How does a runner know if they need traditional shoes or minimalist shoes? The answer is actually quite simple. You will need to try both in order to decide. Most advocates of barefoot or minimalist running shoes have run in traditional running shoes in the past and most of the ones I know (including myself) still do! It is ok to run in traditional running shoes and other times run barefoot or in minimalist running shoes. Comfort is king. I have traditional running shoes (Montrail Rockridge and Saucony Exodus) that I use when running trails. These shoes provide excellent stability and support in situations where I can use all the help I can get. My Saucony Exodus have spared my feet from sharp rocks and saved my toes from merciless stumps, bumps and clumps a thousand times.
Also at later miles (I am an Ultrarunner) my feet and ankles are fatigued. My "traditional" running shoes provide me with added support and cushioning that my once "perfect' form, which when fatigued is completely "imperfect' therefore incapable of naturally absorbing and dissipating shock. However, when I run the beautiful San Diego boardwalk between Mission Beach and Pacific beach (5.5 miles) my minimal shoes work awesome (I could run barefoot but it is the boardwalk…people spit and dogs crap on it all the time!). I currently use the Terra Plana VIVO BAREFOOT shoes and the Saucony Kinvara. I have no beef with Vibram 5 fingers with the exception that their factory can not keep up with production and make you look kind of weird (like a tree sloth). Because of their appearance women especially seem self conscious in them. Women who want the barefoot or minimalist experience will love the Terra Plana. They look and feel like a slipper and are made by a European company so they have a certain style to them too.
I encourage all runners to at least give minimalist running shoes a try. At first use them for your short runs or speed workouts. If you are more comfortable in them than your traditional running shoes wear them on your long runs too. If not rotate them with your traditional running shoes using the minimal running shoes for short to mid-distance runs and your traditional running shoes for those grueling long distance runs.
Dr. Runco is a U.S. Navy and Gulf War Veteran. Graduating as a Doctor of Chiropractic he began private practice in San Diego in 2000. He has been a professor of Anatomy, Physiology, and Biomechanics at various colleges and continues to teach continuing education in the fields of rehabilitation, custom orthotics and athletic taping. He is also a member of the American College of Sports Medicine, National Strength and Conditioning Association and is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist. He is also an orthopedic doctor that specializes in treating foot injuries and problems.