FFS in a MFS Shoe Market

I run on my toes. Not my tippy toes, but my forefeet. I’ve tried to get back onto my mid-foot, which I can, but it isn’t as natural or comfortable for me. I’ve tried heel striking, but it hurts my whole body – especially when I’m in really minimal shoes. As I’ve been going for more distance, I find myself wishing for more padding than my favorite shoes tend to have as I have been getting some nerve pain between my metatarsals.

Adidas adiPure Gazelle 2

For the non-medical types reading this (like me), a key to forefoot striking, or FFS, is plantar flexion of the foot. This is when you flex the toes down toward the ground, and point the foot. The opposite is called dorsiflexion, and it’s what a heel striking would do as they extend their foot to get the heel on the ground first. See this lovely graphic on the right? I’m the lower image (though my toes aren’t pointed, least they break off on impact).

So I’ve tried a few shoes that are generally well-received. Moving up from Vibram FiveFingers into a padded minimalist shoe, I fell in love with the Adidas Adipure Gazelle (read my review of them here). I thought they would be and remain my favorite shoe, but as I broke through 40 miles on them, I found I was having lots of knee pain and blistering as they weren’t keeping my foot aligned over the footbed given their unstructured upper. That’s just too short of a life. I still love them, but I have to pick times to wear them when I know my legs are feeling good and strong so I can maintain my form. They’re also just fine for treadmill runs, which remove all of the pivoting and uneven loads of outdoor running (a good reason to avoid the treadmill!).

Merrell Vapor Glove

I tried Merrell Vapor Gloves, which are basically like Vibrams, but without individual toes. They’re ok, but not really what I was looking for in terms of padding since, well, they have none.

Luckily, Merrell has another model that’s a step up in structure from the Vapor Glove called the Bare Access 2. I really liked these shoes, but their additional padding is pretty dense, firm and tough. It’s not as noticeable running as it is walking, but it transmits most of the shock into your foot, and definitely takes some work to get a good plantar flexion of the foot going, even if you aren’t aware of it. That can tire your feet muscles, aggravate your joints and inflame your nerves. This happened to me in the Bare Access 2 the first time I consistently ran over 4 miles (3 times in a week).

Merrell Bare Access 2

So I went to Merrell’s sister company, Saucony, and got a shoe that is basically universally loved by

Saucony Kinvara 4

runners and reviewers, and had just been redesigned to even more positive praise, the Kinvara (version 4, this time). This was the first traditional-looking shoe I had bought in a long time. It had real cushioning, which I was looking for, but didn’t have a wide toe box or sole design that would facilitate toe striking. I was concerned, but tried them on, and found they felt fine on both counts. I did find in runs that I need to really push myself to get a good toe strike – at least at first until I found a good rhythm. This was new to me. The easiest thing to do with them was heel strike, or maybe mid-foot strike.

The cushioning really was great, and I’ve generally liked the shoe a lot. However, as I ran more and more in them (both in terms of frequency and distance), I found my metatarsal pain was a frequent issue despite the cushioning, and I had started to get Achilles tendon pain, which I’ve never had. I saw my PT, who suggested a few things, which generally helped, but only until I ran again (even if I took a week off and really let the pain die down or away completely).

I realized the issue. Yes, you can toe strike in both the Bare Access 2 and Kinvara, but the effort it takes to do so was having an impact on my feet and Achilles.  I’m a FFS runner, and most shoes in the minimal or natural category (save for the ultra-minimalist stuff like the Vapor Gloves and VFFs) really are best for mid-foot strikers. And most traditional shoes are very MFS-friendly (that is, you should be able to mid-foot strike just fine, despite their ramp-like construction).

Mizuno Cursoris

So what to do? I need to stick to shoes more like the Gazelles in their construction, but perhaps with a touch more structure to ensure my foot can’t slide out within the shoe in weird ways. I’ve recently picked up a pair of Mizuno Wave Evo Cursoris, and, if you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’m totally smitten. I need to get more miles on them overall and in a single run, but they might be the perfect mix of cushion (18mm), easy-flexibility and sufficient structure for me. I want to get in a longer #CUYOP run next week in the 7-12 mile range (if not two in one day) to really see, but every stride has really been a joy. I also did my fastest mile (high-6s) in them, and have been able to get my pace back into the mid-8s when it’s been stuck in the high-8s/low-9s for a while.  I actually had to consciously slow down on a 3.5 miler this week when I saw my pace was in the low 7s – I’m not trying to get injured, but rather an training for a half marathon.

My point is to take some time and really think about how your body wants to run. I can get preachy and tell you how it should run, but it’s not about me and my beliefs or wants. It’s about you and yours. You can buy a bunch of shoes to try them and see what’s best, or you can think a bit up front, and let that define the must-have features. Just don’t be afraid to adjust and learn as your body adjusts and learns. Learning is how your enlighten.your.body.

About bryan falchuk

bryan falchuk is the founder of newbodi.es, a certified personal trainer, behavior change specialist and the best-selling author of "Do a Day". bryan coaches people on their whole health - the physical, mental and emotional combination of wellness that we need to thrive and change our lives.

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