He Said/He Said

There are two sides to every story, and recently, when Jeff Galloway spoke out against the minimalist trend in his newsletter, Dr. Mark Cucuzzella, minimalist guru and owner of Two Rivers Treads, felt compelled to respond. Mark brought this response to my attention the other day and asked if I’d like to run it, as did Runblogger.com. I think it’s quite interesting to read things from two perspectives. Here’s what Mark had to say in response to Jeff’s comments:

With all his books, coaching experience, training methods, racing achievements, and Ironman-like durability with just over a half-century of miles on his legs, Jeff Galloway is a respected fixture in the running community. And along with many other runners, I’m a subscriber to his email newsletter.
But his take on minimalist running shoes in his most recent newsletter is not one that I share. Here’s what he wrote:

“Many runners who own one of the minimal and exotic shoes that have popped up on today’s market will tell you that these shoes have solved their running problems. I hear the other side of this issue, about every day, from those who have been injured (often severely) by using these products or by running barefooted. Many have to stop running for 4 to 6 months. Thousands have reported significant problems.
I’ve seen this fad come and go 5 times during my 52 years of running. Something will come out in the media about minimal support/barefooted running, and thousands will try it. About a third of those who try it run for short distances and like the tingle of the feet so they run more. Without support, the distance or the surface of the run will often cause an injury–including a number of serious ones such as stress fractures. Each fad cycle ends when those injured tell other runners about their experience–so that very few want to put themselves at risk.
Minimal shoe/barefooted running has its place if the foot can handle it: Short runs when running on a safe surface can give the foot a bit more strength and develop a lighter touch. Unfortunately, there are lots of risks on most running surfaces: pieces of glass, medal or rock–hidden below even the most groomed grass surfaces. There are also lots of surface irregularities that can produce serious trauma injuries in one step.
Today’s shoes have decades of orthopedic research behind them and can protect the foot from most of the problems due to running surface. Go to a store with trained and experienced staff members, like my Phidippides stores in Atlanta, and get the best advice.”

Here’s my reply to Jeff:
I am curious about the runners who are showing up everyday claiming to have been injured as a result of minimalist shoes. Over a year ago in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, I opened the first footwear store in the nation purely devoted to minimalism and sold no shoes with traditional elevated heels. Two Rivers Treads was only the first store of its kind. There are now six new stores in the country who have embraced minimalism – and all are partners with the Natural Running Center (http://naturalrunningcenter.com/), where I am also its executive director. All of these stores are completely aligned with the education message of teaching good form, prescribing more functional footwear, and the progressive adaptation to more natural running.
At Two Rivers Treads, we just don’t sell shoes; we have a discussion with each and every customer regarding their running, injuries, goals, and some simple and clear instruction on how to reduce impact loads on their joints. We have sold over 3,000 pairs of shoes in a year and only five customers at most have returned with an injury and blamed the shoe. This is far less than Galloway’s daily experience. Are the injured runners just going to the doctor instead of back to us? I doubt it as we would be the first place they would return to if they felt it were the shoes. Do I have scientific data for all this….no, we are a small business.
Maybe we are doing something different when we sell minimal shoes. So just what are we doing? The following educational information is included on our store walls and handouts.
Let’s first define how we interpret minimalism, a minimalist shoe, the risks, and the gradual progress.
What is Minimalism?
Free the foot to develop naturally
Look for the least amount of shoe you can safely wear now
Work toward reducing the amount of shoe necessary through strengthening the foot and improving your stride
Running is a natural movement of the body, rather than an unnatural act that requires artificial support to perform safely
Embraces the notion that the beefier the shoe, the more a runner’s natural stride is inhibited
What is a Minimalist Shoe?
Complements natural foot function
Heel to toe drop is very low
Material under the foot is thin….allowing maximum ground feel
Upper is Soft and Flexible
Light Weight and Flexible
Effects of a Modern Running Shoe?
Impairs your natural bounce
Promotes heel striking
Alters your natural lever (heel lift)
Creates unstable base
Causes loss of sensory input
Causes skin atrophy
Creates unhelpful movement memory
What are the Risks of Minimalism?
Foot is NOT guided into running stride
Feet need to do some of the work and need to get strong
If form is incorrect and you are not strong in the right places you may develop soreness….so listen to your body and progress gradually
How to go Minimal?
Take it slow at first
Add distance gradually
The more minimal the shoe the more adaptation it will take
Progress through the stages of Shoes from Neutral/Transition to Minimalist to Barefoot Style
Do some barefoot running and walking
For early adapters who are weak in their foot and hip stabilizers a minimal shoe may be what we call a “neutral –transition shoe”, such as a Newton Isaac or Altra Intuition.
Now how do we define shoes? This too is on our store walls, and the shoes are displayed this way in the Natural Running Center Shoe review section http://naturalrunningcenter.com/naturalrunningcenter-shoereviews/
Barefoot-Style Shoe
Your feet “feel” the ground
Thinnest layer of protection between foot and ground
Heel and toes are level
Land on the midfoot/forefoot
Minimalist Running
Some cushiony comfort
Little to no heel-to-toe drop
Enhanced ground feel
Soft, flexible shoe moves with feet
Ideal for all surfaces– road, trail, track
Similar protection to most running shoes but without elevated heel
Little to no heel-to-toe area drop
Foot is in natural position
Encourages midfoot/forefoot landing
Ideal “starter” shoe for transitioning runners to minimalist/barefoot-style

