feet need. Then minimalist running came along. The hype first started in 2011 when Christopher McDougall's book, "Born to Run" hit the shelves. McDougall ventured into the Copper Canyons of Mexico and found the Tarahumara Indians, an indigenous tribe, that runs hundreds of miles, through the desert, hunting. All while barefoot or with some type of old tire strapped to their feet.
Americans were fascinated and liked the idea of "natural" running. In fact, the Vibram 5 Finger shoe, originally made in 1999, was sold rapidly following McDougall's book release. But frankly Americans are too fat and have worn shoes their whole lives with large stability wedges and over priced inserts. So naturally barefoot running only lasted a season as people put too much pressure on their weak feet and barefoot running only lasted a season.
McDougall's research was right, though. There is nothing natural about fixing your body to run better, your body will fix itself. Most running injuries are referred. Meaning pain in your knee, is often pain in your foot but manifesting itself elsewhere. So runners who buy ten different things to make their feet more equipped for running are really making the problem worse. Mother nature intended for our bodies to fix their own problems. Suggesting that a runner should dump all their shoes and hit the streets barefoot destructive. However, suggesting that a runner eases their way into zero drop running shoes will often fix all their "injuries" and end up with stronger feet.
Running shoes often range from 0mm-12mm drop. Millimeters is hardly any measurement to the eye, but when comparing a 0mm to a 12mm shoe by having one of each foot, the difference is evident. There is nothing natural about your heel sitting 12mm higher than you forefoot. That only puts a lot of pressure on your toes and causes balancing issues. A higher drop also doesn't allow for complete muscle usage. Humans have over 100 muscles, tendons and other ligaments in their feet, a high drop shoe inhibits the foots ability to use all those muscles. So, why do high drop shoes exist? Well people are all about heel to toe running so more padding and higher lift at the heel, less heel bruising. But again, nothing natural about jumping on your heels for miles at a time.
Zero (or lower drop) shoes, are the perfect compromise. Padding with a natural boot bed, that will force you to run on the middle of your foot and thus allow you to use all 100+ muscles in the foot. Zibram has no padding, tires look bad and anything higher than a 4mm drop is like throwing on some high heals. Zero drop shoes give all the comfort you need while forcing you to use your foot correctly. And because all the foot muscles are forced to be used correctly, the runner will land correctly on the middle of the foot.
Many problems can and have occurred with zero drop. Most people jump right into them (most of American with McDougall's book release), but if a runner is coming from a 10mm drop and dives into a 0mm, it hurts. Lower calf and Achilles pain is common, and a feeling as though the foot might pop out of the shoe is often annoying. Some will experience arch pain, as their arch strengthens after years of debilitating orthotic usage. But after getting past the initial pain (usually lasting up to two weeks), the natural shoe will work wonders for the ever seeking all natural body.
Many companies have tried to incorporate lower drop shoes into their line. Altra, a 100% zero drop company, has done well at recruiting runners to try their award winning shoes. Some other shoes that have done well include: Topo St-2, New Balance MT10, Mizuno Wave Sonic, Brooks PureFlow and Vibram Furoshiki. For more casual ware, Lems and Xero are also minimalist zero drop brands.
Whether you just have foot pain or you're a hardcore 50+ mile week runner, a zero drop never hurt anyone. And higher drop shoes are only weakening the foot, only to find more problems in the future. Strengthening the foot now will allow for a long life of running and soon, like our Tarahumara Indian friends down south, we might find joy in hunting for our food. It is just a matter of easing into it and allowing our bodies to naturally heel themselves.