Running Shoes: Traditional vs. Minimalist

Let’s talk running shoes. In particular, let’s talk about my running quandary: minimalist shoes vs. full cushion, 12mm+ drop shoes.

PUre Cadence

Here’s the deal: last spring, I made the transition to minimalist running shoes and never looked back. You may remember my review of the Brooks Pure Cadence shoes when I sang their praises. I had spent years suffering from Plantar Fasciitis, and was about at my wits end. I had read and heard that minimalist shoes helped minimize PF issues for some runners because of how they allow your feet to develop and strengthen on their own. Since I was looking at Cortisone injections, I decided that minimalist shoes were worth a shot and I switched to the Pure Cadence. My PF disappeared, I loved the shoes, and haven’t looked back since.

Until now.

A few months back, I won a pair of Mizuno Wave Rider 16’s via a Twitter chat. I had been eyeballing the Elixirs for awhile, but decided free shoes were better and have been testing out the Wave Riders ever since. Bottom line? I am seriously in love with these shoes! Not only are they insanely cute, but they are so freaking comfortable. I’m just getting back into my running groove after a few months off, so I was positive that my runs would be painful and awkward. However, I swear the Wave Riders are making it easy. I literally can’t believe how light and bouncy my legs feel while running in these shoes! I would even go so far as to say that they are the sole reason I am enjoying my return to running.

Mizuno

However, this period of satisfaction has me concerned: I originally steered away from “typical” shoes with 12mm drop because of my PF issues, and that decision has eliminated any PF symptoms. In fact, ever since I switched to my Pure Cadence, I haven’t experience a single PF pain or discomfort in my feet, and it has been almost one year. However, I am worried that the crippling pains of PF will return if I continue to run in my Wave Riders. After all, they aren’t minimalist and that seemed to be the cause of my original problem.

Do you see what I’m dealing with here? Do I stay with the shoes (my Pure Cadence) that eliminated my PF problems and run at an 85% comfort level, or do I switch to the Wave Riders which are like walking on clouds but may allow my issues to return? Or do I pull a Houdini and work both into my running rotation? Help a sister out!

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What do you think I should do?

How many shoes do you have in your running rotation?

34 Comments

  • Reply Clarinda @ Enjoying the Course at

    I’m going with the old adage of Don’t fix what isn’t broken. You’re assuming the Wave Riders might bring back the onslaught of PF, but you don’t know for sure, so I’d suggest sticking with them since they’re so comfy. I’ve never tried minimalist shoes, so I don’t know if there are any risks of problems from rotating between regular and minimalist. My thoughts would be to either stick with the Wave Riders or add the Pure Cadence into a rotation. 🙂

    Good luck!

  • Reply Madeline @ Food Fitness and Family at

    Eek .. that’s a tough choice! Maybe a rotation of the two?! I have been thinking about trying the Pure Cadences for awhile myself.

    • Reply heather at

      I really love the Pure Cadence! They are so light and easy to run on, but they definitely don’t have the cushioning of traditional shoes (obviously). I say give ’em a shot!

  • Reply Heidi @BananaBuzzbomb at

    I know you’ve been running in the Brooks for awhile. Has the “discomfort” gotten any better…meaning, will it continue to get better? As you know, I’m a Mizuno fan but that’s what I’ve found works for me. I’m thinking going back and forth would wreak havoc…but then again, what do I know? =)

    • Reply heather at

      Which discomfort? Now I’m confused 🙂

  • Reply Erin @ Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost at

    Could it be possible that your time running with the minimalist shoes has strengthened your feet enough that maybe the PF won’t come back? The Wave Riders sound very comfortable so I’d continue to use them but be on the lookout for any pain!

  • Reply Choy at

    You can use both types of shoes! Use the Mizunos for your longer runs where you’re going to need more arch support and cushioning and the Cadence for shorter runs and interval/tempo runs where you’ll be engaging more of your mid/forefoot. You don’t have to sell out one way or the other.

    Plantar fasciitis can also be relieved wearing traditional shoes with active recovery and being more mindful of running form. Use both shoes and have fun on the run. I wear the Precision and Wave Rider for longer runs and NB RC1400 and MT110 for shorter runs.

  • Reply Christy @My Dirt Road Anthem at

    I run in both and switch it ip. I have two pairs of 4mm drop shoes and 4 pairs of 12 mm shoes in my rotation, in my defense of so many shoes 4 will be retiring soon. I say go with what works!

