Tag Archives: running shoes

Feet in shining armor: Paleo Barefoots review

CHAINMAIL. Quick … what comes to mind? Medieval warriors? Knights in shining armor? Running shoes? (Okay, maybe not so much shoes.) Given traditional recommendations for cushioned, supportive running shoes, the thought of metal chains against naked feet might not elicit a strong sense of comfort or safety.

THE CONCEPT

Indeed, even I – a barefoot runner – was skeptical when I first heard of the Paleo Barefoots, a minimalist footwear constructed entirely of chainmail. Being a sucker for functionally and aesthetically innovative advances in minimalist running, I became immediately intrigued. Like most minimalist shoes on the market, the Paleos are designed to allow the foot move as freely and naturally as possible, with just enough protection against the elements. But what sets the Paleos apart is their unique design that, theoretically, will let them last a lifetime. Even the most minimal shoes – including the more popular “toe” shoes or huaraches – require a rubber-like sole at least several millimeters thick to confer durability and protection. In contrast, the Paleos’ construction from metal – yes, literally minuscule steel links – eliminates the need for a thicker sole. This design yields a sock-like slipper, only 1.4 mm thick, with ultimate flexibility and ground feel.

My Paleos@Ultra with green paws

However, while chainmail will win the battle against dirt, sand, twigs and grass, the victor of a metal-versus-concrete war is anyone’s call. Thus, Paleos are intended only for use on ‘natural’ surfaces, and aren’t recommended for running through the concrete jungle. Such a product sounds like a dream come true for any barefoot runner looking to venture into more challenging terrain. But the unfortunate reality is, dreams aren’t fulfilled for free. In fact, the Paleos carry perhaps the heftiest price tag on the minimalist shoe market – on the order of two- to three-hundred U.S. dollars, depending on the style and options.

THE PRODUCT

After reading several glowing reviews, I became curious – okay, no … obsessed – with trying the Paleos. I rationalized the sacrifice to my bank account with the reassurance that it would be a one-time cost, as the Paleos should last forever if cared for. After much deliberation, I bit the bullet and purchased my very own Paleos@Ultra. Considering the high price tag and the shipping time from Germany, I was nervous about their fit and my chosen options. To my relief, their customer service promptly evaluated my foot tracing and confidently offered a size recommendation.

My Paleos fit perfectly right out of the box.

When they arrived, I was first struck by the quality of not only the shoe, but also the thoughtful packaging, informative care guide and personal touches. My Paleos arrived packaged carefully in an exquisite metal box, along with instructions and a complementary chainmail key chain. My personalized Paleos were equipped with engraved metal plates, black elastic laces, mesh lining socks and ankle wraps, and green “paws”, designed for extra grip on rough rocky or urban terrain. Right out of the box, this was clearly a quality product.

PERFORMANCE

In all honesty, it took me three attempts to fully appreciate the Paleo experience. As they’re unlike any other footwear I’ve tried, it took me some time to refine my fit and preferences. When I first put them on, they felt loose and heavy on my foot as I walked around my apartment. I couldn’t imagine them performing well while running. My first test run was a brief trot on a sandy trail cut short by skin irritation at the back of my ankle. Feeling that my Paleos were too loose, I had tightened the laces too snuggly, to the point where they dug into my achilles. Discouraged but not defeated, I tried another day, loosening the fit and wearing the sock liners. This first mini test-mile was a success and I was ready for a real trial run.

Paleos with sock liners

As I am far from an experienced trail runner, I sought out a gentle trail for my test run. The terrain was mostly packed sand, but also included several unavoidable rocky patches and stretches of rough gravel. I had only previously attempted this trail in full shoes or Luna sandals, and would never consider tackling it barefoot. In fact, convinced the Paleos would not hold up against the gravel and rocks, I stashed my Lunas as back-up. To my great surprise, the Paleos handled even the roughest segments with ease. The fine gravel and stones, which would typically abrade my bare feet, didn’t phase me. Although I could feel the larger rocks, not once did I get a foot bruise, which I’ve become notorious for sustaining. About two miles in, I did feel some irritation around my achilles (and later discovered a small blister as a result), which was easily remedied after a quick adjustment to loosen the laces. As the run progressed, the experience became almost surreal, as I soon forgot I was even wearing footwear, yet still felt well protected from the rough earth under foot. I found myself sprinting the end of my five-mile test run, carefree and thrilled with the Paleos’ exceptional performance.

