Zero Drop Conversion

I ran consistently from 7th grade through my freshman year at the University of Florida.

This stretch included logging many a mile in whatever shoe seemed stylish or cheap or eventually highly rated, supportive shoes. They got me through track and cross country; I paid little attention to them other than function.

When I returned to consistent training post college, I had goals in mind, run long races, tackle what seemed impossible. I failed and did so a lot. Injuries were my bane. After years of going through intense training cycle after intense only to end up hurt weeks or days before the big race, I ditched traditional shoes in 2010 in favor of shoes that mimicked more natural movements, and more natural running. I’ll blame it on an HBO story on Real Sports with Bryant Gumblel and then a reading of Born to Run. The change was miraculous, beyond the short distances, five marathons, six half marathons, and multiple 15ks later I am only getting stronger.

I am not here to preach on the benefits and give you statistics, but rather to discuss the adjustment itself.

This adjustment is once again recent for two reasons, first I made the full time switch to SKORA Running shoes, a zero drop shoe with little cushioning and massive amounts of flexibility, and second the minimalist running movement has been called into question as of late through a New York Times article.

My transition as of late was much more cavalier than my first go around.

The first day I had my SKORA Forms, I ran 10 miles in them and they felt amazing. Going back to 2010, the first time I started running minimalist was in the Nike Free Run +, a shoe that have reduced cushioning and immense flexibility but still a substantial heel drop. I’ve always been a forefoot lander and found solace in feeling in the bend in my toes, the bend of my foot and feeling as if my legs were doing what I was supposed to. I worked slowly that time, adding slight mileage each day. So my calf muscles and feet were sore post run.

My Achilles Tendons would tighten when I sat around, a byproduct of their gradual lengthening. Eventually, once my mileage had reached in the three or more range, the calf soreness abated, but post run foot pain remained. The pain wasn’t substantial—my feet didn’t ache, they only gave off a bit of pain on the first few steps when I got up. It is funny but I can’t quite remember when the pain dissipated, it just did.

Which brings me to the New York Times article, where the idea of minimalist running was given a giant black eye. I guess, as the article states, I did develop some new aches and pains from the transition to minimalist and eventually barefoot running (I ran a 1.5 miles barefoot the other day).

The foot pain that I developed would most likely match up with the edema they found in those who ran in the Vibram Five Fingers when they were measured after ten weeks. Yet ten weeks is a short amount of time when it comes to all out body acclamation. If this study were to be played out over a year or more, would the edema still be there, would it have grown worse or gotten better?

Two months into my minimalist switch, I had started using Vibrams a few days a week for runs under five miles, I found them to be great, light, and I always felt fast in them. I never rolled my ankle anymore as my feet reacted to obstacles instead being broken by them. That said, this foot pain I had developed went away sometime in that period—I didn’t damage my bones, just like a weight lifter who feels pain post workout due to muscle damage typically hasn’t damaged their muscles. I had stressed my bones, but my bones grew stronger, more responsive, and ready to support my lifestyle. What was important was that, despite having some new aches, I never had the pulled calf, the trick knee, the aching back, anything bordering what my traditional shoes often caused. I beat myself down, but I was able to keep going to keep pushing.

These facts bring me back to the study—were these people told to transition slowly and allow their body to adjust? Or, were they just given five fingers and tossed out there? Is this study going to continue so that we can find out the status of these runners 20-52 weeks in as their body adjusts? I hope so on the latter and think they just jumped right in with the former.

Flashing forward to 2013.

This year has marked my full-fledged conversion to shoes that allow you to run real (as is SKORA’s tag line). Instead of running primarily in Nike Free shoes and tossing in either a pair of Newton Distance, Merrell Trail Glove (mostly for trails), Vibram Five Fingers, or SKORA Base, I have gone with all SKORA. So far I’ve used the Form and the Base, but mostly the Form. I will not gush about the shoe here, I have done that before, but rather note that this shoe is zero drop. Your heel is level with your toes, and yes you feel the ground. Feeling the ground is a good thing—your feet have a tremendous amount of nerve endings clamoring to be activated, not ignored.

Going full-time zero drop instead of part-time has marked a second transition.

My calf soreness returned for around five weeks, meaning I was ripping them to shreds while coaching and running at track practice. I have not taken the time to slowly acclimate, I was most of the way there, running zero drop a few days a week, now it is every day. I expected pain. Yet, this soreness, a few months in, has vanished. As with the runners in the test case, my feet are a bit tender again.

SKORA shoes do have some cushioning, but only a thin layer. They make my Nike Frees feel like giant, over inflated tires, and thank god for that. Feeling the ground is a thing of beauty. So my feet are in the midst of a second adjustment. In the half marathon I ran on March 31, there was some soreness that wasn’t there in January, yet on the second leg of a three races in 24 hours series, I finished three minutes short of a personal record.

Zero Drop running, running with a curved heel that mimics our heel, is proving to be amazing. I am shedding seconds, pounds, and planting the seeds of an ever growing confidence.