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The Running Event in Austin: Minimalism is Still Hot!

Posted on 18 December 2012

Huge Congrats to two Natural Running Center’s Partner Stores –Natural Strides Running and Elite Feet –who were selected as  one of “The 50 Best Running Stores in America” at The Running Event in Austin, Texas– which is a fast-growing expo and meeting-and-teaching ground for running store owners and their employees. Best of all, it’s where they get to see all the new products, from shoes to hats to tights and more.

Natural Strides Running in Woodstock, GA, is owned by Greg Scott, who shares an amazing passion for running. He decided to give up his career as a school teacher and shift his educational focus to teaching health through physical activity and better movement.

Ken Larscheid., owner of Elite Feet in Brighton, MI, has been involved for many years in the running retail area and in footwear. Ken worked for New Balance and was an early adapter in teaching “Good Form Running”. Ken recently opened his own store with the goal of running-form education, something we believe in quite strongly at the Natural Running Center.

This prestigious “50 Best Running Stores” list results from an annual competition conducted by the online footwear trade magazine Running Insight. According to press material, “It starts with consumers nominating their favorite stores through Competitor.com. Then those stores are put through a rigorous evaluation process, which includes mystery shopping to assess customer service, credit ratings from vendors, and assessments about local programs and community commitment.”

Our NRC partner stores (they are all independently owned and see our complete list on right side of the home page, or here on the store page) were also highlighted in a feature article in the November 16 issue of Running Insight and Footwear Insight. (article starts as a pdf at p.18).

In Austin, I had the opportunity to be part of a presentation on gait analysis and running form with Dr. Paul Langer and Dr. Rob Conenello. We discussed some of what we know and don’t know about the topic. I shared some gait training tips in a workshop following the talk.

I love The Running Event and learn so much from other retailers and the companies creating products. The owners of small running specialty retail give back in ways to their customers that large big box stores and the Internet never have and never will.

A few trends I witnessed:

The category of lower drop shoes with protection is growing.

Really good new products in this category that we call “neutral transition”.

Less talk about barefoot running this year.

Still lots of confusion about what “natural running” and “minimalism” is
.

Toe boxes are getting wider.

Really cool colors and light materials!

Specialty run retail is in a struggle to keep their niche in the growing world of big box stores and online e-commerce.

***
I also  got to listen to Simon Bartold, a lead researcher at ASICS, repeat the talk that he gave at the Marine Corps Marathon; and once again he took a few weak stabs at the Natural Running Center website by taking sentences taken completely out of context. He believes that minimalism is not just a passing fad; but dead. And how wrong he is, judging by the all the new brands models now available.

Barthold discounted Harvard’s Dan Lieberman’s important research, and succeeded in convincing the audience that most runners land on their heels, that landing on ball of foot can be bad, and to be cautious with barefoot. This seemed to be his case on “the current state of minimalism” and in my opinion discredited those who are teaching better running-form mechanics in stores.

In brief, I agree with most of what Barthold says about injury prevention: become a better overall athlete, train on different terrains and with different systems, get strong in core, and find a good coaching if you need help. A few of his inferred conclusions about what running instructors are doing is where we part. He made a strong case that runners do land mostly on their heels, that loading on the forefoot is bad, and if you chuck your shoes you can get hurt. I agree here completely.

He showed this picture of London 2012 Olympics marathon gold winner Steven Kiprotich landing on his heel to make some point. This appears to be a downhill section of the course. Not sure what race he watched but Stephen looks pretty perfect to me and lands under his center on the level ground. Whether his heel occasionally touches gently first is irrelevant.

He further commented on London 2012 Olympics women’s marathon gold winner Tika Gelana and said how common opinion is “she has bad form”. Not sure whose opinion this is; I’ve never heard it. She looks pretty good too: perfect posture and landing close to center.

And finally to make some point he showed Emil Zatopek’s boots. Emil won multiple gold medals in the 1952 Helsinki Games; and did some Rocky style training in combat boots in the winter. If I recall he raced in the standard wafer thin spikes of the day. Emil didn’t overstride, kept his knuckles close to sternum, and a powerful drive from the glutes with hip extension.

***

I wanted to pose these questions to the large audience after Barthold’s talk:

How many of you are teaching better running mechanics in your stores? (likely a lot)

How many of you tell runners to land on the ball of their foot? (probably none, unless part of a complete progressive training package)

How many telling their runners to chuck their shoes and run barefoot? (probably none, unless part of a complete progressive training package and in very small doses at first)

Barthold and his supporters who dominate the podiatry web forums, love to post comments that those in the minimalist movement “cherry pick” the literature.  Judging from his talks, he does the same thing. At worst, he is intellectually dishonest by  showing that single picture of Kiprotich landing on his heel and drawing some conclusion from it, whereas one cannot draw any conclusions.

