I'm stuck at a computer reading and writing this morning so I'll share my experiences here again…I've always liked this topic.
I started marathon training in 2008 as a change from ultradistance cycling (got burned out training for double centuries and a solo attempt at the Furnace Creek 508).
I ran my first marathon in 2009 (Los Angeles). My entire year of training, and the subsequent year after running L.A. was plagued by knee and IT band issues. I tried every therapy I could find. Rollers, massage, eliminating running altogether, anything. Every time I thought I had it under control I would get a flare up, even on short runs (under 5K). I was a heel striker that wore traditional "support" and "motion control" shoes prescribed by well regarded running coaches and shoes fitting "experts" that analyzed my form. None of it helped.
Somewhere I started reading about barefoot running and how it changes biomechanics. It's immediately apparent. Try heel striking when running barefoot. It automatically forces you to adopt a mid to forefoot strike. Which engages your feet, ankles, achilles tendons, and calf muscles in a much different way. You can immediately feel it. I figured I had nothing to lose. I remember my first barefoot (not barefoot "shoes", but actually barefoot) run. I was stressed and pissed off from a bad situation at work, could't sleep, and was out the door at 11PM. I ran a 5K, barefoot, on asphalt and concrete around my neighborhood. It was the first time I ever ran with a mid to forefoot strike outside of sprinting. It felt weird, very different.
There was zero IT band or knee pain. Granted, my calves and achilles turned into tightened steel cables and I was seriously sore for days.
I tried it again when I felt better. Same results, less soreness.
I bought a pair of XC racing flats. Zero support, hardly any cushioning, zero drop. I learned to run on my mid to forefoot. My mileage slowly increased. I stuck with "minimalist" shoes (what I define as having a low drop and minimal padding) and kept increasing my mileage. I was running marathon distances again. I started running 50Ks. I ran the Grand Canyon Rim to Rim to Rim. I've done single day crossings of Joshua Tree (38 miles) twice, once after biking across the park first. All these events were in low drop, low padding shoes. I weigh 215 pounds….hardly a wispy Kenyan.
In the years since I went minimal, I've only had one running issue: ITB pain on the Rim to Rim to Rim. Which I sort of figure is to be expected when running 42 miles and 20,000 cumulative feet in a day.
I've run barefoot, in VFFs (which I didn't like because sticks get stuck between the toes), the whole New balance Minimus and MT series since their inception, the lighter Inov8s, and a few brands of racing flats.
Today, I don't attribute it to the shoes. I attribute it to changing my running form, which going barefoot and minimal helped facilitate. I find that I can now have the same injury-free running even in more traditional, padded, higher drop shoes (like a Brooks Cascadia 7) because it has to do with my form, not the shoe. But high drop, thickly padded shoes do make it harder to maintain a forefoot strike, at least for me.
I'm a pretty firm believer that much of this discussion actually has more to do with how shoes potentially change your form, for better or worse, than the actual shoe.