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Bare feet drive a running revolution

ATLANTA -- Running shoes have looked pretty much the same for decades. But now there is a running shoe revolution, driven by the desire for no shoes at all.

"I'm sure I get some crazy looks, but I just really don't pay attention," Woody Dover said.

11Alive's Julie Wolfe caught up with Dover on a drizzly morning in downtown Decatur. He is a serious runner and he looks the part, wearing a Run ATL T-shirt and sporting an "ultra" sticker on the back of his car. He is thin, fit, and fast. And he's barefoot.


Woody's venture into minimalist running started where so many others runners stop. "I've struggled with several injuries since college. Just when I'd get better, I'd get hurt again," he said.

As an ultra marathoner and speedy road racer, Woody was smack in the middle of Atlanta's running community when the Born to Run movement arrived. "At the time, I really thought it was absurd," he said.

The book is about a tribe in Mexico where members run great distances with little or no shoe. It ushered in a running revolution.

Today, you'll see a scattering of barefoot runners in Atlanta races from 5Ks to marathons. But that barefoot movement was really just the beginning of the way mainstream runners think about the way they move.

"Right now, there's a misconception that the shoe is what's making the difference, but it's really about how you're running. It's about form," Dover said. The "barefoot form" calls for short, quick steps that land under your body and on your midfoot. Dover said you can run with proper form in any shoe, but the big, cushy shoes that slant your foot forward make it more difficult.

Elite runners have raced and trained in minimal shoes for years, but since 2010, more and more runners considered "middle of the pack" wanted to shed the extra ounces of their big shoes.

At Mizuno headquarters in Norcross, they felt the running world shift.

"I think fundamentally, there's a change that's going to be around for a long time," said Fritz Taylor, General Manager for Mizuno's USA Running division. "When I first got here four years ago and we were talking about how we were going to grow the business, one of the first things I said was, we need to make our shoes pillowier and softer, and I remember Rod, he almost went through the roof!"

The defender of that "just enough" shoe philosophy is Rod Foley, director of product. Mizuno has been making a three-ounce minimal shoe for years. It was a niche product until 2010, when people started buzzing about barefoot running.

"There are some good premises and some good thoughts to that; there are also some things that we take a little bit of umbrage with," Foley said. "Most of the people that are running are on concrete which is one of the hardest surfaces on earth."

His concerns are valid. Some runners report injuries when they attempt to shed their shoes. Stress fractures in the bones of the feet are the most common injuries.

"The pendulum was maybe way over here with big, soft cushy shoes. Then it swung way over here to barefoot. Everybody was trying to run barefoot, which is also too much of an extreme, and now it's swinging back to some place in the middle," Taylor said.

That middle means an explosion in the sale of minimalist running shoes.

Dover only runs barefoot about once a week. "There are people that do it every day, but I wouldn't recommend it," he said.

Rod Foley said it's an exciting time to work in the industry as the debate over how to run continues. "We believe the wrong thing to say is you should run this way," he said. "What we want to say is you should run."


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