Tuesday, March 25, 2014

It's Summer Shoe Time -- Giving A New Minimalist Shoe A Chance

They may be calling for snow today, but that doesn't change the fact that it's Spring and time to thinking about changing over from cold to hot running gear.

Last Season

Last Spring, as I was walking through Potomac Mills Outlet Mall and I randomly stopped in a Sketchers store where I happened to pick up one of their running shoes. It was noticeably lightweight. I tried them on and could immediately feel the strange shape of the shoe which biased one towards a front/mid foot strike. I hemmed and hawed over it a bit, and for about $40, walked out of the store with a pair of Sketcher GoRun Shoes.

The first few runs with these shoes weren't pretty. My calves ached from the new running position, and poor little toe got a blister. But, I stuck with it. And before I knew it, they were my go to shoes. On a really hot day, I enjoyed running in them without socks; the whole setup was nice and lightweight.

Sure, I'd occasionally run over stones that I'd feel poking the bottom of my feet, but all in all, I loved the shoes.

By the end of the Summer, they were a smelly, beat up mess. I'd got my money's worth and was pleased to retire them.

This Season

As this season rolled around, I assumed I'd make the same play: pick up a pair of GoRun's and be on my way. Sketchers is now on the 3rd generation of the shoe, and they offer a number of variations including the Ride, the Ultra and The Ultra LT, the Pace and the Sprint.

All this choice left me fairly confused as to my best option, and the fact that there were no longer bargain priced at $40, didn't help either.

As I poked around Amazon for a good price on the Sketchers I came across Vivobarefoot Men's Ultra Running Shoe. The funky mesh design caught my eye, and the reviews basically sold me on them.

Brace yourself, here's how they look on my feet:

And here's how they look off:

They are molded plastic and weight almost nothing. While my Sketchers promoted a front foot strike, these guys absolutely require it. They provide the smallest amount of support / protection that a shoe can provide. Perfect if you want to go the barefoot route, horrifying if you're not into silly crazes like barefoot running.

Yes, these are essentially running Crocs.

There are actually two models of these shoes: one is the regular and the other is the Pure. They are the same exact shell, the non-Pure model happens to come with a removable sock liner which gives them a hair more protection.

A word about sizing: I originally purchased the Pure model in size 45/11.5. They were comically large. The best deal available to me was to buy the regular model, which I did in 44/10.5-11. With the sock liner in, these were comically small. However, taking out the sock liner, the 44's fit me perfectly. So, it looks like with the sock liner, you should buy these at the 'normal' size. If you're buying the Pure model, buy the size down.

My first run with these guys was a 7.5 miler. The results, just like my Sketchers, was sore calves and a big 'ol blister on my little toe. I was actually surprised I wasn't worse off.

It's too early to declare these guys a running success or failure. They do seem like they will be handy alternatives to flip flops or water shoes, as they should have no problem getting dunked in water. And they are absolutely ultra-lightweight, which means they may offer slightly more utility than a regular old running shoe.

On the other hand, I did feel every stone that I ran over during my first run. And the large mesh design of the shoe that's useful for venting heat and water is also the perfect place for stones to enter. I did have to stop once on my test run to fish out a stone.

Still, I'm excited to give them a try.

For a first pair of barefoot running shoes, I'd highly recommend some flavor of the Sketcher's GoRun over a hard core shoe like the Vivobarefoot. The shoes are physically lightweight, and they will help promote the running style you need to avoid destroying your knees. Just expect sore calves.

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