User Stories

Women and Barefoot/Natural Running – Merrell Reaches Out

Merrell has recently launched an effort to reach and encourage women who are curious about the barefoot/bareform or barefoot-style/natural running movement. You can check out their micro-site here.

Back in September of 2011 when Merrell had a bunch…

Merrell just launched an effort to reach and encourage women who are curious about the barefoot/bareform or barefoot-style/natural running movement. You can check out their micro-site here.

This move by Merrell Barefoot is an extension of their ongoing efforts to understand our little weird world of barefooters and minimialist shoes enthusiasts — you see, back in September of 2011, Merrell had a bunch of us bloggers and runners up for the NYC barefoot run, threw us in a windowless room*, and forced us to talk about what’s going on with the whole barefoot, barefoot shoes, natural running, etc. movement. They really wanted to hear what we had to say, and incidentally, women and barefoot was a focus of the roundtable discussion we had. This microsite launch is Merrell’s first move to take that feedback and run with it.

Why are women and barefoot-style running such a big deal? Well, it turns out it’s not, and that’s a little curious. You see, I didn’t realize this, but according to the National Sporting Goods Association, there are now something like 16.9 million women runners—a 23% increase since 2006—yet women seem to be a minority voice in the minimalist/barefoot running communities.

So Merrell’s micro-site is focused on creating awareness about barefoot or barefoot-style running for women. After the jump I’ll share a video produced by Merrell that features a few women runners, talk just a little bit more about what you can find on their micro-site, and end with a very cool interview with one of the women in the video — Emily Snayd. Emily is an enthusiastic, super-friendly person who’s day-job is spreading the word about Merrell Barefoot — she’s been my primary point of contact with Merrell. What’s really cool about Emily is that she lives out her interest in barefoot-style or full-off barefoot running when she’s not at work&mdsah;it’s not just her job and that’s pretty cool.

Read on!

Pretty Strong Women Running in Merrell Barefoots

First, let’s take a look at this great video — it starts Merrell’s tagline for their women’s efforts, which is “Pretty Strong,” and features a few women runners who actually work with Merrell.

Awesome to see some great running footage — nice form! I imagine myself running around not looking nearly as graceful — more likely ready to bulldoze someone from the chest up and a cat pawing the ground below the waist — an odd combination.

Anyway, over at the micro-site you’ll find some useful information about training barefoot form, running playlists, a link over to a Pretty Strong facebook page, and a useful guide to shoes (PDF — Merrell Barefoot focused, of course).

I wanted to get a little more personal and share a little Q&A with one of the featured runners in the video — Emily Snayd — so I asked her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say!

Interview with Emily Snayd on Running, Barefoot, and What’s Next?

Emily running and finishing a half-marathon.

How did you first get into running?

I always ran during sports in school but never got into just running for the run until I had kids (I now have 3). My first daughter was really cranky and the best solution was a run in the jogger stroller. Now that I have 3 kids, I run for me. I go out to enjoy it and keep packing on the miles. It’s a bit of an escape, but it is a healthy escape that I have become very passionate about.

What brought you to learning “bareform” or a more natural running/barefoot-style running form?

When Merrell began designing and developing barefoot shoes, I began doing a lot of research on forums and blogs. The benefits seemed huge, but I was a bit skeptical. Were the beneftits really right for me? I signed up as a wear tester to see if I could practice what I would preach. Once I started running barefoot and in barefoot shoes, I couldn’t go back. The best benefit for me is the way running and working out now feels, it should be fun! And it is!

I became a wear tester for the Merrell barefoot program and also felt that if I was going to be the PR gal on the program, I should understand and practice what I was preaching. Once I started running barefoot and in the barefoot shoes, I couldn’t go back. I now use barefoot shoes for all of my fitness. It just feels good!

How long did it take you to transition to your new running form?

I’ve been running in the barefoot shoes for about 2 years now. When I first made the transition I really needed to learn patience (ask my mom or dad, not easy for me). I went out and it felt so good to run with less on my foot that I walked around the next day like a granny due to calf pain. In terms of form, I am still working on it. I’ve found that it is most important to do excercises that strengthen my feet and help with hip extension and mobility (thanks to tips from Jay Dicharry, Mark Cucuzella, Jason Robillard and Walt Reynolds). I have also incorporated barefoot shoes into my fitness routine. I box, do weight training and fitness classes in the barefoot shoes and totally feel the whole body benefit in all of my fitness activities that then correlates directly to better form, strength and efficiency while running.

What are your favorite runs? What’s your go-to?

My go-to … that’s tough! I love to run trails with my friends and have a fun trail system about 2 miles from my house. It is hilly, rocky and rooty with fun terrain to feel on foot. I also love to run roads and around here it is really hilly. My go-to race distance these days is the half marathon. Its attainable but I need to push myself and it makes me aim for some long runs throughout the week.

Since you work with Merrell Barefoot, I can only assume you’re a big believer in their products — what’s your current favorite? All-time favorite?

My go-to is the Dash Glove but on trail I wear the Pace Glove. Love them both and have been giving feedback through the entire process as well as listening to women on forums and blogs to give further third party feedback on design for future products. The team really does try to listen, we have learned so much from others, and its exciting to see that being reflected in the shoes.

What drove Merrell to make a push towards greater awareness about women and barefoot or natural running?

We hosted a Barefoot Jam with influencers, you included, during the NYC Barefoot Run. One key learning from the discussion was the lack of women voices in the barefoot movement. For women being a natural athete and the social factor of working out really matters. Once barefoot or in barefoot shoes, we all realize the benefit of connection and form that is beautiful. That’s what excited me and our team! We wanted to share our experiences and provide something that all women could relate to and want to incorporate into their current routines.

Why do you think women are under-represented in the minimalist andbarefoot running communities?

I think the original premise around barefoot was very primal. There seemed to be more men on forums and more men blogging about barefoot running and fitness. The core group of women barefoot runners that I’ve met are super cool and feisty go-getters (Iris Sutcliffe, Shelly Robillard, Krista Cavendar, Caity McCardell, Kate Kift, and Angie Bee) They jumped in with no second guessing and are sharing their positive experiences. I think we need to leverage their voices more and share more personal stories of transition to further engage women. Women are social and the more we can create a venue for them to share stories, ask questions and hear advice, the better. Once we get women engaged and feeling the way their bodies are made to move, we will help unlock the code of healthier running and fitness.

Where do you see this movement towards healthier footwear—for running or otherwise—going?

I see the movement continuing to grow. I think women will either embrace the movement and use barefoot movement for all of their fitness activites – from running to cross fit and zumba. While others will gradually transition by starting with some speedwork and fitness in barefoot shoes and once they feel the difference and the benefits they will transition for good.

Thank you, Emily, for sharing!

Finally, I’ll close with a link to a post that Emily just made about Pretty Strong over on the Merrell blog — great stuff!

* It was actually a pretty nice room replete with beer, hors d’oeuvres, and plush couches in the basement of the Ace Hotel. No windows, but that made it kinda cool.

By Justin

Justin Owings is a deadlifting dad of three, working from Atlanta. When he's not chasing his three kids around, you'll find him trying to understand systems, risk, and human behavior.

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