How do I get back into running in Crossfit WODs - minimalist or conventional?

Answered on August 19, 2014
Created January 06, 2012 at 2:43 AM

I started Crossfitting in September. A couple of weeks beforehand, a Crossfitting friend who lives across the country told me to get as much of a head start on activity as I could do, advising that it would help me to be adjusted.

I went out and tried running, wearing the Merrell barefoot pace shoes that I'd worn (for walking about) near daily and loved for over 6 months by that point.

And I hurt myself. (Cue the "duhs".)

I tweaked a ligament, probably sprained something. Was already signed up for the intro Crossfit course, came in at the instructor's insistence.

Fortunately, it turned out that I have a great instructor who went very much out of her way to ensure that I did not abuse or otherwise worsen the injury. I was very scaled down and worked around it, and the pain ceased within about 3-4 weeks.

Fast forward to today.

I've been Crossfitting three months. I LOVE Crossfitting, love the challenges, love the lifting, love the community.

I'm still rowing in place of running during the WODs. I'd like to eventually get back into running. Here are the challenges:

  • I've been WODing in my Merrells the whole time because (even while my ankle was in pain) trying on my old conventional New Balance running shoes didn't/doesn't feel right - I feel out of touch with the ground and my own body's stability in such comparatively cushy shoes.

  • My Crossfit box's running routes are through a parking lot, on sidewalks, etc. In other words, hard manmade pavement.

So, I very much prefer my Merrells, but I don't know how to get back into running on pavement without potentially reinjuring myself.

What tips/approaches would you suggest or have you tried in terms of easing into barefoot/minimalist style running on pavement in Crossfit WODs?

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on January 09, 2012
at 12:14 AM

Start with very short distances. I run in Merrell pace gloves and have gone as far as 3.5 miles in them, but I started by running maybe 1/4 to 1/2 a mile at a time. This should give your feet time to adjust and build up the necessary muscles. Running on anything but concrete will also be very helpful.



on January 12, 2012
at 03:47 PM

If you have to relearn how to run, it's going to take time. The simplest way is to hit the concrete without any shoes - the form will pretty much come naturally, allowing you to relax into it. And then stop when things start to feel sore, recover, then go out running further next time. It's possible to run badly in minimalist shoes, and that's only going to cause more problems, trust me!


on January 09, 2012
at 05:26 AM

First off I would rather run anyday over rowing since it is a heck of a lot harder.

Without knowing the extent of your injuries i wouldnt do anything even if there isnt any pain. I hurt my shoulder doing muscle-ups and went back to crossfit after i though it was healed and ended up having to take another 13 months off. so proceed with caution.

Anyways, when I got into the whole barefoot running thing i needed to learn the proper form so I just talked to my neighbor (just and avid runner). To teach yourself the proper form just I would compare it to running across short dry grass or hot sand, where you dont want to keep your foot down and stay off your heel. The other thing i think people forget that speed will come with time as well as distance start with a liesurly pace and short step focusing on form. Now if you insist on minimalist running why not just go barefoot and be done with it, i think that it is the best way to learn and you will also get the best reults. I hate to be tell you that just cause you like your Merrells that doesnt mean that it is the right show for you that took me years to figure out.


on January 14, 2012
at 03:32 AM

This answer may be counter to what you are looking for, but if you are happy with your exercising, why focus so much on running?

All my life I struggled with running. I would also break down after a short distance and basically mentally talked myself out of the ability to run. Last year I set out to correct that, and started going for jogs on the weekend. I eventually worked up to running 5K on the weekends, and then a 5K race, and then a 10K race. I proved to myself that I could run. Then I got bored with running and stopped.

I felt just as good before and after my love affair with running because I was getting plenty of other exercise. I was also heavily doing Crossfit, and was stronger and "fitter" than I had ever been. I did notice that I actually felt better when I stopped with the running and could recover faster from my workouts, possibly because of the strain on my knees and other joints that running put on me.


on January 09, 2012
at 03:21 AM

Before responding, I checked out the Merrell minimalist running shoe and it appears to be an excellent shoe.

This is a great chance to take note of babies and how babies learn to do things.

Once a child can stand up, she learns to walk. You have already done this is your Merrells, or have you? Go walking and look down at your feet and pay attention to what you feel. If your foot is landing 'pancake flat' with your toes pointed just a little bit out that's a great start. Are you tightening your glute once your foot strikes the ground?