THE SERVICE

This review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the great folks behind the product. From start to finish, the owner himself made it a priority to respond to my questions and concerns via email and social media. They shipped my Paleos faster than promised, and they arrived in the U.S. remarkably quick. When they got stuck in customs, the owner looked into the issue and sent me shipping updates along with his apologies for the delay.

Sure, it may take some time for the mainstream running community and shoe market to embrace a metal sock as an acceptable option for running footwear. I don’t predict the PaleoBarefoots will soon be ranked among Runner’s World’s most popular shoes for comfort, style or affordability. But based on my initial impressions, I suspect there’s a niche of selective athletes who would be thrilled to discover this treasure. What barefoot runner isn’t looking for foot protection that not only embodies minimalism and functionality, but also the bonus perks of quality, creativity and beauty?

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Skora Core: A sh*e review?!

Fare warning, barefoot runners … the following post contains sensitive content. It is, indeed, a SHOE review.
“Has she turned to the dark side?” you might ask.
“Hypocrite!” you may holler.
Don’t fret, barefooters. I still run exclusively barefoot, strongly advocate free feet, and don’t foresee changing my ways any time soon.

That said, I am not anti-shoe, but rather, view shoes as tools that can be immensely beneficial when used in the right context. I’m writing this review not because I’m swapping my feet for SKORAs, nor do I suggest you do, if you’ve already discovered the joys of naked soles. Instead, I’m writing this as a former shod runner who understands the value (and rarity) of a quality running shoe and believes that SKORA is about as good as a shoe gets. During my roughly two year transition to minimalist – and later barefoot – running, I experimented with shoe after shoe after shoe. Many failed miserably while others were unimpressively acceptable. Through these many trials and errors I vowed to never become a brand evangelist. That is, until I put on my SKORA Cores.

When I bought my pair of SKORAs last year I took a huge gamble. I had never purchased a running shoe without first trying it on, but was so intrigued by others’ glowing reviews that I just had to try them. With a hefty price tag of $110-195 depending on the model (as of Winter 2014), this isn’t a cheap gamble to make. But when I took them out for their first spin, I had no regrets.

STRUCTURE

Skora_CoresThe Core is constructed of a Goatskin leather upper and an injection blown rubber sole. Because of this composition, and its lack of cushioning, the shoe can allegedly sustain 1000+ miles, compared to the measly 300-500 mile lifespan of typical running shoes. It is zero-drop (no heel-toe differential) and has an 11-mm stack height, making for a truly minimalist ride. Like all of SKORA’s aesthetically pleasing models, the Core comes in a range of color options, including my chosen charcoal / cyan / purple combo. You can find all of the other juicy details in SKORA’s product description.

FIT

When SKORA says they fit true to size, believe them. I didn’t, and it took three orders (which they gladly exchanged) to finally find my correct size. For reference, I usually wear an 8-8.5 (Women’s US) in everyday shoes, and a 9 in running shoes, and my SKORA size was an unambiguous 8. Once I finally settled on the right size, I discovered just how comfortable they are. Out of the box (which, by the way, is nearly as beautiful as the shoe) they almost molded to my feet. After a few more runs, they further softened and fit the foot like a glove. The toe box was comfortably roomy, although my feet are admittedly on the narrow side, so I can’t speak for those with a wider forefoot. The Core weighs in at a mere 6.7 ounces, but I might have guessed even less. Unlike many of the minimalist shoes I’ve tried, they make it easy to forget you’re in a shoe.

RIDE

The Core may be light and comfortable, but how does it perform? As a diehard barefooter, nothing will ever compare to my own two feet. But if you’re looking for a bit of protection from the elements while minimizing the bulk and interference from a standard shoe, the Core’s a great choice. When I first tried the Core I immediately noticed how engaged my feet were compared to the other minimalist shoes in which I had been running. I could feel my foot landing, rolling through the arch and toes, and could detect variations in ground surface that were blocked by other shoes. That said, they performed well on a range of surfaces, including some pretty rough trails.

Back when I was a shod runner, I so loved my Cores that I applied to be a SKORA ambassador. Since going full bare, I have only rarely worn my SKORAs, but this does not discredit my accolades for their shoes. From their philosophy of “running real” to their exceptional product quality to their fun social media, the company is one even a barefoot runner can stand behind. So, for those of you who do enjoy wearing a shoe, this one’s worth checking out.

