Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Evo II

I am a very lucky blogger because, to date, I have tested just about all of VIVOBAREFOOT‘s best offerings. But oddly enough, until recently I hadn’t actually tried the very shoe that put VIVO on the map: the Evo II.

Unique even to its successors, the Evo II embodies the original hexagonal trademark that is VIVO. With its neat all-over hexagon pattern, unique boxed-in lacing system and stylistic outer piping, the Evo makes a pretty cool fashion statement. A bit of a show-stopper in its own right, this is VIVOBAREFOOT’s sportiest looking shoe.

A bit heavier than VIVO’s later offerings (around 6 oz. each), the Evo II is still light enough by my standards. The upper is constructed of what they call a PU Hex Flex Cage (likely a mix of mesh fabric and some form of plasticized rubber), which acts a bit like a semi-rigid shell rather than your typical soft mesh upper. Although my experience was that it seemed rather clunky, I think the firmer material will likely add to the durability of the shoe over time. It’s also probably part of the reason this shoe is marketed for cool weather, and I agree it would be an excellent choice for winter.

So, despite my having to test this shoe in the dead of summer, I think this review comes at a good time — while you’re thinking about shopping for winter running gear.

The 5mm thick, puncture-resistant sole is paired with VIVO’s typical 3mm removable insole, which I left in during my testing. I have concluded in my travels that I prefer a little more padding for longer road distances. I found the ground feel to be superb, like all of VIVO’s offerings. In fact, VIVO remains my pick for the most consistently excellent ground feel throughout its current line of footwear.

The Evo II last is not very wide. It’s probably wide enough for most folks, but it doesn’t have the same excess in width that I’ve enjoyed in some other models like the Neo and the Lucy Lite. The Evo II would be perfect for someone with a narrow foot or finds the other models too wide for their liking. I didn’t exactly feel cramped, but I certainly could have done with more room in the toe box.

The last of the Evo II and my really wide foot.

And speaking of toe box, I didn’t love the way it crinkled where my toes bend while I was running. This is a downside to having that rigid cage design on the upper. It dug into the top of my foot a little when I wasn’t wearing socks. With socks on it wasn’t as noticeable, though. Because of the dark color of my pair, I wasn’t able to get a good picture of the crinkling.

Other than that I found the performance to be as expected. When you test several shoes from a company that puts the same sole on all their road shoes, there really isn’t much that can surprise you. Their product is just remarkably consistent, and this can be a good thing for a company or it can work against them. For example, if you love VIVO’s shoes already, you’ll probably like the Evo II a lot. But if you haven’t been impressed by their road models in the past, then they’re not giving you much more to work with. I’ve yet to see their 2013 offerings, but my hope is that they will decide to take a few more risks and perhaps pull in a wider audience.

Overall, I’m glad I got to test VIVOBAREFOOT‘s earliest road shoe. It’s good to see that their strengths have followed through from their very first brainchild. The Evo II still holds up against its newer counterparts because it does some different things to please different people, namely those with narrower feet and those looking for a durable cold-weather minimalist shoe.

I hope that this review has been helpful. If indeed I have helped along your decision to purchase a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, please show me some love by entering VIVO’s site via my blog. You can do that by entering any of the links on this article or by clicking the VIVOBAREFOOT banner to the right. Thanks so much and happy running!


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Review: New Balance Minimus Zero Road

I first heard about the New Balance Minimus Zero Road way before it came out. It was more like a rumor, actually. Something like “Next Spring, NB is coming out with a zero-drop version of their Minimus and it’s going to be a huge improvement.” Considering that nobody I heard from seemed to like the original Minimus Road, and that I couldn’t even get my wide feet into a pair of the original trail shoe, almost anything would have been an improvement as far as I was concerned.

At this year’s Boston Marathon Expo (uh…no, I didn’t run the race, I just walked around the expo with my friend Brad), I strolled into the NB booth, talked a little about barefoot running and my blog, dropped a few names (*cough* Jason Robillard), and tried the Minimus 00 Road and Trail on for size. After talking shop for twenty minutes or so I begged asked the really friendly dude working there for his contact info so I could test a pair of each for review. He happily agreed, and even though he wrote back and promised to send some out, I never got a thing.

Bummer. 😦

I legitimately wanted to try out and review these shoes, both styles, so I was determined to get some. But these days I can hardly quantify purchasing running shoes, since I already have so darn many. So I gathered up some extra funds that I’d earned from designing a book cover, and I picked up a pair. I chose to try the road version first, simply because I spend a higher percentage of my time on roads these days.

