Sebastian Bär has successfully coached three ultra athletes in his life. Now, he’s a shoe pioneer and inventor of the functional footwear design concept.
And he’s leading a functional footwear revolution.
As Joe Nimble steps into a bold new partnership with Michelin, on a mission to free our feet from the constraints of modern footwear design, we talked to Sebastian about “toe freedom” and how functional footwear is transforming the running experience forever.
Over a decade ago, Sebastian was leading a support crew at the world’s toughest ultra marathon, the Badwater 135. The race runs 217 kilometers nonstop through Death Valley in July, which at that time of year is the hottest place on earth. Runners battle 50 degree air temperature and 80 degree temperatures on the road.
“I saw a lot of the runners who participated in the race, and these are the top ultra marathon qualifiers from all over the world, people who are the best of their kind in ultra running come to that race,” says Sebastian.
“What amazed me was that each of these runners need 8 to 12 pairs of shoes from start to finish of that race. And I was like: ‘How can that be?’”
When speaking to runners after the race, they explained to Sebastian that their shoes had become misshapen, and were causing the foot to tire. Most common of all was complaints of pain at the front of the foot, with a shocking and unorthodox solution.
“They had to cut open the front of the shoe, basically the toe box,” he explains.
“So they used a sharp knife and, from the ball to the front of the foot, cut away the complete upper so that the toes or the front of the foot would have more space.”
“Most crazy? Our runner went from start to finish in only one pair of shoes, he didn’t even have to take the shoes off. And the race director of that race, Chris Kostman, told me at the finish line that nobody had ever completed Badwater in just one pair of shoes before.”
Those shoes were a product of Sebastian’s family, who have been creating functional footwear for over four decades, ever since his father realised there had to be a better way.
That better way is what Joe Nimble call “toe freedom”.
Discover Toe Freedom
The physiology of toe freedom starts with the shape of the foot.
“The natural shape of our foot is asymmetrical,” explains Sebastian. “Which is in contrast to modern running shoes, which have a symmetrical shape.”
Most running shoes are ‘pointed’ at the front and have a tendency to ‘squeeze’ the toes together. This is what Sebastian has found to be the root cause of pretty much every pain, injury and discomfort runners suffer.
“The toes – especially the big toe – have a purpose, which is to anchor and stabilise the foot and thereby the whole body. If that function is taken away, first the foot and then everything above the foot will start to suffer, because the foot cannot function naturally anymore.”
“You’re standing and running on unstable foundations, and that instability has to be compensated for somewhere else in the body. The knees, the hips, you get trigger points in the back, you get an inefficient running technique.”
“All of these negative effects of running happen because we are moving on an unstable or dysfunctional basis, an issue which is caused by the symmetrical shoe shape.”
Dysfunctional running, or running outside of the sagittal plane, can also be a cause of over pronation in runners. This instability causes the rolling in of the foot through uneven distribution of weight across the toes, which puts the knee in a position that it shouldn’t be in, and prevents ground shock being absorbed effectively.
Joe Nimble tackles this issue by helping runners to regain and maintain their natural foot function. The solution is an innovative asymmetrical design that is designed to reflect the shape of the human foot.
“It’s wide at the front, it has a flat toe box that supports and stabilises the forefoot, and supports the natural function of the big toe,” says Sebastian.
This is toe freedom. The design thinking that gets runners through Death Valley’s Badwater ultra in a single pair of shoes.
“Every single person, no matter what they do, needs toe freedom.”
“The structure of Joe Nimble shoes helps to reverse problems associated with dysfunctional, symmetrical footwear – hallux valgus, squished toes in the front, flat foot, or high, rigid arches.”
“Your needs will depend on the surfaces you run on, how often you run, your age and your weight. But if you’ve been running for years you’re probably going to need more protection. While barefoot shoes strip everything away, meaning you’re at risk of sensory input overload (as your feet haven’t yet had time to adapt), our functional footwear offers various thicknesses of sole as you transition away from symmetrical shoes.
Joe Nimble Meets MICHELIN
Joe Nimble started life with orthopaedic design in mind.
However, the toe freedom innovation is now being applied directly to technical shoes, and in partnership with MICHELIN, the company has worked tirelessly to create the ultimate functional running shoe.
“We wanted to combine an intelligent midsole with a high performance outsole to deliver an optimal running experience. The aim is to reduce overstriding and discomfort, and maximise performance on unforgiving surfaces,” says Sebasatian.
“Together with MICHELIN, we have developed the ideal density that lets runners take shorter strides with a higher cadence, but keep the center of gravity when the foot is being placed on the ground. This is when the most impact is on the foot, right under the centre of gravity of the body – especially when running on harder surfaces.”
“Michelin’s know-how has been absolutely pivotal in the development of a shoe which will allow the people to spend more time on the road doing their favorite thing, all thanks to the performance innovation that the shoes delivers to them.”
The nimbleToes Addict from Joe Nimble and Michelin is the first of a long line of functional footwear solutions ready to enhance human comfort and performance.
Designed to Joe Nimble’s philosophy, the shoe is based on a biomechanical concept from Lee Saxby (Biomechanist, running coach and the creator of the Functional Foot Map), and features a unique Michelin outsole for premium stability, durability and traction when running. “More sweat, less tears” is the endgame – and Joe Nimble have delivered.
“The foot is furthest away from the head, so we think about it the least of all parts of the body. But the problem is that we spend our whole life on our feet. From the moment we get out of bed, we stand on our feet until we lie down again. Tomorrow, next week, next month, for the rest of our lives, we’re always on our feet and still we take the least care of our feet.
– Sebastian Bär, Head of Joe Nimble
Joe Nimble creates functional footwear that helps people to take better care of their feet and do what they love at the same time. Follow them on Instagram: @joenimble