Thursday, 16 February 2012

The Cost of Going Barefoot

THE makers of running shoes have a hell of a cheek. They want to charge us big bucks to run barefoot!
Following the recent fuss about the (alleged) benefits of barefoot running, the big shoe companies were quick to respond with new flashy ranges of what they call ‘stripped back’ and ‘minimalist’ shoes. This footwear is light as a feather and free of the usual gizmos we were previously told were so essential!
When they say ‘barefoot shoe’, by the way, manufacturers generally mean lightweight and thin-soled. If we REALLY started running barefoot, they’d all go out of business of course.
As someone who generally prefers lighter shoes, the new developments were cautiously welcomed here at the home of the Clapped-Out Runner. The more choice in the marketplace the better, I say.
ASICS have just launched their first range of minimalist shoes, and their marketing blurb urged fans across the northern hemisphere to quickly buy a pair and get in on the barefoot action in time for spring and summer 2012. As a long-time ASICS-wearer myself, my attention was grabbed. Then I saw the price-list.
Now, wouldn’t it be reasonable to assume a ‘stripped back’ shoe would be somewhat easier and cheaper to produce than the bulky and complicated conventional shoe?  And, therefore, could be sold at a much lower price? Think again, suckers.
ASICS’ new minimalist shoes – minus all the extra stability technology, the cushioning gel and whatever else – don’t come cheap, I’m afraid. The new Gel-Hyper 33s shoes are £99.99 a pair (that’s £100 to you and me) and the Gel-Excel 33s are £120 (RRP). Jim Peters, the plimsoll-wearing marathon champ of the 1950s, would be turning in his grave.
We’re fast reaching a point where most races cost £10 or more to enter, and the vast majority of shoes cost close to £100 or more.  
As a cynical old fart who’s been doing this sport for nigh on 30 years, one of my Rules of Running has always been never to spend £100 on a pair of shoes. I’d love to know how much I have spent in total over the years, and how many pairs of shoes I’ve got through, but sadly the Old Grey Training Log doesn’t include such data (detailed though it is). At a rough guess I must have bought in excess of 60 pairs since 1982 I would think. I'm confident none cost more than £80, the vast majority below £70. 
There are six pairs currently sitting in our hallway, by the way, cleverly positioned to frighten off cold-callers and Jehovah’s Witnesses. Very effective.
I’ve always thought the best policy is to wait a year or so for a particular range of shoe to slip out of fashion. Then they will start appearing at bargain-basement prices in deep dark corners of the internet.  Top discounts are usually only available via mail order, of course, so you can’t try ’em on, and therefore won’t be 100% sure what you will be getting.
It’s a risky way to shop for shoes, but at least it sets up that exciting moment when the post-person bangs on the door and shoves a nice parcel your way! They look good, they smell good, but will they fit….?


  1. Hi Rob
    I used to run barefoot in my teens (1960s)- we had a grass track at school and a lot of local athletic clubs still had grass tracks. I could run decent times for 880/mile in barefeet and even trained in some of the local parks which were not covered in broken glass and other interesting things then. Shoes felt uncomfortable, but now!! Even a short run on a beach is agony without shoes. Age and joints catch up. Pity, I miss the feeling, but won't be paying out £100 to bring back the memory.

  2. Yes Ian, I also once tried going barefoot in a 'Paarlauf' relay competition on the tartan track in Ipswich about 25 years ago, and was amazed at how fast it felt. It was only 200 metres run at a time, though, so it was a case of sprinting along up on the toes, rather than bashing the heels down. More recently I've managed a few beach runs barefoot, which felt OK although did seem to put pressure on calf/achilles area. Abebe Bikila and Zola Budd did it from childhood I suppose...!