Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: Your New Favorite Running Accessories

Running bloggers write a lot of reviews on running shoes. I do too. Trail shoes, road shoes, minimalist shoes, sandals, et cetera. Shoes are great tools for running, but shoes are just one of the tools in the toolbox.

So I thought I’d do a little compilation review to show my appreciation for some of the more useful non-shoe running items that I’ve come across recently. I’d like to do one of these reviews every so often, because I’m always looking to discover great new running gear.

Injinji Performance Toe Socks

Injinjis aren’t news for most minimalist runners; I’ve been wearing them for years now (when, that is, I wear socks running). But I’ve always bought the same kind, the regular performance micro-crew sock. I have about seven pairs (all permanently trail-stained, might I add). Recently I noticed on their site that they have a few newer styles that I hadn’t seen before, so I snagged a few samples. My favorite of them were the Performance Mid-weight No-Show sock, and the Performance Ultra-thin Lightweight No-Show sock.

The mid-weight sock was interesting because it’s kind of a wonder of design. To be honest, I’ve never really paid much attention to how socks are made until I had to review these. They seem to be made of different materials at once: a super-stretchy top and slightly cushy at the bottom. The slight thickness of the material is very useful if you get hot feet like me. These guys soak up sweat like a pro, and I like to wear mine on long runs. I dig the no-show tops too, they are actually no-show, as opposed to the other socks I’ve bought in this style that end up being way too long and are more like “extra-show.” The sizing is always pretty good for me with Injinji.

The lightweight sock was also great (mine were black so I couldn’t get them to photograph well – thus the stock image above), it was very, very thin so it fit comfortably with my most snug-fitting shoes, unlike the mid-weight pair. Some have said the really lightweight socks get damp too quickly and allow blisters to form, but I didn’t seem to have that problem. If you’re a chronic sock-wearer, they are a great option on a hot day.

So if you’re a distance runner and you’ve never tried Injinji toe socks (I’m thinking of a few friends of mine), I suggest you try them. Having a sock with toe pockets to buffer every surface of skin on your feet is an excellent way to keep away blistering for a long time. Also you never have to worry about your socks twisting inside your shoe, or that annoying seem-on-the-toe issue that always bothered me about wearing traditional socks.

AYG All Year Gear – Women’s Brief and Crewneck

If you’re a reader of Jason Robillard’s running blog, you may have read his thoughts on thermo-regulation and moisture-wicking fabrics. I did too, and it really got me thinking about the role that fabrics play in my running here in SoCal. I hail from a very humid, cool climate where overheating and dehydration is almost a non-issue throughout most of the year. But here, I can’t do things like wear two layers of t-shirt or don any kind of heavy wicking fabric.

I was impressed by the samples I got from this company called All Year Gear (AYG). They specialize in performance underwear for women and men, out of this exceptionally-stretchy, mostly cotton fabric (they call it XTRdry cotton), but they offer t-shirts and other items as well. It’s the most amazing fabric. The first time I went running in the briefs and crewneck tee was pretty hot and dry outside. I came back with a damp shirt. And this is an excellent thing because when the fabric is slightly damp, it’s cooling me off. Most moisture-wicking shirts pull moisture away from your skin and dry immediately, which is excellent in a humid climate but can help you to overheat in a dry one, because sweat is your body’s only cooling mechanism.

Why not just wear cotton then, you ask? Well, I don’t like how cotton feels when I’m running. I find it absorbs too much moisture, gets heavy and feels sort of gross. The AYG cotton is much lighter than your typical t-shirt cotton, and the stretch in the fabric ensures that it’ll keep its shape after miles of sweaty running.

As for the undies (there will be no live photos of those, thanks), I don’t typically wear underwear when I’m running. I don’t like the extra layer. But there are a couple of down sides to going commando, one of them is having to wash your bottoms between each use. That can get annoying and seem wasteful over time, so I like that I have the option of wearing these bikini briefs to stretch out the wears of my favorite running clothes. And the fabric is lightweight enough to not feel like much of an extra layer.

Buff Headwear

I love Buffs! I only wish I discovered them earlier than this. My friend Vanessa wears these things all the time, and I recently inquired as to where she got them. When I looked into the company I loved the whole idea. Way more than just a sweatband, the Buff is an ingenius, multi-use fat band of fabric (they make them in everything from lightweight stretchy cotton to Polartec fleece) that can be worn in dozens of different ways.

I like to wear my Buff as a wide headband for running and for whenever (i.e. lazy bad-hair day). I have a small head so I have a lot of trouble finding a headband that won’t slide off in five minutes. The Buff has a lot of fabric so it doesn’t move around much, especially if I wear it with pigtails – then it won’t move at all. I absolutely hate the idea of wearing a hat while running, so the Buff is a good alternative for keeping the sun off my head (especially my part, which is particularly prone to sunburn), and for keeping sweat out of my eyes. I also find it works well when there’s a bite of cold in the air – I slide the Buff down over my ears a bit and it’s pretty toasty warm.

