When I committed to minimalist/barefoot running I didn’t realize that footwear would be such a big deal. I actually thought the transition would save me some money and not be as agonizing as finding the right pair of traditional running shoes.
Once again I have been surprised on my journey. The number of minimalist shoes offered to the public has grown by an order of magnitude in just one year. Every major shoe manufacturer has developed or is developing a response to the new craze. It’s great to see the support, but now it is just as hard to figure out what to wear as when I was wearing standard running shoes.
There are some great sites out there, like toesalad.com, with a lot of good reviews. I don’t have the disposable income or the inclination to test and report on a ton of shoes. I find one that works for me and keep with it until it stops working for me.
What is my selection process? It is a two phase approach. Phase One is based on pure instinct and some intrinsic appeal of the shoe. Phase Two is experiential. I get a failure or two and figure out why I don’t like them and try to find something that compensates for that failure.
For Phase Two, here is the selection criteria I came up with:
1) Whatever went on my feet needed to transmit the feel of the road as close to barefoot as possible.
2) My feet needed to feel unhindered by the footwear. That really means no friction spots and no sense of enclosure and room to let my toes splay during normal footfall.
3) They need to be durable enough to take some mileage.
4) They need to be easy to get on and get off.
The selection criteria is simpler in minimal. You aren’t looking for cushion or support. Actually, you are looking for the removal of both of those. It is your posture, stride and form that give you all the cushion you need. Here is what I discovered about minimalist footwear.
A Round Robin of Shoes
Good footwear disappears under and around your feet. You develop a cushioned, garceful run by letting your feet hitting the ground tell you when you are screwing up. Listen to your foot (too many funny lines spawn from that one!) and you’ll get it.
To get to this cosmic realization I have done some trials. Here is what I’ve been through so far:
Let me explain the dress shoes. Last week I went into the City (we all know that means New York City, right?). I got stuck behind a school bus on the way to the local train station and had to run the .3 mile length of the parking lot at the station to get to the train. I know is was .3 mile because when I got back in the evening I measured it. About 200 yards into my train sprint I realized I was running with with barefoot form!
I also show my classic Nike Vermero’s. They aren’t used in minimalist, but I’ve logged so many miles in regular shoes, I feel I have to show a pair. As I proved with my dress shoes, I can run barefoot style with these if I need to.
Socks were the easiest and simplest covering to wear. They do need to be expendable because running on the road with all the sludge makes them pretty gross after a few miles.
If you’ve been reading this from the start, you know my first minimal shoe were the Vibram 5-Fingers. I call them “monkey shoes” because of how they look when you wear them. I put some good miles on them and took them on the road when I traveled. It took me a bit to figure out how to get them on and off smoothly and I’m still not that good at it. My toes are stiff. That’s probably TMI. BTW, the more you do barefoot the looser those piggies get. Anyway, the 5-fingers lost points on ease of ingress and egress.
I tried the Merrell Trail Runners and found them to be stiff. That made me think friction burn so I sent them back before I took them on the road.
Then I bumped into Luna Sandals while searching websites on barefoot running. There was an immediate appeal to me. These were patterned after the huarachis worn for millennium. That was the intrinsic value that caught my eye.
I’ve never been a sandal wearer. For the most part my casual shoes have always been my running shoes. My feet have been trapped for decades.
The Luna’s looked cool. Plus, they had a leather sole on top of a Vibram bottom which gave them a very finished look. The lacing was pretty simple and straight foward to use. I looked at them and thought I could wear these around all summer.
I opted for the easiest of the lacing options and have been putting miles on these puppies ever since. They quickly became molded to my feet and they disappear when I put them on they are so comfortable.
Here’s what I like about sandals.
- They don’t hinder my toe splay.
- They are comfortable.
- They DO NOT flop around like flip flops
- The laces DO NOT chafe or bind or rub.
You have to adjust them a little at first to figure out just how tight and what angles for the laces work best for you. What you’ll notice is they don’t need to be as tight as you would tie a shoe. Just a bit snug. That is the same with all the other sandals I have tried.
I had worried that the lace between my toes would be on issue, but after a minute or two I got used to it. Even running down steep hills I don’t feel any pressure or rubbing. The same for the lace as it goes around the heel. I keep it snug, not tight, and have had no issues with heel movement or with flopping.
To round out my collection I have a pair of Bedrock Sandals and a pair of Invisible Shoe Sandals. Both have slightly different souls and lacing, but are basically the same huarachi design. I haven’t put much time in either of them, so I will hold on the evaluation. In both cases, the laces are comfortable.
What the Luna’s have going for them is the way the laces I have selected are attached at the toe to the sole. That is the traditional weak point of the huarachi. The lace starts at the toe and is a knot on the base of the sandal. That knot typically protrudes and will eventually wear through. If you have enough lace you can restring otherwise you need to get replacement lace or new sandals. The guys at Luna have found a way to fuse that knot to the sole so it has a minimal chance of wearing out.
What About the Weather?
As you know, I live in New England. I have had a fortunate run of weather so I am able to keep some outdoor mileage going when I would normally be getting my cardio work from shoveling snow.
In the early part of the fall, I got a pair of Toesox and ran with them and my Luna’s. That was great for cold weather even down to the low 20′s.
The only trouble with this combination is when it is very wet outside. Not so much rain, but slushy snow and icy puddles.
I started looking around for a very flexilble minimalist shoe and found two of them. The one in the picture are a pair of Stem Footwear Primal Origins. They are about the most comfortable shoe I’ve ever worn, period. They are also a totally flat shoe, meaning no heel rise, and so flexible you can roll them into a ball.
It was cold when I took the shot, so I had socks on, but I usually wear this without socks. I will say that the sole is very responsive and when I do run in them I feel all the texture of the surface of the road. They are so comfortable, I wear them most of the time now instead of old running shoes.
The other shoes I am eyeing are Kigo Drives. They have a similar look to the Stems, but a slightly different sole. Haven’t gotten a pair, but may try them out when I am ready to rotate.
In none of the cases have I had the shoes or sandals long enough to give feedback on durability and mileage. That will be something to report later this year.
For the time being, I am enjoying the running weather while I can and keeping my mileage in the 3-6 mile range for the next month or so. The reason is to give my feet some time to adjust. Remember, I’ve been in shoes for over forty years, so my foot muscles are going to take a little time to loosen up. They feel good now and I’ll start doing speed work and hill repeats this week, but still in the 6 or less miles. Come March I will start to ramp up slowly since I signed up for a half-marathon on April 1st – no joke!
Next up – You eat what?