Greg Woods is a writer, CrossFitter, and runner based out of Durham, North Carolina.
Below is an interview with Greg that talks about running off weight, his foray into “barefoot” running shoes, his ideal minimalist shoe, and a desire to move to a place where they can be worn all the time (Costa Rica? Maybe if he can outrun the thugs!).
Why did you switch to minimalist shoes?
I’m pretty tall, and for most of my life I was also rather large. I typically floated between 225 and 250 pounds since I was in high school. Always more of a lineman type of look than anything else. I exercised more in my late twenties and lost some weight. Then I started running just before I turned 30 and got down below 200. In Summer of 2011, not six months into my new running lifestyle, I started experiencing pretty significant pain in my left knee, and to a lesser degree in my right. It was frustrating to me because I’d found this healthier lifestyle that I loved but my body was rebelling. I stubbornly ran my first half marathon through the pain and it was awful. For a couple months after I couldn’t do much in the way of exercise and was being told that a guy my size shouldn’t run anymore.
I wasn’t ready to accept that and began reading up on minimalist footwear and running form. I had a pair of Vibram Fivefinger Trek Sports for hiking and started experimenting a little. Right around then is when I read Born to Run. The story captivated me most especially because of Christopher McDougall’s plight as the book opened. Like me, he’s a big guy that had a persistent injury that resulted in many people telling him to stop running. Also like me, he was clearly too stubborn to accept that. The book inspired me to not give up on running.
So I kept experimenting. More Fivefingers. Huaraches. Cheap minimalist shoes I found on Amazon. Barefoot. My knee pain receded until it all but vanished. That was more than enough to convert me.
What is the most important aspect of minimalist footwear for you?
Protection. For me, that’s pretty much all footwear is to me anymore. I don’t want padding or flashy styling. I want my shoes to be the foot equivalent of wearing a light jacket. Keep me from getting scuffed or poked too hard. My form should be doing what most other “normal” running shoes try to do for us.
How many pairs of FiveFingers do you have? What other minimalist shoes do you have?
I’m a lightweight relative to other FiveFingers enthusiasts: only six pairs. But I also have four pairs of Lunas and two pairs of Xero Shoes. Then one each of the following brands: Feiyue martial arts shoes, Inov-8s, Vivobarefoot dress shoes, and Patagonia Advocates. I have a pair of Keen A86 trail running shoes that some consider to be minimalist, but once I got used to something as thin as, say, my 4mm Xero Shoes it’s hard to consider something so thick as the Keens as minimalist.
Then there’s the shoe that first introduced me to casual minimalist: Gurkees rope sandals. I got my first pair of these way back in 2000 and love them. They’re my favorite prop from my hippie-lite college days. I enjoyed being barefoot or as close as possible to barefoot casually long before I got into it athletically.
What’s your current go-to shoe? All-time favorite?
My first pair of Luna Leadville sandals are what I reach for most when the weather isn’t extremely cold. They offer just enough tread for pretty much any situation (both visually and functionally) and are quick to get on and off. I’ve had that pair for only seven months and I’ve easily worn them more than any other shoe in my whole life as far as percentage of ownership time versus time worn is concerned. I’ve trimmed them and adjusted them to a perfect fit. Hiked in them, run in them, and even battled (and then ran away from) some thugs in them. They’re my new old reliable.
Just got some Soft Star Moc3 RunAmocs and I can already tell they’ll be a top contender for my winter favorite.
What is one activity enjoy doing that has nothing to do with FiveFingers?
Writing fiction. I’ve written a couple hundred pages of short stories and two novels. All unpublished as yet. Writing is just very joyful for me.
Fitness and self-improvement generally are tangentially related, but that’s the broader umbrella under which my appreciation for minimalist running shoes falls. Writing about fitness and doing shoe/gear reviews here on Birthday Shoes weds two of my loves.
What perspective do you bring to your reviews at BirthdayShoes?
The big guy. The latecomer runner. The cubical drone starting to bust out and get more active. I don’t think anything about my perspective is particularly unique, really. But I’m okay with that.
Show us a picture of the shoe you wore before you transitioned to minimalist shoes.