You can wear your buff like I do or you can wear it in dozens of different ways. Check out this video on their site where they show you how to wear it like a scarf, a beeny hat, and various other fashions.

Here is one way you should not wear your buff:

This is my friend Shacky. He didn’t get the memo.

That’s what I have for now…as always, thanks for reading! Hope this helps you discover something new for your running toolbox. Do you have a favorite non-shoe running accessory that totally rocks? I’d love to hear about it.

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My Favorite Things (so far in 2011)

As you surely know, the runner’s product review blog has become ever so popular over the last couple of years. I hope to continue adding my four or five cents to this phenomenon as time goes on. But I like lists a lot, so I’ve decided to add a quarterly (or at least bi-annual) list of all the running-related things that impress me the most. I expect this list to change and contradict itself over time as I become exposed to new and wonderful products. I also think it’ll be fun.

Because this is my first ever list, it’s going to include everything from January 2011, when I started this blog. I hope some of my readers will agree and disagree, and perhaps even suggest new things for me to try out. By the way, I couldn’t come up with a good order in which to arrange these, so I’m just going to put them in the order I discovered them.

Vibram FiveFingers Bikila LS

Yeah, you read it right. VFF‘s are at the top of my list. My first inclination was to apologize for being stale and unoriginal in this choice, but after some consideration I don’t think I will. Vibrams have lost a lot of popularity among many of my barefoot/minimalist friends and readers, I think partly because of their meteoric rise in popularity over the last 18 months, and partly because some other good (“one-toed”) shoes have moved in and lots of people like them better. I myself feel a little guilty for running out on Vibram. Maybe I was sick of the weird looks, maybe I was tired of dislodging little rocks from between my toes. But mostly I think it was because I wanted to try other stuff too. And I have. Some shoes were great, some not so great. But I’ll tell you this: when I put my Bikilas on my feet last week to walk the dog – I hadn’t worn them in nearly 4 months – they felt awesome, and I couldn’t remember why I ever stopped wearing them. I realize that Vibram has had a few problems with quality control and their newer models have been met with lukewarm response by some of the more die-hard VFF purists. But I still think Vibram gets it the most right.

Let me just clarify my reasoning here. In my observation, there are three different kinds of minimalist shoe: what I call the shoe, the slipper and the sock. The shoe is a piece of semi-rigid protective material that straps to your foot and is somewhat binding, for whatever reason. I put the Merrell Pace Glove and the NewBalance Minimus Trail in this category. The slipper is a softer, roomier contraption that is very flexible and allows more foot movement against ground surfaces. It’s kind of just there, it protects you but also provides an environment of freedom. VIVOBAREFOOT (which I’ll bring up again further down) and SoftStar make this type of shoe. Then there is the sock. An actual sock is stretchy and takes on the exact form of your foot as you move it. A sock wears your foot, instead of the other way around. This is what we’re talking about with Vibrams (and, though I’ve never tried them, Zems seems like another “sock”-like style). You don’t need to worry about width of the shoe, flexibility vs. protection, heel drop…all of that is moot. Because a Vibram FiveFingers shoe is created to wear your foot, to be your foot, in all its five-digited, super-articulated glory. How could it be any closer to barefoot? In the future I may move on from my Vibrams completely, but I challenge other minimalist shoe companies to equal the absolute freedom of that strange sock-like, multi-toed monkey shoe.

Injinji NuWool Toe Sock


Exactly how do you get through a winter of New England outdoor running in VFFs without a good pair of Injinji NuWool socks? I know that I certainly couldn’t have done without them this January, those days when the temps barely reached to the 10’s in the afternoon, the roads were frigid and slushy, and I had a long run ahead of me. NuWool is pretty much the same as the branded SmartWool. It’s very thin, moisture-wicking, and warm. The most amazing thing about these socks, besides the interesting split toes, is that you can prance through all the puddles you want in shoes that are completely non water-resistant and you’ll never get chilly feet. The material seems to soak up the moisture and then allow it to warm to your body temperature, thus drying the sock faster. The only setback, equal to that of the VFF, is the design that separates your toes from each other, so if you start out with chilly piggies it’ll take a little extra mileage before they warm up.