The real folks making this happen in a small community such as Shepherdstown are my lead employees, aka the Shoe Guys, Tom Shantz and James Munnis. Tom and James lend some practical and philosophical advice on the topic.

Here’s Tom: “We give verbal warnings to all minimalist shoe buyers. I have been adapting for a little over a year now. It’s a slow process. What I have found that works best is to have two pair of shoes. One that is ‘flat’, zero drop, and one that has a drop of 5mm. One should transition into the 5mm shoe first. It should take approximately 2 weeks. The zero-drop shoe should take you approximately three months to transition into. Once you have transitioned into both shoes you should continue to slowly increase your distance in the zero-drop shoe. The 10% week rule is out the window. Try 1% increase in the zero-drop shoe. For a younger runner who has been in racing flats the transition is much shorter.”

Now here’s James: “It’s still funny to me how three million years of evolution is still considered a fad by some folks. Nobody who has ever followed our advice on gradual transition has ever been injured from the act of running completely barefoot, or in minimalist shoes. Many do have the usual fatigue and discomfort over a period of up to a year or so trying to undo the weakness and atrophy of the most excellent foot that has been caused by horrible traditional footwear for everyday wear and for running. Mother Nature has given us a foot that is very endurable and survivable, despite our very recent efforts to screw it up with the many ridiculous features of a traditional running shoe. Would anyone please tell me one single reason to elevate a human heel above the forefoot for anything, or to interfere with our natural suspension system with arch support, and especially for running?”

So there you have it: Two Rivers Treads’ Shoe Guys have spoken. And as their informal comments reflect, it is not about the shoe, but the education. An example of one of the fun educational sessions hosted by our store is the recent Natural Running Roundup with Chris McDougall on the home page of the Natural Running Center.

Here’s to healthier running,
Dr. Mark Cucuzzella

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  1. Tri-Living says

    HIs post got me a bit fired up. First off ever wonder why this barefoot thing keeps popping up? Do they ever ask why do we have THOUSANDS of different kinds of shoes? The foot is a simple creation. Yet they keep trying to figure out how to make it move naturally and hold it in place.. Uh well if you just let it be. I'm tired of the debate. You stay on your side, I'll stay on mine. Why are they so afraid and defensive about the subject?

  2. Elle says

    I think people should ignore the argument and wear shoes or don't… each to their own.

    I guess the ones who have some $$ investment are the ones who care.

  3. Jeff - DangleTheCarrot says

    I train and race in 6.1oz shoes. They fit the definition of "minimalist" shoe. That is my background and I really have no horse in the race either way and hope to offer some objectivity. I read this yesterday and after some marinating have some thoughts. This response is going to be lengthy so bear with me Amanda!

    Jeff Galloway's statements were reckless for a couple of reasons. He stated that he sees minimalist runners with injuries, "about every day". Then went on to say "Thousands have reported significant problems.." My issue is that he is using anecdotal examples and presenting them as fact. Is he right? Who knows? His newsletter was so poorly written and made such outrageous assumptions that the only real way for us to process the information is to completely discount it based on the overall laziness of the piece.

