Sunday, October 9, 2011

No Gimmicks...Simple Hard Work!...My Opinion on FiveFingers.

I was asked my opinion, so here it is...

As I walked behind the start line last weekend of the 2011 Paul Short Invitational something caught my eye...Hundreds of people were lined up in this particular race and my eyes were drawn to one runner.  Not sure why, just one of those moments I guess...Yes, after 2500 college and high school athletes previewed the muddy, rain soaked course and several races completed their competitions this misguided young man wore his FiveFingers to the line.  Out of something similar to morbid curiosity I checked the results and found he placed 10 spots from last in his race...Once again proving that no elite distance runner would ever race in this $110 overpriced gimmick.  As a coach, it's really painful to see this and makes you realize some people will jump on any bandwagon and will believe anything they read or hear...Somehow in the wiring upstairs they justify, legitimatize and validate----madness. 

Just weeks before this photo was taken I spoke with a coach I have much respect for about his team and asked him how they were doing.  He explained they would be great if they were healthy, but went on to detail how his top 5 were all injured.  As others came up and spoke with me sometime later I was asked about barefoot running.  The questioner asked, “When will you have your team start running barefoot?”  My reply was obviously not what the person wanted to hear as I replied, “When I’m no longer a coach”.  The questioner assured me I would change my mind.  To which I laughed and said, “You don’t know me too well then.”  It was about this time the coach with his top 5 injured jumped in and agreed with the questioner, saying that his team does their 20 minute warm-up and 20-25 warm-down barefooted following each hard workout.  He explained, in order to get them up on their toes they must run barefooted.  Of course my thoughts went back to our earlier conversation when this same coach expressed concern that his top 5 were all injured.  Imagine that I thought.  It’s amazing how the dots are not connected to those with blinders on.

With sales expected to reach
$350 million in 2011 minimalist
shoes are serious...
serious big business according to
Bloomberg Businessweek.
On another occasion recently someone mentioned to me how the shoe companies are pushing their own line of latest and greatest "minimalist” product.  As we talked I realized he was implying this latest fad, is not a fad and that it’s serious.  Yes, I do agree that it’s serious…Serious Business!!  Shoe companies are in the business of making money.  They would be irresponsible business men/women if they neglected the opportunity to make money for their company and its shareholders.  Why not jump on board the bandwagon?  Look at how Vibram’s  stock (the makers of $110 FiveFingers) has risen even in the current economy. According to Bloomberg Businessweek: "This year the company is on pace to sell some $100 million worth of FiveFingers—a sum that will account for more than half of its North American revenue. The mainstream retail chains, according to SportsOneSource analyst Matt Powell, are slated to sell $350 million worth of minimalist shoes for 2011. If you include “lightweight” shoes, a category created in 2009, sales could hit $1.8 billion. The trend toward less shoe, says Powell, is accounting for virtually all the growth in the $6 billion running market." Brilliant marketing to the right clients…and then moving from the outer limits of this niche market to a mainstream marketing strategy to get people to believe this product is "special and almost magical" without really saying it in those exact words...The big companies can now step in and take advantage of the foundation Vibram has established.  Not long ago if you talked about "minimalist” running no one would have even known what you were talking about.  It’s still a bit of a niche, but is certainly more main-stream than even 1 year ago.  My point?  Of course shoe companies will push this product…The “Believers" of minimalist shoes like FiveFingers, "believe” and are sold...and the naysayers will not buy the product anyway.  It’s a niche that makes them money, which is just fine by me.  Just don’t push it to young people who are willing to do what it takes to be good by implying it is going to help them rise to the top.  Middle aged folks? Heck they should know better than to believe everything they read and hear.  If the adults don't get it, it's their fault for being so gullible.

Then there's last fall...As the cross country season began with much anticipation; our freshmen arrived on campus ‘wide-eyed and bushy-tailed’, ready for the most important and life changing time of their lives…the college years.  So much happens in this 4-5 year time period.  As we returned from a very productive preseason camp in the mountains outside of Lexington, VA we brought together the entire team for the first time.  On this particular morning we were scheduled to do a harder effort on Old Gun Road just across the James River near campus.
As I walked in I glanced around to our team members and found my attention drawn to one of our new faces…an un-recruited walk-on who contacted us expressing his interest in joining our team.  Lori and I welcome anyone who is willing to follow a simple rule, “work hard and do what is right and don’t do what is wrong”, to tryout and ultimately join our team.  As a coach, I’m not caught up in what they did or did not do in high school…As my eyes focused on the footwear of this young man I had to do a double take…there he sat stretching in his FiveFingers .  I walked over and asked him if he intended to do the workout in his FiveFingers.  He said that he did and that he had run in them during the summer, which I was unaware of.
The workout began with our top men rolling along, comfortably achieving the purpose of the session.  I followed along and watched as this young man shuffled and tip toed along with his shortened stride.  What I found interesting was every time he had a chance to run on the dirt or grass next to the road pavement he took full advantage of it.  Showing me that he was uncomfortable and his feet hurt running on the road in his FiveFingers.
Later that afternoon the young man asked if he could come by my office and talk ~to me~ about his minimalist running.  He came by and began to ~tell me~ why he should continue to run in his minimalist shoes.  Very audacious for a young man who just arrived on campus and was passed by 4 or 5 of our women that morning during the workout.  After making it very clear where I stood on this subject and WHY, he said he could clearly see the light. Three days after this workout he came to me explaining that he was having pain in his foot.  Our medical staff scheduled an MRI and Bone Scan and it was confirmed he had a stress fracture in his foot…ending his fall season and setting him back several months. Again, in my opinion, proving elite distance runners can’t train in FiveFingers or other minimalist footwear.
Too many people are looking for a gimmick or a secret and there is no secret or gimmick that will get you to the top in this sport...Distance Running takes hard work...It takes hard work, intelligent training, talent and passion for competition.  Doing drills barefooted certainly has its benefits…Even strides barefooted, at the appropriate time in the training cycle, have merit.  However, there is one thing I’m sure of: A serious athlete who wants to compete on the elite level as a distance runner will not be able to do the work it takes...barefooted! And racing in five fingers?  I don’t recall seeing anyone racing in them at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, the USATF Track & Field Championships or even the NCAA DI Track & Field Championships.  Leave the gimmicks to those looking to jump on the bandwagon of the latest fad.  Meanwhile, if you are serious…lace up your shoes and go get it done.  You will be making progress while the barefoot wannabes are tip toeing their way to cross training in the pool with their injuries.


  1. Amen! Great post! First they blamed pronation for all the worlds problems and marketed shoes with every sort of motion control device possible and basically everything short of air bags. Now it's the complete opposite extreme. Like you said, good business, but not so good for the suckers, errrr I mean people, who buy into it. Success in distance running is not about shoes. It's about a lifestyle of making the right decisions and doing the work it takes.

  2. Great post! I work in a specialty running shop and I have soooo many people that come in and want to go minimalist. A lot of them have a friend or have recently read "Born To Run". Due to how much "hype" the book was getting I had to look into. I'm still not sold on the concept. Although I generally recommend people using it as a supplemental tool versus a full blown training device. What are you thoughts on Newtons coach?