Craziest Shoe Review EVER! Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit vs Carson Footwear BTMR
Nike and Carson Footwear…what do they have in common? One, they’re both athletic shoe companies and two, they’re both based in Oregon. Beyond that, the similarities are pretty slim. So why do a review comparing the two? The reason is each represents a distinct running philosophy that needs to be discussed.
- The first is to design a shoe that artificially makes you a better runner. This is the Vaporfly 4%. No matter who you are, this shoe makes you faster. There is a reason why it’s breaking records and on the feet of so many elites.
- The second is to design a shoe that systematically makes you a better runner. Not artificially, but genuinely. This is Carson Footwear and all of their minimalist shoes, including the BTMR (which stands for Barr Trail Mountain Race).
Why Running Form Matters
Regardless of your shoe, the adage “listen to your body” still applies. When we maintain good body position—head over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over the mid-foot upon landing and arms swinging directly ahead—we run with good form and use less energy to run faster. Height, weight, leg and stride length all factor into an optimal cadence. Put it all together and your feet strike just beneath the hips. Not way out in front of you for your heels to deal with, and not behind you for your toes and calves to support. A good landing should feel gentle and relaxed, springy and comfortable. Many advanced runners land on the ball of the foot towards the lateral side, gradually bringing the heel down to start the push off while bringing the other foot forward.
For the lucky few, this motion comes naturally. For the rest of us, it doesn’t. With enough running and persistence, you can change. I am living proof.
My Shoe Journey
When I first started running, I had no idea about form or shoes. I simply grabbed my sneakers and hit the treadmill.
As time passed and I started logging 12-15 miles per week, my knee began to hurt. I spoke to a running friend who suggested I might need a “support” shoe. I didn’t know what that was, but headed off to the running store. There they outfitted me with a pair of Brooks Ghost trainers. Great shoe (not in the support category), but my knee still hurt. Back to the running store where they sold me a foam roller and told me to stretch my ITB. The knee pain went away…for a while.
Fast forward and the miles continue to accumulate, and the distances get longer. Maybe running 20-25 miles per week now. The knee pain comes back. Frustrated by past purchases, I do my own research. I record and study my gait, and am startled to learn that I am a heel-striking pronator. The shame of it all…but nothing a pair of Asics GT-2000s (an actual “support” shoe) won’t solve. Well, that and some more work on the foam roller. But it didn’t solve it. And for a while, I simply ran with a sore knee, plus a little hip bursitis for good measure.
Then I got injured…nothing running related, but it sidelined me for about 2 months. And when I came back, I was more determined than ever to run and improve. Through the first six weeks or so, no knee pain. Then I hit mile 9 of a half marathon and started what became many months of the worst knee pain I had ever experienced. I tried other shoes, including different and heavier trainers all targeted at that pronated heel strike. None helped, and it got to the point where I could not finish runs. And trust me, you do not want to walk home for miles in the frigid cold of a Minnesota winter because you can’t finish a run.
Soon my Achilles also started to hurt. Finally, I knew something else had to change. For the first time I started to really look at my form. Not for shoe selection, but to become a better and injury-free runner. In doing so I noticed something…my hip dropped. This pushing and pulling motion along the side of my leg was causing ITB friction along the knee, creating that sidelining pain. Shoes and foam rolling were like a band-aid on a cut. They covered it up, but never addressed how and why the injury came to be.
I then went on a journey to improve my form. It started with core strength, making sure my body could cover the distance without dropping that hip. I focused on posture and cadence, going so far as to run with a metronome until I consistently hit a targeted steps per minute. Eventually I started landing on my mid and forefoot instead of my heel. The ITB pain disappeared within about 3 weeks, the other changes took more time.
And yes, I changed my shoes again. This time, instead of looking for that shoe with orthopedic features to match my flawed form, I went the opposite direction. I found minimalist shoes, and started to feel the ground beneath. No longer did I need video to capture form insights. My feet told the story with every stride.
Back to the Shoe Review...Nike Vaporfly 4% Flyknit
If you’re lucky enough to be the rare few that scored a 4% for $250, they are absolutely amazing. There is a reason why so many elites choose this shoe. The cushioning is soft and responsive, the carbon-fiber plate propels with each step, and the fly knit upper hugs your foot. It’s lightweight, yet glides you down the road while seeming to carry its own momentum.
There is a role for this shoe in your arsenal – Race Day. If you want to PR, or just impress your friends with a fast time, this is the shoe. Hands down, no contest. However, please understand what it’s not going to do. It’s not going to prevent over striding, stop your hip from dropping, or otherwise correct your form. It might band-aid some of those issues with a cushioned ride, but the flaws will remain.
Carson Footwear BTMR
First, you don’t need to be on a waiting list to find this shoe. They’re available for order here. Get past the checkout, and they will soon be hand constructed, just for you, with love in Milwaukie, Oregon. Second, this is a minimalist shoe. It’s a 10mm polyurethane sole with a 5mm sockliner and a light, flexible upper. Third, it’s less than half the cost of the Vaporfly 4%.
Now let’s talk about proprioception. It’s what barefoot or minimalist runners describe as the relationship between the body and ground. Pressure receptors in the feet provide sensory feedback that allow your body to run naturally, making your brain aware of where your foot is landing and what adjustments are necessary.
With thick-soled, heavily supported running shoes, the body’s nervous system can’t communicate with the ground and the senses become dulled. While that cushioned heel sounds comforting, the lack of rapport with the ground can throw off your stride and cause biomechanical stress.
The Carson shoe provides the proprioception sensation that we want. You will feel the ground underneath and know if you are running on grass or gravel or asphalt in a way you can’t feel with a traditional shoe. Your body will want to land on the mid and forefoot, and adjust your stride to do so. Further, you’ll find that the expanded range of motion stretches and flexes your joints (including the Achilles) while developing stronger muscles in your calves and quads, and with less force on your knee.
Plus, they’re amazingly comfortable.
This year I’ve averaged 46 miles per week. That’s a major leap forward from where I started years ago, and the big news is I now run virtually pain free. Most of my current miles are in the Carson BTMR, but I vary. I believe that running in different shoes allows the body to positively work, flex, and stretch different muscles versus running in the same shoe every day. However, it’s important to do so with solid fundamentals. If you don’t have those fundamentals, minimalist shoes will help you get there while traditional cushioned shoes may slow your progression or hide the flaws. If you do have them, vary away and enjoy your runs.
At the very least, make sure to include some minimalist running in your rotation. Any of the Carson Footwear lineup are a great choice, but you can also look at Sockwa or Shamma Sandals or a host of others. Check out future blogs for how to build that running type into your training plan.
Thanks for reading. Keep doing amazing things. And however you run, Run Uncommon!
The Uncommon Runner