So do not fear learning better form and experimenting a bit yourself with less shoe. Experience and science is on your side. With that said, I highly recommend that you read Pete Larson’s timely post on Runblogger.com called “The Future of Minimalist Running Shoes and the Value of Variety.”

It begins:

This morning I opened my email to find an alert that the newest edition of SGB Weekly magazine…The first article in the issue was an interview with Simon Bartold. Simon and I have had our disagreements in the past, but I also think we tend to agree on many issues regarding the etiology and management of running injuries. His interview is interesting, and there are things I agree with, and things I don’t.

The first question asked of Bartold was “ HOW DO YOU THINK THE WHOLE BAREFOOT/MINIMALIST TREND IS EVOLVING?”

His response:

“I actually think it’s dead. I think the big vibe around minimalism and barefoot as it existed 18 months ago has run its course. We’re starting to see a lot of retailers say, ‘We really can’t sell it. Inventories are stacked up. And we can’t find anything to justify it scientifically.’ So it’s going to go back to where it was – what we called racing flats 10 years ago.

WHAT MINIMALIST PRODUCT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

“Mostly the zero-drop footwear and the whole talk of it as a main running shoe for the bulk of people. That’s the story we’ve been told. We’ve been told that if you go to a zero-drop running shoe then your gait will change and you’ll be running naturally like a caveman. But I think the concept has a fatal flaw and I believe people have seen through it. It’s taken 3 or 4 years but I think that concept is dead in the water.”

Read here for a really great Runblogger post, because there’s a lot more as Pete expertly lays out his case to the contrary. For Barthold to say that minimalism is dead is akin to saying that eating real natural food is also dead, a claim which could be made by someone in the lead of large agribusiness. And for his audience of listeners or readers, can any of them comfortable squeeze into their 1990s racing flats?

Happy Holidays.

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21 Responses to “The Running Event in Austin: Minimalism is Still Hot!”

  1. Big thanks Mark for that.

    Like you, I agree with some points that Simon said. Especially this: “I think the runners are more confused… And the retailer’s are confused as well as half of the podiatrists don’t know what to do… “
 After reading his interview and his answers on SGB http://sportsonesourcecloud.com/sgbweekly/SGBW_1251hi.pdf … I understand Why!!!

    • MarkC says:

      Blaise,

      thanks for all you do to challenge beliefs and present objective unbiased evidence to help the runner sift through the marketing.

      Mark

    • Josh says:

      Hi Mark,

      Just wanted to make a comment in regards to the statement made above that says, “He showed this picture of London 2012 Olympics marathon gold winner Steven Kiprotich landing on his heel to make some point.”

      I must say it is a mystery to me why it is accepted in the running community or cycling community for that matter that a video can in anyway show the path forces take and the loading within the body. Using video or imaging to determine forces alone is a completely underdetermined problem. Im a physicist by profession and this is a perfectly know fact. One doesn’t design an aircraft or car and determine it’s structural integrity under load via video alone, you have to do A LOT more work. This fact is another one that is congruent with the purpose of proprioception and each of us honestly evaluating our performance and asking how we feel during our running experiences; whether it be training drills, a relaxing run or a race.

      Seeing a heal or forefoot appear to touch a surface alone is not a sufficient observation to make any conclusions about loading in the body in anyway. I mean if one practices they can even land side ways on their whole body while jumping from a moving car and be just fine. Just as a trained stunt man does by matching ground speed and using their body harmoniously with the ground.

      There is a whole lot more than just how things “look” and I wish all the discussion out there I hear would use a little more fact and understanding of even just basic physics.

      Thanks for all the info you provide on this website and the news letters by the way. I really enjoy it!

      Happy New Year!

      -Josh

      • MarkC says:

        Exactly! Thanks Josh for the thoughful reply. yes you cannot see the forces, loading rates, and other critical variables that have to do with running economy. That is why i too shake my head when the discussions reduce to the foot landing pattern and conclusions are drawn. It’s a shame when a large audience is exposed to information in the format Simon presents it under the banner of Asics and no true academic debate can occur.
        Mark

  2. Jeff Fisher says:

    Thanks Mark! Keep up the good work and we’ll keep spreading the word in Cleveland. We’ll just have to watch what Asics does with their footwear line moving forward. I believe the part of the industry that’s dying is the 24/12 offset in “traditional” training shoes.

  3. kukini ken says:

    Asics will find itself on the wrong side of history. Too bad.

