Sunday, August 12, 2012

The Aesthetics of Minimalist Running

I recently discovered that Anton Krupicka wrote an article for Running Times entitled Why Anton Krupicka Runs Barefoot. It's a great article and a well-reasoned discussion of the benefits that come to even a world-class ultrarunner by switching to barefoot/minimalist running. Most of all, it's a fascinating look at why someone at the top of his sport would start making such drastic changes to the way he runs.
"I don’t see myself as a fanatical adherent to any sort of unshod dogma. Rather, as a trail, mountain and ultra runner, I find myself balancing the practical demands of my preferred terrain (steep, rocky, rooty trails) with the more aesthetic requirements of taking the simplest possible approach to running in the mountains."
Krupicka then lists a large number of specific advantages that he receives from running barefoot and in minimalist shoes.
"But, for me, incorporating barefoot running into my training isn’t only a means to a more coordinated, performance-oriented end. A really big part of my motivation for running in general comes from the actual “doing” rather than in just the end-goal “achievement.” My best runs are where the felt kinesthetic experience of moving quickly and efficiently through a natural landscape is most fully realized, not necessarily the runs where I make it to the top of the mountain and back down the quickest. However, I think it is not by accident that these two ideals often coincide."
"The most appealing aspect of barefooting and minimalist footwear is that its underlying ethic is one that meshes best with my overall outlook on life: Simplify, and most of all, pursue the purity of the experience."
What struck me the most was his comments about the "aesthetic requirements" of his running. When I really think about it, that's exactly the reason I came into the minimalist fold so abruptly--it's a purer, more natural way to run, and to me that meant it had to be better. As soon as I heard about FiveFingers and that people were running in them, something clicked in my brain. Even before I had tried running in them, I knew they were what I'd been looking for. Running in minimal footwear just seemed right--obviously, simply, right.

Put another way, podiatrists and running store salesmen want me to feel like this:
But in cushioned shoes I really feel like this:
And when I run barefoot/minimalist I feel like this:

This wasn't a slow, carefully reasoned analysis of the available data--I hadn't started reading the scientific research on the subject yet--this was a instant, aesthetic judgment, but as Malcolm Gladwell readers know, sometimes those judgments are the most accurate.

We know in an instant which people are more attractive than others but it takes painstaking scientific analysis to show that the faces we find attractive are more symmetrical and therefore often indicate better genetic health. It takes years of study to be able to explain the perfect voice leading and harmonic structure of a Mozart symphony, or the elegant geometry of a cathedral, or the difference in running form between David Rudisha and your average jogger, but your average person can sense these things in an instant.

As for Krupicka, and as for many other runners, Barefoot/minimalist running just feels right for me on an intuitive, aesthetic level.
And yes, I do realize how ironic it is to mention VFFs in the context of aesthetics
Part of this is personal preference but I believe that it is also an indication of the underlying reality that our bodies thrive when we can feel the ground under our feet.

As Steve House (a mountaineer Krupicka quotes in his article) puts it: “The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.”


  1. I can't believe how fast your hair grows and how fit you look when it was just last week you were complaining about your body shape.

    1. I did a LOT of crunches this weekend. Also, have you heard of Hair Club for Men? You might want to check it out.

  2. Heya. I really liked reading this article although it's old. I like to read what other runners say on the topic of aesthetics in running since I'm trying to better understand the aesthetics I feel in running, and especially in more minimalist running. Sadly, foot problems keep me personally from running more minimally at the moment, but when I saw a guy who had run the entire 24k of a muddy trail race barefoot last Sunday, I could not help but be super envious.

    Are you still up and running and just ceased or moved your blog activity?

  3. Hi Judith,
    I'm still running, and I'm still minimalist. I've just gotten a lot busier lately and can't seem to find the time to write.