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Why sweeping generalizations aren’t best for most runners

Barefoot is bad!Every movement has a counter-movement. Barefoot running is no exception, having recently been met with its share of backlash from skeptics and naysayers. While open discussion and objective critique are healthy responses to any fad, a recently published article – Why barefoot isn’t best for most runners – went a step too far with its distorted claims, never mind snarky attitude, to leave untouched.

Let’s walk through (shod or bare, I don’t care) some of the article’s most shining moments.

Seasoned members of staff can normally categorise runners at first glance … people looking for Vibrams are usually already wearing Vibrams, which is something of a giveaway. They also tend to look disgusted when you tell them that the shop doesn’t stock them, as though the sale of more traditional running shoes was some sort of conspiracy.

I’d like to start by commending the author for admitting that he and the other shoe store employees outright judge their customers based solely on appearance. I’ll be sure to avoid your store. On the other hand, they’ve sparked my curiosity with their mind-reading powers that enable them to detect paranoia over shoe conspiracy from just a facial expression. Of course, every shop should be free to stock only their chosen products. But if they decide to exclude an entire shoe category, they should be willing to accept that some customers will be disappointed by the limited options.

The problem is that we also didn’t evolve to run on roads. Or if we did, the evolutionary process that built the roads was the same one that designed the cushioned running shoe.

We can argue the evolution argument until we’re blue in the face, but for now there is no clear answer. Yes, it’s true neither modern shoes nor concrete existed until relatively recently. Sure, our bodies haven’t yet perfectly adapted to either. However, we also certainly haven’t evolved to remain sedentary 60% of our waking hours, rely on machines for transportation, stare at electronic screens or consume highly processed, packaged foods. But we’re an innovative and adaptable species and are surviving fine (for now) in the face of these rapid changes. The more immediate question, rather than how our ancestors ran, is what’s best for the modern runner. There’s no evidence (correct me if you can find some!) that 1) roads are worse for runners than dirt or grass, or 2) cushioned running shoes actually protect against the alleged “dangers” of modern running surfaces. Researchers have just begun to study the relationship between footwear and injuries, and the jury is still out. Thus far, there has been a lot of conflicting evidence, depending on the particular study methods and population, suggesting that the answer isn’t as simple as modeling our running after Grok.

When people were following the “Paleo diet” from necessity rather than whimsy, their life expectancy was probably in the 20s, if they were lucky.

How is the paleo diet relevant? The author appears to be critiquing barefoot running by debunking a completely independent lifestyle choice. I’m unaware of any correlation between footwear preference and dietary habits. In fact, I know several barefoot runners (@caitymccardell, @KenBobSaxton, myself) who are vegetarian or vegan, which one could argue is the antithesis of paleo.

For those who are planning to spend £100 or more on barefoot shoes to emulate Bannister, it should be noted that you can buy plimsolls for £4 on eBay.

Agreed. Spending $100+ on shoes is absurd. All the more reason to go barefoot. It’s free.

When I see people out running in barefoot shoes, they never look as if they’re having a particularly good time … Most people who use barefoot shoes admit to having to run less because of the pressure on their joints. For someone who enjoys running long distances and the feeling of having a bit of a spring in their step, the choice of barefoot shoes is therefore a bit baffling.

Sure, maybe those runners are miserable. Sure, maybe it’s because of their shoes, or maybe it’s because of the judgmental grimace on a certain gawker’s face. We’ll never know. But rather than speculate about another runner’s experience, why not just ask them? As one who actually runs barefoot and knows other barefoot runners, I can attest that my barefoot runs are often far more freeing and exhilarating than my shod runs. The spring in our step is precisely why we prefer to go bare. When running barefoot you literally feel that spring, conferred by the awakened, elastic arch and tendons of the foot. As for the relationship between barefoot running and joint pain (or lack thereof), look no further than some actual research.

A recent study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, however, supports what I’ve learned from talking to customers who have experimented with barefoot shoes … Half of them (study participants) began running in Vibram FiveFingers shoes gradually, following the guidelines set out on Vibram’s website, while the control group continued to run as normal. After 10 weeks, the control group had remained the same, but 10 out of the 19 runners who had transitioned to Vibram FiveFingers showed raised levels of bone marrow edema (a buildup of fluid similar to bruising) in their feet. The worry is that the barefoot running trend is a fairly recent one, and most of the study’s runners with raised levels of bone marrow edema wouldn’t actually have noticed an injury yet – many of the injuries caused by barefoot shoes may be lurking just around the corner.