Keep walking, making sure your getting mid foot strikes on each step and flexing your glute on the striking side. If your having a problem with mid foot strike, pretend your walking on gravel without a shoe on and trying not to make any noise, that is the correct way your foot needs to land. No heel strikes and no forefoot strikes. Mid-heel. Learn the way a baby does, practice.

Baby Steps. Once the above is mastered, go for same distance walks but increase speed. Pick a point and walk to it, then walk back, next time go to the same point but must get back before you did last time. Do this walking. I suggest .5 miles out and .5 miles back.

Once this gets to the point that you can not increase in speed without 'running'. Well, go do it, your ankle/knee/hip should be up to speed and ready. If you want to be extra cautious, run the .5 miles and walk the rest back, see how everything feels after.

Mid-foot strike, tighten your glute to pull leg back and move you forward.

Watch a baby walk, watch a bush-man hunt, watch a special forces soldier move under control, they all use mid foot strikes and learned via baby steps, you should too.

Enjoy :)


on January 09, 2012
at 01:39 AM

For ankle rehab check out Kelly Starret: http://www.mobilitywod.com/2011/07/episode-285365-sliding-surfaces-ankle-range-of-motion-case-study.html Look on his MobilityWOD.com or SanFranciscoCrossFit YouTube channel. He's also got a lot of info on the CrossFit Journal (http://journal.crossfit.com)

When you are ready for running: If the pavement is safe enough I would actually start out barefoot. Walk it and check for glass or rocks. Look up some tutorials on POSE or barefoot running styles. Then as Kate said, start with very short distances. The beauty of barefoot is your skin won't let you go further than you should without getting raw. You will also have excellent ground feel and it will help force you into a better forefoot/midfoot strike style of running. http://zenhabits.net/barefoot-running/ http://barefootrunninguniversity.com/howtostart.html or Google for more sites/info.

So 2 things: 1) Check out your ankle mobility (Kelly Starrett is gold) 2) When you're ready check your running form and start out barefoot

Eventually put back on your Merrells, or continue running barefoot if you fall in love with it. Good luck!



on January 08, 2012
at 11:54 PM

That depends, I run in new balanace's minimus trial on pavement.

It takes a long time to build up the technique for running in them landing more towards the front of your foot than the heel. As well it takes longer to build up the muscle and ligaments.

First time I ran in my Vibrams (before I switched to minimus) I ran 400m and my calfs hurt for 4 days. It needs to be a slow transition, that will allow your body to adapt. If you just go out and run and overdo it things are not going to go well.

I can run upwards of 5km+ without issues now, but I do not run that far very often, maybe 4-6 times last year.

Look up the pose method of running, look at the drills and talk to your CF trainer about it they should be able to help you there or at least point you in the right track. Lots of videos out there on it and how to learn it.

Go for about 100m run, see how you feel the next day slowly build up your ability to increase the distance until you are doing WOD's.

Running on the front of your foot is a softer landing than heel striking so learning to run that way on pavement will be better than running with softer shoes and heel striking.


on January 08, 2012
at 11:19 PM

THE Kinerva 2's have a low drop and are a bit more cushy than the Merrell's. I wear my merrell's all day, every day and have run up to 10 miles in them (don't judge me). For my marathon - don't judge me! - I'm going Kinerva's for the hard surfaces.



on January 06, 2012
at 03:34 AM

If cost is not an issue, I would suggest finding a middle ground between the squishy NB and the minimalist Merrell's. Go to a good running store and the individuals there should be able to help you find a happy medium. As you noted, going from squishy to virtually barefoot is a big step. The process should be gradual.


on January 16, 2012
at 05:45 PM

I am a big proponent of barefoot running and do not believe the pavement is an issue if form and muscles are up for it. The problem with minimal shoes is people learn the benefits of barefoot running and then simply run poorly with minimal shoes.

I would go through some of the exercises in a training guide for barefoot running. My favorite intro guide to barefoot running is by Lee Saxby: http://trainingclinic.vivobarefoot.com/

Then, I would verify that your form is okay. The easiest way to self coach would be to go run outside in a nearby park completely barefoot. You can tell pretty easily if you form is bad.

If form is ok, I would run one half of a mile in minimal shoes a few times a week and increase 20% a week until you can run several miles. (It will seem like nothing but the gradual increases will add up.)

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