Garmin Forerunner 305


My husband gave me this running watch for Christmas last year. I wasn’t going to buy it because I didn’t think it would be worth the price. And it’s kind of ugly. Okay, it’s really ugly. But it’s got to be one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Not only does it tell me how far I’ve gone, but it gives me a host of other information on how mediocre of a runner I am. Time, pace, average pace, laps, heart rate, elevation, and a whole lot of other stuff I’ll probably never even use. Plus when you connect it to your computer it gives you this whole analysis of the run, your highs and lows, a map, and stores all the information by date. Now I know it is worth the price. I’d buy it again. The only complaint I have is that on occasion I’ve had to wait forever for it to find the satellites, especially in urban areas with a lot of buildings. And it’s run out of battery on me a few times, mostly because it doesn’t have a battery gauge on the main screen so it’s easier to forget to charge it up.

Nike Pro Combat Thermal Running Tight


I’ll be the first one to admit that most people look silly in running tights, myself included. They’re like slightly shiny leggings – and there some are very strict rules about leggings that all stocky, short girls like me should never stray from (i.e. cover the bum). But anyway, I tried on about 38 pairs of running tights last fall, and just about every one brought me back to that unpleasant afternoon in early 2010 when I decided to try on bikinis at Marshall’s. The Nike Pro Combat tights fit me exactly the right way. I can’t even really tell you what it was about them that made a difference – maybe it’s the rise that actually covers my buttcrack, or just the right amount of stretch, I dunno…either way these babies kept me warm, but not sweaty, all winter long. They’re not cheap – they sell for $55 big ones, but I’ll probably buy another pair.

Polartec Wind Pro Glove by Eastern Mountain Sports (EMS)


There are probably a hundred different pairs of good running gloves out there. I picked these. They were warm enough to block the icy wind, light enough to keep me from taking them off and losing them two miles into my run, moisture-wicking, dark enough to hide my inevitable nose-wiping, and cheaper than the ones NorthFace had. Turns out I really like these gloves for running and for cleaning snow off my car. Who knew?

UnderArmour ColdGear Fitted Mock


Two things: 1. Thank the running gods for this long-sleeve; and 2. I wish I’d bought two instead of one last year while they were on sale. I wore mine during the local Turkey Trot 5-miler last November at 33 degrees, and I wore it under a light jacket when it got colder. And I never needed more than that, even in the dead of winter. The thin, warm material seems to seal in your body heat, but not any of the sweat. It’s nice and long too, it covered my running-tights-clad bum and kept me comfortable without riding up too much. I plan to add another one of these to my stockpile of running clothes this winter.

The GAP Body Pima Cotton Tank Top


Okay, ladies. If you don’t have some of these, go get one. Get two, five. They’re fantastic. They’re usually on sale for something like 2 for $30, or for much less on clearance when the next season’s colors arrive. They are fitted, nice and long, and roomy in the armpit area (for lack of a better description), so no chafing. They are cool in the summer, the perfect first layer in the winter, they’re cut to look good on everyone, and they come in all your favorite colors. I have five. I hope GAP never stops making them.

Running Skirts


There is one official company (RunningSkirts.com) that boasts the invention of the running skirt. Recently I was very generously given one of their skirts and will be reviewing it shortly. But the whole revelation here is just the running skirt in general. I am of French-Canadian and Native American descent, which means I’m short, stout, very muscular, and more importantly I can’t run in shorts. I’ve tried. Short shorts, long shorts, compression shorts, doesn’t matter. I spend more time twisting and adjusting them than actually running. Enter the running skirt. Pretty, girly, mid-thigh coverage in a myriad of different colors and patterns. Some running skirts have compression shorts built in underneath, some have skivvies. I prefer the latter, and not just because they remind me of my cheerleading days. No shorts = no riding up. I love running skirts, I wear them all summer long in lieu of shorts, and they make me happy. I don’t care who invented them, in my opinion they’re the best thing that ever happened to the female runner.

VIVOBAREFOOT Neo


I plan to do a full review of this shoe in the next week or two as well, but I couldn’t help but include it in this list because it really is one of my favorite things. First let me say that if you want a really fantastic minimalist shoe and you don’t like Vibram FiveFingers, VIVOBAREFOOT is the way to go. They have several different running shoes to choose from, but the one I chose was the Neo. It’s lightweight, zero-drop, adorable, comes in several colors and it’s reasonably priced. I just got these babies in the mail a week ago and I really haven’t taken them off since. They feel like nothing I’ve ever run in. They have great ground feel but exceptional protection. They allow my foot to curve and roll but they’re not tight or binding. In every way, the Neo is an exceptional shoe. Also, they seem to have some water resistant properties and definite warmth, so I imagine they will be my winter shoe this year. Don’t worry, I’ll still be wearing my Injinji NuWool socks inside.

So this is my list at the moment. Thanks for reading. Got anything new and fantastic that I should try? Go ahead and leave a comment below – I’d love to hear about it.

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