  • Reply Becky @ RunFunDone at

    Here’s what I can tell you about my personal journey with this issue. (I’m not sure if it will help you at all, but it’s what I know). I have terrible posterior tibial tendonitis. So bad that I’ve worked with a PT. With my PT, I had my gait analyzed using a computer program with both minimalist shoes and stability shoes. After analyzing the video, my PT wanted me in the stability shoes, as they helped me to not overpronate. However, when I tried to start running again, it was so painful that my PT decided instead that I needed to change my running gait (stop heel-striking). She had me switch to the minimalist shoes then. In other words, in my personal experience/opinion, minimalist shoes are great for preventing injury IF you midfoot/forefoot strike. However, if you heel strike, minimalist shoes are not likely to be very helpful for preventing injury.

    • Reply heather at

      I’ve never had my gait analyzed but I guess I must by a midfoot striker than because I know they did fix my issues that I had experienced for years….right?! 🙂

  • Reply MsBridget at

    I have been experiencing PF for the past few years. I an transitioning from traditional to minimalist running shoes as well. I have also looked into Chi Running. From what I have learned with minimalist running shoes you will eventually turn into a midfoot/forefoot striker because the cushioning won’t be in the heel for you to heel strike thus reducing pain and reducing energy.

    • Reply heather at

      So, in theory, I could potentially run in anything now if I fixed my gait?

  • Reply Kaitlyn at

    I’ve got major foot issues-like a titanium screw in one foot and plantar fasciitus in the other. I switched to minimalist six months ago and I have two pairs of 4mm, a pair of flats and a pair of 12mm, but I rotate depending on how my feet feel. If my feet are sore or swollen then I go with the 12’s or usually the 4s because I love love love the Wave Inspire. If I am feeling ambitious I run in the flats. I also roll my PF with a tennis ball and sleep in a brace at night if it gets bad. The brace helps tremendously. I would run with right feels right for you. But, switching it up may help.

  • Reply Kovas - Midwest Multisport Life at

    I run in all types of shoes, because, much like CrossFit, I think it’s good to give your foot muscles some variety.

  • Reply Kyle Kranz at

    Unlike mi amigo, Kovas, I personally choose to run in only minimalist shoes. You become most efficient at what you habitually do. I want to be come most efficient and comfortable in the shoes I will be racing in, so I train in them. But, I’m just a runner and do not do CrossFit 😉

    However, I would argue that a big factor in your PF going away was not the shoes, but your change of form. If you can keep good running form in any shoe, choose the one that’s most comfortable!

    For the record, I also switched to low profile shoes in an attempt to rid myself of PF, and it worked 🙂

  • Reply eric at

    how about a zero drop shoe with cushion? the Altra comes to mind… some other companies offer no drop with cushion as well.. think about it

    • Reply Kyle Kranz at

      This is the type of option I prefer. I went from traditional shoes right to Vibram Classics. I ran 3500 miles in them before I was offered a pair of SKORA Base to wear-test, and instantly fell in love. They are 2-3x taller than the Vibrams I was running in, but still zero drop. Now thousands of miles later, I have found this is generally the best option for my running.

  • Reply Katherine @ Neon Blonde Runner at

    I’d wear the Mizunos on longer runs and the Brooks on shorter runs!

  • Reply Kayla at

    I think the key take away point is keeping our feet muscles strong, so however you do that (be it by rotating the shoes, doing cross fit in one and running in the other, or doing short runs in one and long runs in the other, or whatever), I’m sure the PF will stay away…….and if not, then you’ll have your answer the hard way!

  • Reply Kelly @ Cupcake Kelly's at

    I think I would try a rotation, maybe use one for long and one for shorter or tempo runs?

  • Reply Angela @ Happy Fit Mama at

    That’s a tough one. I’m trying to slowly transition to a more minimalist shoe and from what I’ve read, maybe your gait has improved so that’s why the PF isn’t coming back. A rotation might work for you.

  • Reply Pavement Runner at

    I think it can be both. Find out what works best. Maybe the minimalist on longer runs and the WR on shorter (more bouncy-fun) runs. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

    I stick with my stability shoes on longer runs and “less-stable” shoes on shorter runs.

  • Reply Kate@ SoCal Runner Gal at

    I also switched to the Pure Cadence (and now the Pure Flows) because of PF issues and have been feeling great! I would recommend wearing whichever ones feel best! If you start to feel some aches with the Mizunos, don’t wait until you’re in full-blown pain. Maybe you’ll be fine though.