Although, that very well may change when we move to San Diego next month and I start running the trails next to my house. But I digress.

Before I realized they offered a wide-width version, I bought the regular width road shoe from a third-party seller that offered free shipping. When they came in I was so damn excited that I threw them on my feet immediately. But wouldn’t ya know – they were very, VERY narrow for me! Worse than the original Minimus Trail, with that strange, inflexible rubber band across the widest part of my foot. It hurt so much just to stand in them, I didn’t even want to try running. I sent them back.

Then, a few days later I was rummaging through the NB site and I figured out that they offered a wide-width shoe. When I got it, I found that it was wide enough, but still only barely. In my opinion, like with the Merrell Pace Glove, the wide-width version of this shoe is the one they should be selling to the majority of consumers. I realize that I have a strong and perhaps biased opinion about the width of minimalist shoes, but hear me out: I believe that a good minimalist shoe should be built on a wider platform than most traditional running shoes, because it must allow a lot of wiggle room for your toes and never squeeze your foot. I know I should allow for the reality that some people have very narrow feet, but I don’t think it makes any sense to go as narrow as NB tends to go. In my opinion, the wide-width of this shoe should be sold as the default because the last comes closer to providing the right amount of room for an average-width foot, and the narrower shoe should be a “narrow-width” alternative for those with exceptionally narrow feet.

But again, I digress. Let’s just move on to the review portion of this post, shall we?

Looks

Before I talk shop, let me start by releasing my inner girl: these are absolutely, without a doubt, the cutest, coolest-looking running shoes I own (the Merrell Dash Glove comes in at a very close second)! They offer five delicious, on-trend colors; I chose the bright teal, although the juicy lemon yellow called to me as well. The men’s colors are pretty bold and excellent, too. This shoe is shapely, sexy and very sporty – it looks hot, and it makes me look fast (I’m not fast).

Stats & Fit

Built on a lightweight, absolutely zero-drop Vibram sole (love those guys), the Minimus 00 Road weighs less than ten ounces per pair. Lots of gait analysis research went into these soles, so they’ve been rebuilt with several strategically-placed rubber pods to increase durability in the heaviest landing spots. The rest of the sole is made from a semi-soft foam that ends up providing the shoe with a tad more cushioning than you would normally see on a minimal running shoe. It’s a stiffer sole, too. I couldn’t quite get them balled up enough for my usual one-shoe-inside-the-other photo. Some purists may scoff, but long road runs can really beat up your feet, and for some, that little bit of cushion could mean a few more miles of relative comfort.

There are a few other cool things about the build of this shoe that I want to mention. The upper is made of a nicely absorbent mesh; it may end up being a pretty stinky shoe and need frequent washings, but I was able to run several sockless miles in them without much issue. Another combined factor is the mostly seamless liner inside, and the cool wrap-around tongue and slightly asymmetrical lacing that make them all more comfortable and form-fitting.

If you’ve noticed that the toe box is somewhat pointy, it is. But it’s really not the problem I feared it would be, at least not on the wide-width. I actually prefer it; the pointy end actually leaves some extra space for my big toe, so it’s not banging up against the top of my shoe the whole time I’m running. I’ve lost a couple toenails that way.

Only problem I had with the fit is the heel cup: it’s really tall and inflexible. After one five miler in these, I had to wear a band-aid on my heel for a couple days. This shoe does fit slightly long on my foot (they run true to size, but I ordered a half-size up because I like a little extra length to save my toenails), so that could have been why. Can’t know for sure.

Performance and Durability

Even though these shoes are pretty wide, the outside of my foot still bows over the edge of the sole a little bit. It’s not a lot, but enough that during my first run in them, I could feel the outside edge of the sole digging into my 5th metatarsal. After a couple miles though, either the foam squished down or my foot got used to it, because it didn’t really bother me anymore. It’s hard to tell as of yet if it’s doing anything to my form, but my guess is not much because I make absolutely no sound running down the road in this shoe. I feel like a goddamn ninja.

This is very good.

One peculiar (though, not exactly bad) thing I noticed about this shoe, is that there’s just something about it that makes it feel a little like wearing traditional trainers. Just a little. I don’t know if it’s something about the way the sole is constructed or what, but it feels a bit front-heavy I guess. It might be that, like traditional sneakers, the sole is trapezoidal – wider where it touches the ground and narrower as it goes up – so you’re running on a shoe that is wider than your foot where it touches the ground. I’m not sure how I feel about this, or if it even changes anything, but other minimalist shoes I have tried work the opposite way, where the sole is rounded to the floor. This also could be an effect of having a sole with a bit more cushion.