This – the only piece of solid evidence presented – is once again misconstrued to support the “barefoot is bad” argument. Just a few of the flaws to this interpretation, which have been thoroughly detailed elsewhere, include:

1. The study used a transition protocol that was far more aggressive than experts recommend (Vibram has since changed their guidelines).

2. Many of the subjects didn’t even follow protocol, increasing their mileage more rapidly than advised.

3. Some edema can be part of a healthy response that leads to bone strengthening, indicating that the bone is appropriately adapting to a new stressor. The MRIs could not distinguish between normal edema and signs of injury.

Most running shops will now offer gait analysis, with the aim of selecting the type of shoes most suitable to the individual’s running style, body type and the surface they are planning to run on.

Note the term “aim”. Regardless of the intention, such recommendations are meaningless if their underlying assumptions are flawed (see herehere and here for why).

One final editorial note: By definition, barefoot running requires bare feet. Any individual’s beef with minimalist shoes bears little weight on the “goodness” or “badness” of barefoot running.

Rather than make a convincing argument for the author’s footwear preference, commentaries like this exemplify the absurdity of the growing barefoot versus shod derision. Get ready to defend yourselves, runners. Next up is the great headband versus hat debate!

A special shout-out to @akiraoc for bringing this article to my attention!

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Spice! The secret running ingredient

Perhaps you know the type. Maybe you are the type. Every morning, she laces up her trusty worn-out sneakers, heads out along the same neighborhood route at the same sluggish pace. She’s satisfied to have gotten in her daily run, but for some curious reason, she witnesses no improvement, is developing nagging knee pain, and is bored to death!

ground-spices

Time to spice up your routine, runners!

This was me a decade ago. I’ve gradually learned that this obsessive adherence to routine is a recipe for stagnation and injury. So what is the key ingredient to maintaining a healthy and impassioned relationship with running? SPICE!

Overuse injuries, the kind that plague so many runners, such as tendonitis or stress fractures, arise from excessively repeating the same movement patterns. This problem is inherent to endurance running, which demands identical motions for hours at a time, day after day. But spicing up your runs with minor day-to-day variations can minimize the trauma associated with repetitive, high mileage. And by variety, I’m not suggesting going to such drastic measures as diversifying with (gasp!) cross-training. If you’re anything like me, as long as I’m physically capable of running, nothing can get me into the pool or onto the bike. Even sprint training and hill repeats turn running into work, which I will not tolerate. Of course, if you have the patience for such things, more power to you!

Rather, incorporating even small differences between runs can offer great returns. This has been a primary focus of my training over the past few months, through which I’ve discovered several easy ways to make each run feel fresh and exhilarating:

Distance. You may love that four-mile route, but doing it day after day mounts only to junk mileage. By mixing up the daily mileage, you’ll find that both the long hard runs and the short easy runs become indulgent treats. For example, on a given week I’ll often log one solid long run to fuel my endurance (25-30% of total weekly mileage), a couple of moderate distance runs to maintain my mileage (30-50%), and a couple of short, easy recovery runs (25-30%). Most importantly, listen to your body. If you had a ten-miler on tap, but are dragging by mile six, it’ll serve you better in the long term to call it quits. Likewise, if you feel like tacking on a couple extra miles or bursting into a sprint – even if your training plan didn’t call for it – go for it!

fall_pic

Trails aren’t dangerous. Clumsy trail runners are.

Terrain. Concrete will wreak havoc on your joints … The cant of a road will imbalance your stride … Grass and trails will make you trip or roll your ankle … We’ve heard it all. It appears there’s no ideal – or even safe – running terrain. Yet luckily, this is just one more fallacy with no scientific support. Rather, research has shown that although distinct surfaces alter our biomechanics (Tessutti et al., 2012), they are not differentially associated with injury risk (van Gent et al., 2007). (Okay, trails can sometimes be dangerous – but only for the exceptionally uncoordinated. See obligatory humiliating pic as proof.) So feel free to explore, venturing onto road, sidewalk, trail or grass and noting how your body adapts to each surface. For instance, I’ve found that running barefoot on even, smooth hard surfaces is wonderful for developing proper form. When I feel myself fatiguing during a long road run, switching over to grass or trail for even a few minutes can do wonders to rejuvenate my tired legs. Becoming an all-terrain-runner can open up a new world of running possibilities.