    Now, as for Dr. Mark's reply, I felt it was objective until he inserted the comment by TWO RIVERS TREAD's employee James. James went onto state, "Nobody who has ever followed our advice on gradual transition has ever been injured from the act of running completely barefoot, or in minimalist shoes."

    Just like Galloway, this comment was completely and utterly reckless – not to mention pity and condescending to those who do not prescribe to the minimalist approach.

    Has James followed up with all 3000 folks who have purchased shoes over the last year to prove his statement? Can he present these results? Where are his statistics to prove this statement? Isn't he doing the same thing Mark is accusing Galloway of doing?

    To use a statement as absolute as "Nobody who has ever …" is just as irresponsible as Galloway claiming he sees injuries everyday because of the minimalist approach. Personally, I think Mark's response would have been more meaningful if he would have not included the snarky reply from James.

    So to sum up my thoughts, I think we need to dismiss both parties replies since they both used anecdotal examples to prove their respective points. We are back to square one because both sides chose to act childish instead of presenting actual facts and using the proper decorum which is required for this debate.

    In my mind this entire thing never really happened – sort of like Godfather III.

    Thanks Amanda!

  4. Mark Cucuzzella says

    Thanks Amanda for sharing…good comments. Yes my employees are passionate. They are there daily interacting with runners. I still have a day job and try to give education and direction. I try to rely on evidence, basic science, and the human experience.


  5. cheryl says


    Above is for further reading if anyone cares enough-

    @Tri-living- who are "they"? the people that disagree with you? ;-0

    We are NOT all 90 lbs of Zola Bud-and the latest article I read about her, is that she is still running-in shoes!

    The marketing and money made by Vibram lately? It's huge! (and so are most of the people wearing them and trying to run..good luck with that!)

  6. Mark Cucuzzella says


    Nice article. had not seen this. The reason we made the post was to make a clearer definition of minimalism, risks, potential benefits, safe progression, and different categories of shoes. There is nothing about barefoot running in the post and one of the reasons we are not succeeding in the larger message is that every time we mention less shoe and stronger foot the immediate response is "barefoot running may be dangerous".
    All benefit from stengthening the foot and working on more efficient mechanics…this is what we are about.
    Most not even close to being able to do a lot of mileage in Vibrams. Everyone in a bulky shoe could get into a more level shoe with traditional protection like a Newton Isaac and focus on better mechanics. Key to design is not landing on mushy surface. Foot cannot stabilize on soft.
    Cheers ,

  7. Coy Martinez says

    I think as Americans we're conditioned to get what we want and get it right now. Barefoot running and minimalist shoe wear ( I can honestly say) is a slow progression but I think one that is worthy of effort. It's a constant work in progress but if done correctly can help strengthen the foot. I have a feeling that those who are heading into the dr. are ones who jumped in and threw caution to the wind. Would be interested in more details.

  8. XLMIC says

    Honestly, this smacks of the breastfeeding vs. formula-feeding 'debate' and I am steering clear of it!

  9. The Hungry Runner Girl says

    WOW…..I have this same conversation in my head. One side of me loves it but the other side says that I didn't start getting injured until I started doing minimalist training. I think everyone is different and everyone has different needs! GREAT POST!

  10. Kenley says

    When I run in my shoes, I don't think it promotes heel striking, but that's just me. Wearing everything from the ASICS sky to the 2160 model. I'm for either or though, it's what works best for you and makes you happy. I do know several people that have tried it, just because the toes on the vff's look cool. hahaha, Obviously, Jeff is NOT for it, and Two Rivers Treads ARE. Both have the right to say whatever they feel that supports their decision. On a lighter note, all the shoe wearers can wear normal tops and shorts, and all the barefoot people have to wear cave man outfits or run naked to go along with the "3 million years, Mother Nature" leave the foot alone approach. That is how out of hand I think this has gotten. Just worry about your own feet. Why debate it? Now, excuse me while I rub these two stones together to make my fire to cook tonight's meal. The Flintstones are coming over for supper tonight. Seriously, both parties oppose each other and sound like those people that were their opinions are the only right ones. Both parties just need to get together for a big group hug.