Until my knee pain started I alternated between Brooks and Asics running shoes. Now when I wear them it feels like I’ve stepped in squishy mud. That feeling is exponentially worse when wearing my favorite old casual/dress shoes: Doc Martens. Back when I used to work retail I’d wear these things for long shifts and was always confused by the fact that my feet would start to tingle as if they were falling asleep. I now know that the excessive cushion didn’t engage my foot enough.
What is your least favorite shoe that you have ever tried?
I’m not particularly impressed with Nike. It’s not that I’m trying to be a hipster or something and hate on them for being a big corporation or their occasionally questionable business practices. I just genuinely don’t like their shoes or other gear all that much. I’ve especially had problems with their shoes in terms of size/fit consistency and quality.
If you could only wear one style of shoe for the rest of your life what would it be? Not just the brand but the model as well.
At this point, Luna Leadvilles. Though I’d have to move somewhere a bit warmer to wear them year round. Maybe Costa Rica, where I first put them through their paces for two weeks straight? Yeah, I like that idea.
How long did it take you to transition to minimalist shoes?
It took me about 8-9 months until I’d transitioned to minimalist shoes full time. But even then I’d say it’s a work in progress with many years to go. Changing one’s running form when you’ve been a heavy heel clomper for three decades is tough. But rewarding.
Do you prefer Socks or No Socks?
No socks whenever possible. Generally, as little as possible as often as possible.
How many people have you converted to minimalist shoes?
I don’t think I’ve really converted anyone. I’m not much of an evangelist, really. If people ask I’m glad to tell them about my shoes or running barefoot, but I never actively assert myself on the topic. Everyone’s different. I know that I dislike when someone presumes to know what I feel like or what’s “best” for me. Similarly, I try not to push what I think’s best for others. Because as a very tall guy, for instance, I cannot understand what it’s like to be a fairly short and lightweight female runner. If she runs in traditional sneakers with no injuries or pain and has been doing so for years, who am I to say that her way is “wrong?”
I love minimalist running. And I’m a talker so I’ll chat about it with anyone who cares to listen. But in terms of conversion I tend to let others decide that. If I’ve converted anyone it’s more than likely that they already started converting in their heads some and then asked questions of me that just nudged them further down the path!
If you could design your ideal shoe what would it be?
Probably something like Soft Star Moc3s, Sockwas, or Patagonia Advocates. Fairly low top. Maybe with a tabi split toe design, though. I know it sounds like I’m describing ZEMgear shoes to some degree. But I’m thinking something a little durable than those. Also better ventilated and more adverse-condition resistant. And with styling that would work as either casual or athletic. I’d call it “The Gregulator!” Just kidding. Mostly.
But even this shoe would split its time with my huaraches. Minimal sandals are where it’s at.
Have you ever injured your foot? If so what happened? How could you have possibly avoided the injury?
When my knee was first acting up, I tried running in my FiveFingers Trek Sports. I knew I was supposed to run more on my forefoot in them, but that’s the extent of it. I didn’t study up on good form nor practice properly. As a result I was running way too far forward on my foot — almost on my toes. That’s how I ended up developing the dreaded top-of-foot pain. I’ve experienced “TOFP” in both feet at varying times, always when I’ve been training too hard and without paying proper attention to my footfalls. Haven’t had it in a while now (knock on wood) as the repeated incidents have trained me to land better.
Then of course, there was this occasion of stupidity.
What’s on your wish list?
Vibram FiveFingers Speed XC are the next toe shoes I’d like to try. I’m intrigued by super thin, almost sock-like type of shoes like One Moment campaign. Very keen to try out more Soft Star products. Need to get around to trying Bedrock Sandals. Anything that Luna comes out with; I’m consistently impressed with their quality and dedication. Pretty obvious I’m a huaraches guy, yes?
Did you like to be barefoot as a kid?
I did. And still do. My ideal lifestyle would involve lots of constant physical activity and a bare minimum of shoe-wearing time. If anyone knows of a job opening with such a description, do let me know.
Thank you, Greg, for all you do to make BirthdayShoes a success!
If you want to catch up with what Greg has been writing for the site, see a full list of his articles and reviews here.