I really don’t know and can find no data on the numbers.
Judging by what is online there is an extraordinary presence of ‘barefoot’ and ‘minimalism’ running; there are literally 100’s of blogs, Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, books, eBooks, YouTube Videos, courses etc promoting it and talking about it everywhere you go online. “Barefoot’ and ‘minimalism’ running have been widely promoted in a wide range of media over many years now. You certainly get the impression from this that so many are doing it and that minimalism running shoes are the only shoes that are being sold, but out in the real world where are they?
Anecdotaly, I have only ever seen ONE barefoot runner in the last few years while out on a run. I take part each year in the Run for the Kids, with 30 000 participants and while I obviously did not get to see them all, I do keep my eyes open. At that run I have never came across anyone running barefoot and only usually come across a couple of Vibrams and one year there was a Merell Glove! I assume that there were probably more, but in the sampling of runners I observed that was all I came across over several years. I also recently took part in the 3 race, Brooks Sunset Series. Due to the nature of the course I did get to see pretty much everyone. In the 3 three runs, I only came across one Vibram wearer, no barefoot and no other minimalist shoes. I even got lapped by the better runners; they all went past me heel striking!
I am the first to admit that anecdotes are not data, but there certainly seems to be a dissonance between what I see online and what I see out on the road! Is most of this not really happening and it is just as some have described as something happening virtually online. The social media presence appears to be out of proportion to what is happening in the real world.
If you look as the Google search treads for ‘barefoot running’, there certainly has been a huge delince in interest in it since a peak in mid-2010:
Its the same for ‘minimalism running’, which has dropped away to almost nothing after peaking in mid 2012.
Also the same with Vibram Five Fingers:
From this it certainly appears that interest in ‘barefoot’ and ‘minimalism’ running is declining from its peak.
What about market share for ‘minimalism’ footwear?
According to a statement in Wikipedia:
Sales of minimalist running shoes grew from $450,000 in 2006 to $59 million in 2012, and grew 303% from November 2010 through November 2012, compared to a 19% increase in the overall sales of running shoes during the same time period.
That 303% increase over two years to the end of 2012 was impressive, but its was still only a 10-12% share of the running shoe market and as the whole market grew by 19%, it was not really impacting on the sales of the more traditional motion controlling and cushioning running shoes that were predicted by some loons as going to be put out of business. If you take out the Nike Free, which most are not used for running from that 10-12%, the share of the running shoes market for minimalism running shoes is only around 4-6% and it has been steady at that for a while now and not growing, so its not taking over the world as predicted by the fan boys. Chapter 9 in the book I reviewed: The Runners World Complete Guide to Minimalism and Barefoot Running has more information on the marketshare topic. Industry experts certainly do not see it going beyond that small 4-6% of the market, and there are a lot of companies fighting over that small market.
The industry publication for specificity running shoes stores, Running Insight, produced data that is somewhat consistent with this:
From that it appears runners are familiar with it, but most just don’t want to do it, with only 4-7% using minimalist shoes often. This data is from those runners who use the specialty stores. Most runners do not buy from these, instead use the larger non-specialty shoe stores, so this data is probably skewed toward the more serious runner.
This trend/movement has been going for a number years. Its certainly does not appear to being very widely adopted:
- anecdotally, I not seeing runners doing it when out running
- the Google search trends are showing a declining interest
- the marketshare of minimalism shoes is small and not growing
I recall a joke I heard somewhere:
Q: How many runners wearing Vibram FiveFingers does it take to change a light bulb?
A: 100. One to actually change it and 99 to write online somewhere what a positive experience it was.
While this is a joke, it does represent the extraordinary presence that those who do barefoot or minimalism running have online. They are always writing about, commenting on blogs and in forums etc, which is giving the appearance that this movement is probably bigger, more pervasive and more influential than it really is. Most traditionally shod runners do not appear to be posting online as much! Even all the positive headlines in the more traditional media from years ago have been replaced with more negative headlines recently (even though the evidence never supported either!). I commented on that here.
None of this means that there is anything wrong with barefoot or minimalism running. It just means not many people are doing it and there is an apparent drop off in interest in doing it. The traditional running shoe companies have not gone out of business; those who treat running injuries are busier than ever thanks to all this – remember all the predictions years ago about all this going to put people out of business. Well, the opposite has happened. There is no evidence that it is better than traditionally shod running (despite all the claims that there is). It has not turned out to be the panacea or one size fits all that the guru’s were promising and their disciples believed. It has its place and uses (I do some of my runs in a minimalist shoe). My only objection to it has always been the misunderstanding, the misquoting, the misusing and misinterpretation of the research and science. For that reason, I always go where the evidence takes me until convinced otherwise.
POSTSCRIPT: The sales figure for running shoes for the first quarter of 2013 have just been released and showed a decline in sales of minimalist shoes to a marketshare of 4%. All other categories of running shoes increased in sales. More.