  • Reply Jen@HealthyFoodandFamily at

    If neither pair is causing pain right now, maybe keep them both in rotation?
    They are really cute shoes!

  • Reply Chris Marks at

    I did a few months of experimenting between a pair of minimalist street runners (Saucony Fastswitch 5) and a pair of high-drop traditional shoes (Saucony Guide 5). In the end I decided to relegate the traditional shoes to the gym…and even then I kinda look for reasons not to put them on.
    I had real problems transitioning from the minimalist shoes to the traditional shoes. Specifically it took me about a half-mile at the start of each run for my form to adjust to the high-drop shoe, which was shitty and awkard and kinda messed up the entire day’s run. I pretty much knew the traditional shoes were not working out after a few runs but I really liked the idea of going for speed on my weekday warmup runs one day (in the light minimalist shoes), then getting a more gentle run in the next day. Additionally I’d run for a few months in only the high-drop shoes and did not have any issues with them.
    The contrast between the shoes though made the high-drops look very ugly. Their weight made them feel clunky, in addition to the troubles I was having switching up my gait. My feet felt more comfortable (a lot more comfortable), but my mile time was pretty badly hurt by the heavy high-drop shoes.
    I very much liked both shoes, but feeling the direct contrast between the two really soured me on the traditional high drop shoes. In the end my legs outvoted my feet.

  • Reply Heather Montgomery at

    I wear both actually! I wear more cushioned shoes for halfs and fulls and minimalist shoes for 5k

  • Reply Kurt @ Becoming An Ironman at

    I’ve had the same issue. Stability shoes with a stiff midsole gave me PF and kept me from running. I switched to nuetral shoes and from there to the minimalist Pearl Izumi Streak II (9mm front stack). I haven’t had a single issue since I slipped them on and I’m scared to switch. I don’t even put on “typical” shoes now. haha I would have definitely avoided that Twitter chat.

    I agree some of the above recommendation. If the Wave Riders feel comfortable and haven’t caused an issue, I’d say you’re good to go. You may have simply needed the time in the Pure Cadence in order to strengthen up your feet a bit. But if you’ve run in them for some time – 50+ miles – then I don’t see any reason to predict that your PF issues will come back. Switch back and forth as you’d like.

  • Reply Alyssa at

    What shoes were you wearing when you had the issues? I would say try a rotation including both, or see if any other minimalist shoes would work for you. A lot of people like Saucony Kinvara, and I believe it has a 4mm heel to toe drop. Also have you tried PureCadence 2 or Pure Flow?

    • Reply heather at

      Back then, I was wearing Brooks Adrenalines. I haven’t tried Pure Flow or PureCadence 2– I thought the 2’s were essentially the same? No?

  • Reply Erica G at

    I am with you on this dilemma. I was wearing minimalist and went more supportive. I got some less supportive shoes and they feel so good but I am fearful. I am rotating my shoes so I don’t do just one thing and I think it helps keep my legs/feet well rounded. But that is just my two cents.

  • Reply misszippy at

    Well…big minimalist runner here. I, too, knocked out PF by making the switch. I also carry that switch over into every aspect of my life–100% of my shoes for any time of the day are minimalist (usually zero drop–Merrell has some really cute BF line options for the real world). Plus I am in my bare feet as much as humanly possible.

    All that said–in your case, I’d try to use both. If the PF returns, then you know the fix is quite simple. But there’s no reason you can’t do both. You can also try some other minimalist shoes to see if there’s a perfect pair of those out there for you. I have tried many and definitely they are not created equal–I have my favorites!

  • Reply Michelle at

    What helps deter PF is not minimal/barefoot running per se, but strengthening your feet. You can do plenty of things to strengthen your feet without running in minimalist shoes. Personally, I found that a lot of the transition exercises I did when I started using barefoot running shoes strengthen my feet more than actually running in the shoes.

  • Reply Heather @ Better With Veggies at

    Running shoes are SO personal! I love when I rotate shoes, because I think it works different muscles and allows your body to work/recover different small muscles that we are usually unaware of. If they were both working for me, i’d rotate them – with the more cushioned ones on my longer runs. But that’s just what works for me!

  • Reply The Ultimate Beginner's Guide - The Key to Running Inspired {Review} - Just a Colorado Gal at

    […] level of information. Beginning runners don’t want to learn about foot strike in regards to minimalist or traditional footwear; instead, they want to learn how to run to make it easy and pain-free. Ryan discusses these topics […]

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