Footwear. I’m a firm believer that there’s no ideal running shoe, but there is ideal running footwear: none. As much as I embrace and encourage running barefoot, there’s absolutely a time and a place for shoes (burning pavement and sharp rocks aren’t fun, no matter what people say). The principal problem with shoes, however, is how they alter your gait in even the most subtle ways. We’ve all experienced the slight discomfort of running in a new pair of shoes to which we haven’t adapted. For this reason, most runners search for their “perfect” shoe and run religiously in nothing else. But running is all about adaptation. Minor challenges and stressors are what impart incremental strength and endurance gains over time. Alternating between various shoes (to the extent that your wallet can bear) forces you to work different muscle groups and prevents excessively stressing one particular area. For instance, my ankles tire easily when running barefoot, but my calves or hips tighten up in different shoes, depending on the support level. Therefore, I allow several days between runs in the same shoes, to ensure sufficient recovery from any shoe-induced aches or pains.

So is there one secret ingredient to running happy and injury-free? No, there are many! Go out and explore them all. Then share with me all the fun ways (that I’ve most certainly overlooked) that you spice up your runs.

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DIY: Minimalist running socks

So you run barefoot. Your feet have toughened up, you’ve perfected your light, quick foot-strike and you pride yourself on having become so bad-ass. But c’mon, admit it … Every once in a while it’s just too cold, that gravel’s a bit too rough and you just might need to protect your feet. So what’s a barefooter to do? Dish out $100 for a pair of shmancy “barefoot” shoes that you’ll wear twice a year? Fret no more! There’s a much simpler, cheaper (and way more bad-ass, since really – that’s what matters) way to protect your feet while maintaining that barefoot feel. Make your own running socks!

What you’ll need:

  • Socks
  • Plasti Dip
  • Paintbrush
  • Paint tray

How to make your running socks:

1. Socks. Choose a good pair of socks. The ideal pair will be new, since you want them to last as many miles as possible. They should fit snugly, with sufficient elasticity so they don’t slip off or slide around while running. But make sure they’re not too small, since the Plasti Dip can make the fabric contract a bit. I use socks with separated toes in this example, as I prefer how they allow greater toe mobility compared to standard socks, but any good pair – toed or toeless – will do.

Plasti_Dip2. Plasti Dip. Get some Plasti Dip in your favorite color. Plasti Dip comes in a rainbow of colors (18 to be exact), so you can tailor your socks to be as flashy or inconspicuous as desired. It’s available in either the standard liquid or aerosol spray cans. Here we’ll use the standard pourable form, but I’ve heard the spray works as well.

pour3. Prepare. First, get comfy. Wear some old clothing and find a chair away from valuable furniture, as there will likely be some stray Plasti Dip spatter. You’ll probably want to protect the floor with some newspaper. Get a book or a friend to keep you entertained while the socks dry. Next, put your socks on and pour a generous amount of Plasti Dip into the paint tray.

paint4. Paint. Now you’re ready to start! Carefully paint the Plasti Dip onto the bottom of your foot with the paintbrush. Ensure that the layer is relatively even but thick enough to actually provide some durability. Avoid the sides and top of the socks, and make sure the ball, heel and toes are fully covered, as these areas will sustain the most wear and tear while running.

dry5. Dry. Prop your feet up and wait at least 30 minutes for the socks to dry (longer is always better). It’s critical that they are on your feet during this initial drying period, as the Plasti Dip will mold to the shape of your feet. Once you’re sufficiently bored, carefully remove the socks and let them finish drying, soles face up. They won’t completely dry for several hours, and I’d suggest waiting a full day before running in them just to be safe.

6. Try them out! Here’s the fun part. Take your socks for a spin. The first several steps might feel strange, but the sock should quickly adjust to your foot and feel almost as wonderful as fully bare. My first run in my Plasti Dip socks was 5 miles, in the frigid New England weather along a debris-strewn highway. The socks held up remarkably well while keeping my feet surprisingly warm and adequately protected against the elements.

Since these guidelines are based on my first experiment, I’d love to hear others’ tips and tricks for improving my future running socks. As always, please share your thoughts and experiences!

Update 4/20/13: I performed a touch-up using the spray can and it was considerably easier and less messy. I highly recommend it over the pourable Plasti Dip!

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