And speaking of cushion, since the sole of the 00 Road is mostly made of foam, my guess (and hope) is that it will crush down into the shape of my foot over time, and will wear even better. The rubber pods on the sole beat down pretty quickly, quicker than I expected. I’m only about 20 miles in but there is some noticeable wear on both shoes on the outside of my mid-foot, where I first land. The rubber seems pretty thick though, so I guess we’ll see how many miles I can put on them.

I also have some question about the durability of the ultra-soft mesh upper. Even though it’s comfy and breathable, it seems like it could snag and tear pretty easily. But then again, these are road shoes so I guess you’re not expected to run into a lot of debris. Of course, you never know what a klutz like me will find on a road. 🙂

Final Thoughts

Overall, New Balance’s first truly zero-drop road shoe is pretty darn good. I find it to be a solid improvement over their previous offerings. With really sporty looks and some excellent color ways, the 00 Road is among my favorites for style and cool-factor. I’m really glad that they had enough insight to develop the wide-width last, and I look forward to putting more miles in. I consider this a year-round shoe, with good coverage and breathability. The price is pretty on-par with the rest of what’s out there, at around $110.

Have you tried the NB Minimus Zero Road yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts!


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Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Lucy Lite

I have been a VIVOBAREFOOT tester for some time now, I have all of their best shoes in  my closet. Some of them I have loved, some not as much, but overall I have come to know what to expect from them. The Lucy Lite is much the same thing. It was mostly predictable. But that’s not at all a bad thing.

Looks & Features

The Lucy Lite, like a few other styles in VIVO’s line, is a simple, classic shoe with very few bells and whistles. And with its simple mesh upper and very slim 3mm zero-drop TPU sole, I guess you could say that its design is pretty darn minimalist all around.

Like the Neo, the Lucy Lite has a bit of a 70’s retro throwback look to it. In fact it has a lot of the same qualities as the Neo. The Lucy Lite is a tad lighter in weight, though to be honest I couldn’t really tell. And it has a bit more of a “foot-shaped’ last.

But although it seems to be more popular, I actually find the Lucy Lite to be even less feminine-looking than the Neo. Now, I’m not exactly the frilly pink pastel type, but I’ve always thought VIVO could stand to do a little more in the looks department overall when it comes to their women’s shoes.

Comfort

Despite its low-tech materials and super-minimalist profile, the Lucy Lite spares nothing in the way of comfort. I think I can safely say that this is the most comfortable shoe in my entire closet. Yup. It is soft, very wide and roomy, as well as infinitely flexible and cushiony. Now, before you minimalist purists get your panties in a bind, I only mean that the upper is cushiony! The entire collar of the shoe has some very generous padding, and there’s also some on the tongue. All that means is these babies are comfy from the first step you take in them.

It also means that they’re very warm. Not a summer shoe, unless you summer in Antarctica (I hear it’s 31 degrees and snowing today in Base Esperanza). My first run in these was on an 88 degree evening, and my feet all but melted in these shoes. Pick it up for this fall and winter, and I guarantee it’ll be one of your favorites for roads. The jury is out about really icy roads, though. Some have said that VIVO’s road shoes are not great on ice, with their almost nonexistent grip, but they do seem pretty sticky to me.

I don’t wear socks in these, and I have had no rubbing or blisters whatsoever. So the liner works pretty well if you prefer to go sockless in road shoes like me. Just remember to throw them in the washer ever so often, to avoid the notorious barefoot-shoe-stink. I believe the key is to get them clean before they start to stink. I also keep the removable insoles in, because they absorb a lot of sweat and you can replace them down the road.

One other thing to note is they run a tad short like the Neo, so order a half size up.

Performance

Since it boasts the classic VIVOBAREFOOT sole, the Lucy Lite performs exactly as predicted. Excellent ground feel, superior flexibility and lots of room for your piggies to do their thing. Like I often say about VIVO’s shoes, the Lucy Lite fits like it’s just there to protect your foot, but not bind it. It fits more like a slipper than most other brands, many of which try to fit your foot more like a sock. I’m not saying either one is better, but I like to point out the difference because of the wide range of preferences between people. I don’t think this shoe is good for trails because its ground-feel is way high; I prefer more grip and protection against the bruising rocks and roots that line the trails I run. Also I think some people with very narrow feet might find this shoe has too much room, and their feet might knock around inside it, and throw off their form. For someone with a very narrow foot I would recommend going with the Evo II (review forthcoming).

