The minimalist shoe and the specialist running store

by Editor on August 13, 2011

The minimalist running shoe looks set to become a big player in the UK market. How will specialist running shops adapt to this growing trend as runners look to a shoe that allows a more natural running style?

I contacted a number of specialist running stores to find out how they were responding to demand. While some didn’t even think my question worthy of a response, I got the feeling that those who are now looking to introduce a minimalist range, after originally spurning the idea, are jumping on the bandwagon in an effort not to lose business. Only one company came back with what I felt were genuine answers.

Run and Become was the first specialist running shop in the UK to introduce the minimalist shoe back in 2004 when Nike developed the Nike Free.

“When we saw the Nike Free we got the point. Here was a shoe that could reawaken and strengthen the foot. At first we didn’t see them specifically as a running shoe but something for track work, walking and shorter runs,” said Shankara Smith, managing director of Run and Become.

Run and Become was founded in 1982 by Shankara’s father Tony Smith. Back then the London Marathon was in its infancy and runners struggled to find specialist running equipment or advice. Tony was inspired and encouraged by Sri Chinmoy, an avid sportsman and spiritual teacher, to start running and to set up his own business, so he gave up his career as a quantity surveyor to open Run and Become. What follows is a conversation with Shankara, who shares thoughts about the evolution of minimalist footwear in the running segment.

“In the 1980s running shoes were more like today’s racing flats, offering very little cushioning or support. During the running booms of the 80s, 90s and 2000s there was a huge growth of runners. People with generally sedentary lifestyles and little or no training were suddenly out running. Consequently injuries increased so shoe companies looked to help by providing more support and cushioning. Unfortunately I believe some companies went too far but I don’t just blame the shoes companies, it was what the customer wanted at the time.

“A few years ago we noticed a shift as customers were buying more Adidas Pro (a racing shoe) than the Adios, so it seemed that runners were looking for a more minimalist shoe. About the same time Vibram FiveFingers were introduced as the first ‘proper’ minimalist shoe. Vibrams are fun but also responsible as you have to listen to your body when wearing them and would have to have your stupid hat on not to.

“But the choice of shoe is different for everybody. Deep down runners know their strengths and weaknesses. We don’t bombard or intimidate our customers. We watch how they run and move. Changing to a minimalist shoe takes time and many runners don’t want to interrupt their training schedule, so minimalist shoes are often sold as an additional pair that can be gradually introduced into training. Very rarely do we recommend them as the best option straight away.

“Often runners have a specific idea of type of shoe they want, so it is our job not only to find out what’s right for them physically but also consider what will give them confidence. There is a mental as well as physical side to exercise. We ask people ‘What do you want from your running? What inspires you to get out there?’. Minimalist shoes are an exciting idea at the moment and if this gets people out and running then that’s what matters.

“For those transitioning to a minimalist shoe our advice would be to first use them for walking, then introduce them on the track or in the park to get a feeling of running and gradually build up. With the emphasis on ‘gradually’.”

Run and Become is not only a retail store but also sponsors races, offers free fitness assessments and holds various running clinics and workshops including the recently sold-out barefoot running workshops. It seems that if the minimalist shoe is here to stay and not, as some would want to believe, just a fad or fashion, then Run and Become are spot on in their approach and look set to run the course while others struggle to keep pace!

Speaking with Shankara I detect her genuine love and understanding of running and Run and Become.

“I’m a big fan of common sense. I love interacting with people, listening to them to see how we can help. To guide gently and to inspire has been our ethos from the beginning and will continue to be so.”

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Reprinted from RunNaturalCo.Uk by Gray Caws

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