Call them what you will -- toe shoes, barefoot shoes, minimalist footwear --
since the first mainstream pair of athletic shoes with separated toes appeared
on the scene in 2006, these "foot gloves" have spawned a small, but loyal
following among runners, hikers and gym rats.
Meeting Mr. Toe Shoe
I had seen toe shoes in magazine ads, heard them discussed in the sports media,
and seen a pair or two go by in the gym, but it wasn't until I had the chance
to visit at length with a "toe shoe" aficionado that I became sincerely curious
about the newest trend in running shoes. Indeed, I couldn't take my eyes off of
them. This was somewhat awkward, as we were both standing up and our feet were
some 5-1/2 feet below where our interaction should have been taking place. So
rather than feign a mysterious tic in my neck in order to keep ogling his
lime-green, festively strappy footwear, I made it the topic of our
A Mrs. Robinson Moment
I must confess at this point that the wearer of said toe shoes was not the
least bit hard on the eyes. He could have been wearing ballet flats or scuba
fins or Jimmy Choo pumps and I would have let my gaze
linger awhile anyway. Slender and toned, with an asymmetrical haircut that
screamed "you're not from around here, are you?," he was a nicely wrapped piece
of eye candy at a buffet of otherwise pudgy middle-aged men at -- of all places
-- a small town Super Bowl party. Never mind that he was probably 15 years my
junior and that my husband is the only man with whom I would ever consider
going home. Sometimes, it's just nice to look.
But About Those Shoes
Somewhere in between staring at the cleft in his chin and admiring his comely
ankles, I learned that his passion for these shoes was based on both research
and personal experience. He felt they helped with his overall body alignment
(I'd have to agree, he looked aligned!), eliminating a chronic backache he used
to have. As a consequence, he had a pair for running and another for casual
wear like Super Bowl parties. When running, he found that he tended to take
shorter steps, more on the ball of his foot. In his case, he also ran faster,
which was an unexpected bonus. That wasn't a concern for me, I was simply
seeking something novel to kick-start my running habit.
Having monopolized the young man's conversation for long enough, I returned
him to his appropriately beautiful young wife and impossibly adorable daughter
(approximately the same age as my granddaughter) and returned to hosing down
jalapeno poppers and microbrews with my own kind.
But those toe shoes stuck in my mind.
Why Toe Shoes?
So I decided to do a little research of my own. Besides reading manufacturer
claims, I spent some time on medical/podiatry websites and also reading blogs
by toe shoe wearers. Those who ran in the shoes invariably mentioned
improvements in overall body alignment. Better balance, agility, and
circulation were also reported. Not surprisingly, the shoes strengthen one's
feet, making them less prone to injury and common shoe-induced deformities.
Wearers spoke of the experience of their feet being able to feel the ground
better, enabling "intelligent" stride and foot placement, which in turn may
help the spine and other systems.
While many of these claims were anecdotal, it's clear that these shoes
(along with other minimalist footwear ranging from sandals to sock-like shoes
with unconstrained toe boxes) allow independent toe movement. When we are
barefoot, our toes do move independently as we walk. So this intuitively
strikes me as a good idea.
Let's face it -- our feet are important. One quarter of the 206 bones in the
body are in the foot! Plus a few dozen joints and scores of
muscles and connective tissues. The massage system of reflexology is
based on the theory that every single organ in our bodies, from our livers to
our lungs, from our stomachs to our spleens, is represented somewhere on the
foot. I've been worked on by a reflexologist, and I
think these claims have merit.
Putting My Best Foot Forward
In the end, all of these factoids and all of my
Internet snooping simply provided me with an excuse to pull the trigger. I
wanted a pair of those snazzy, quirky, flexible, foot-hugging shoes. I had to
try on a few pairs, but when I found the one I eventually purchased, I knew it
in an instant. They fit my feet like -- well, you know. A
Sally O'Neal has been a halfhearted but consistent runner for some 30 years.
Every once in awhile, she indulges in something to re-ignite
her interest in running. Stay tuned for her adventures in toe shoes. She writes weekly for sportsmansguide.com.