  11. Michael says

    It's interesting to hear both sides of this story. I think in the end you have to do what works best for you. I don't personally think I have the frame for minimalist shoes…I need the extra cushion on my feet but I totally understand why alot of people would go that route.

  12. Jamoosh says

    So I was going to post on this when I first read about it, but held my tongue. But now that more bloggers are picking up on this, I think I will. Thanks for keeping the subject alive.

  13. Jamie says

    I love love love my VFF's and will never get rid of them, no matter what "evidence" shows up against them. I feel so much more comfortable wearing/running in them. Do what you need to do. Of course there are sides to every story, he should just leave it, let us be!

  14. Johann says

    I'm just enjoying the debate and very grateful I don't have any serious injury problems. Find what works for you and stay with that.

  15. Two Rivers Treads says

    Jeff Dangle the Carrot; You are right. My “nobody who has ever…” comment was kind of snarky. I should never have said this since I do not know this for sure. Please disregard any part of my comments you feel are anecdotal….I usually do.
    Kenley – I really liked the barefoot/naked running cavemen (& cavewomen) viewpoint on this….in 40 years of running I am still learning many new things, and new ways to look at things. This will provide something to occupy my mind during next big running event. Most of the time I do wear shoes and shorts, but I might have to give the “birthday suit” a try on next night run on the beach or on the trails. Not sure if I may increase risk of injury doing this so will be extra careful and take it slow…
    James – Two Rivers Treads

  16. Kim says

    I've been to several of Jeff Galloway's Running Schools, and Jeff always ends up addressing the barefoot running debate. It's not that he's out to attack minimalist shoes, etc, it's that the question always gets asked and so he has to answer it. His answer in real life is similar to the answer in his newsletter – he doesn't like it, he's seen it before, yadda yadda yadda.

    I love Jeff, but he does have a pretty hefty endorsement deal from saucony (or is it Asics?? I forget), so…..

    That being said, I kind of dislike the other end of the spectrum as well. I've read so many minimalist running articles that are just so defensive, and have such nasty things to say about those that don't prescribe to their methods, that I have trouble taking them seriously. Like Jeff said in another comment, so much of the evidence being talked about by minimalist runners is anecdotal. When I hear of someone running barefoot getting injured, the response is always "They did it wrong!"

    So, I don't know, I'm on neither side. I currently run with regular running shoes, and I will continue to do so as long as I'm injury free (no need to mess with it if I'm not injured). However, if I were to start getting injured (especially if it was a repeat injury), I could see myself giving barefoot running a try.

  17. Amanda@runninghood says

    I'm coming back to read more of this after we get our day going but this looks like just what I wanted to read this morning. I was asked if I wanted a pair of barefoot/minimalist running sandals called Brancas…specially made here in Portland. They look cool. I keep thinking I should refer him to someone like you or NOra or Angie Bee That would probably use them more but I'm excited to try them out slowly and still keep running in my shoes…..Good info here Amanda…solid post…I'll be back!

  18. Jen says

    I read this and just thought that there really is a lack of education even amount the "experts". It's all about the all might dollar for some people. I'm just glad that there's information out on both sides and then people can do the research for themselves and make a decision. I fully believe that the way our feet were made was perfect and everyone trying to make it better isn't going to work. Especially when it makes you run differently than you normally would. I think in this "have it all now" society most people won't take it slow enough to make the transition properly, will get injured, get frustrated, and go back to their old footwear. Just my two cents.

  19. Bethany + Ryan says

    I think a lot of people DO get hurt in minimalist shoes but mainly because they do not transition properly and they do too much too soon. I know several people who have been injured swithcing to barefoot/minimalist shoes (mostly calf and achillies problems) but it was because they went out and ran 5 miles in them off the bat. Also, i see a lot of people in Boston running in vibrams, nike frees and the merrell trail gloves who are STILL heel striking. It's more than just putting on the shoes and going out for a few miles. It's a lot of work and it's a slow process, you can't just put on minimalist shoes and go run like you would in your old shoes. Do i think Jeff really sees people who get injured in minimals shoes? Probably, but i suspect there is a lot more the story he is not telling us i.e. most people who are getting injured are not following the recommended guidelines for transitioning etc.