  4. cody r. says:

    yea, more people getting confused by so many shoes and people selling shoes to them for money and promotional things, everyone has different opinions, although i will say that some are just wrong, but at least it’s still chugging along, i don’t think this will end and it’s here to stay

    gone barefoot and i’m not looking back

    • MarkC says:

      Cody,

      you are right…this will all continue to evolve and each should do some safe self experimenting as you did….and your own body decides.

      Mark

  5. Kyle Roberts says:

    Great piece, Mark. What I keep running up against in Milwaukee is that most medical professionals still recommend that runners shoes should not bend in the middle (or arch area). Does anyone know where that footwear fallacy originated?

    If the intrinsic muscles of the foot are not used, they will atrophy and not function as well. Same as any other part of the body.

    • MarkC says:

      Kyle,

      The book Tread Lightly sheds some light on the current shoe paradigm. not a simple answer.

      thanks for teaching your customers that there are rehab options to complement footwear options.

      Mark

  6. simon bartold says:

    Entertaining misrepresenbtation of what I actually said Mark.. As I am sure aboujt 90% of those attending would attest. Amongst your comments on Stephen Kiprotich (who IS a heel striker), you failed to mention that I went to lengths to say he won the gold medal not because he was a heel striker, but because he was a better athlete on the day. I would make the exact same comment, as I did, were the gold won by Abel Kirui (silver) or Wilson Kiprotich (bronze), who are both FF strikers! Perhaps in fairness to your readers, you shoukd comment on the slide I showed of the top 20 finishers of the Us Olympic 10,000 m trials, which demonstrated absolutely no uniformity amongst America’s best 10,000m runners. Some were heel strikers, some midfoot, some forefoot, and a couple did one thing with one foot and something different with the other. As I have said many times Mark.. It áint the shoe or the footstrike.. It is the runner.. Hence the Emil Zatopek slide.. Says it all

    • MarkC says:

      Simon, you are right that it is not about footstrike. i have never made a big issue of this. of note 9 of top 10 in Oly Trails were FFS or MFS for what its worth. To run fast the eccentric contration of the calf muscles can optimize the elastic effects. tough to measure this in a lab but it is the same as jumping.
      Bottom line is the foot should be flat and we need to teach all runners an optimal movement pattern to help them achieve pain free running for a lifetime.
      Best,
      Mark

  7. simon bartold says:

    And I really do not think you should be bandying arounds words like ‘dishonest’,when you did not have the integrity to challenge me in front of a large group of our peers. Writing such things behind a wall of anonymity on a blog shows a little lack of intestinal fortitude does it not? By the way, as you well know, I was presenting as an indepented researcher, which is what i mostly do, and made it very clear at TRE that what I was about to talk about were my views and mine alone. Please keep it factual!
    Simon http://www.facebook.com/bartoldbiomechanics

    • MarkC says:

      Simon,

      thanks for reading the post.
      i had my hand up to ask the questions i posed in the blog….but was not called on.
      Maybe it is intellectually dishonest to show a single slide of Kiprotich and draw any conclusion from it. See the comment above from the physics teacher. Let the audience decide. What message did they come away with? I agree it is about the athlete as i mentioned in the post. We agree on almost everything in that regard.
      Your comments in this thread about our talk in DC were dishonest and i replied respectfully. Your comments were posted on a podiatry site i was not aware of until a colleague clued me in. this is behind the curtains.
      http://www.podiatry-arena.com/podiatry-forum/showthread.php?t=83544
      I have a column on NRC site as you do on your facebook page and we all can express opinions.
      Best,
      Mark

  8. simon bartold says:

    ok.. well I am confused but never mind.. I showed Wilson and Stephen kiprotich as well as Abel kirui.. doesn’t matter, and I absolutely respect your right to an opinion.
    but you need to review the OLY trial shots.. your figure of 9 out of 10 is not correct!
    Wishing you a great New Year and trust our paths will cross in 2013

  9. Jacob Edwards says:

    As a speciality running store manager, I find it to be a simple issue and its certainly not confusing. I think that it is my duty to present each customer with both sides of the issue and let them have the choice. I run in minimal shoes, have run a 2:25 marathon with no injuries so I maybe a bit bias however, all people have the right to make choice. People are not confused they are just ill informed so what this site does it critical to the development of a thriving movement.

    With good education the kinvara is the best selling shoe in the store. New balance 10 trail is second.

    • MarkC says:

      Thanks Jacob for the reply and keeping educating your customers so they have the knowledge and confidence to choose wisely for themselves. Hope to catch up and run with you some day soon.
      Mark

  10. Mark Richard says:

    Simon has an agenda other than the seeking the truth,therefore why waste your time engaging with nay Sayers and dinosaurs!
    Stick to your road Mark and you will get their!

    Keep up the brilliant work,


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