Final Thoughts

  • I really like this shoe. It’s one of the most undeniably comfortable styles of minimalist shoe on the market
  • a true minimalist shoe with zero-drop soles and excellent ground feel
  • extremely wide last and good seamless sock-liner
  • clean, retro styling – but could be more feminine to compete with the rest of what’s out there now
  • a great cool-weather shoe that will keep you warm and relatively dry
  • the perfect minimalist hang-around kick, if you’ve already got enough running shoes
  • Not a bad price point at $100

I hope that this review has been helpful. If indeed I have helped along your decision to purchase a pair of VIVOBAREFOOT shoes, please show me some love by entering VIVO’s site via my blog. You can do that by entering any of the links on this article or by clicking the VIVOBAREFOOT banner to the right. Thanks so much and happy running!


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Review: Luna Sandals with ATS Laces

Coming right off my announcement that we are moving to San Diego this summer, it feels rather fitting to be reviewing a product that comes out of the West Coast. Founded by none other than Barefoot Ted McDonald, the illustrious insane barefoot character in Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run, Luna Sandals is located in Seattle, Washington. The name Luna comes from a Raramuri dude named Manuel Luna, who actually taught Barefoot Ted how to make his own pair of running sandals.

And now, you can wear his running sandals!

I’ve always sort of dug Luna Sandals, they’re gorgeous and super high in quality. And any runner can up their cool factor by ten points or so just by wearing them (which is something I definitely needed). But I never much saw myself actually running in sandals. I had worries about pinching, rubbing, hot spots and bloody toes. Especially bloody toes. I mean, I can barely walk across my office building without bruising my hands on metal filing cabinets or stubbing my foot on the edge of a desk. But, after some unexpected networking, I was granted a very generous discount to try out a pair.

So I jumped over to the website and discovered all of the different choices of sandal that Luna offers. Suddenly, I could see myself running in these things! You can take your pick from several different footbeds, including trail soles, or you can even get a DIY kit to make your own, if you are so inclined. Not to mention three different lacing choices: leather, elasticized leather, and something called ATS laces. ATS stands for “All Terrain Strapping,” which, unlike the other styles, has its own backpack-style buckle closure (rather than the traditional wrap-and-tie method) that makes last-minute adjustments a little easier.

I decided to go with the Original Luna Sandal footbed, which is a 6mm neoprene Vibram (yeah, those guys are everywhere) sole with a thin suede leather covering. When I started to look at their sizing, I noticed that you could measure your foot width as well as length to choose the right size. But, not surprisingly, the width of my foot was like three sizes higher than the length. So I went with the option to have my sandals custom made to fit my foot. Which is GENIUS! I mean, how many other shoe companies do you know that are willing to make you a shoe that’s exactly the shape of your foot? Can you say amazing customer service?

It was fun, too. I got out a sheet of paper and some markers and drew the outline of my Flinstone feet. It felt a little CSI and a little 3rd-grade-Thanksgiving-turkey-art. I was tempted to write “gobble-gobble” in the margins. Then I sent it along to Dylan, who is one of the chillest sales reps I’ve ever spoken with. In fact, I’ve met about half the team and so far they’re all laid-back and super friendly.

The question of lacing choice was a little harder for me. I have always loved the way traditional huaraches look, all wrapped up the ankle like ballerina shoes. Of all the lacing styles I’ve seen for running sandals, the traditional tie is the most feminine looking as well (no offense, guys). That style of sandal happens to be in fashion for women this summer, too. But I decided to go with the ATS lacing because I wanted to run in these, and I wanted to get the most feasibly comfortable style, so that I would have a better shot at actually wanting to run in them.

I won’t say that a little part of me doesn’t want a second pair with the original lacing…but alas. Story for another day.

A week and a half later, they came in the mail…and they were breathtaking! I mean, it sounds weird to say that about a pair of sandals, right? But they were. They were just so…undeniably cool.

Soon as I put the sandals on they felt comfortable. The footbed is supple, soft and almost silky (alliteration is fun). The shape is exactly the shape of my foot, no falling off the edge, a big deal for me! The heel strap is elasticized for comfort and fit. The plug hole at the top of the shoe (between my toes) has an indent at the bottom, so I can’t feel a lump on my second toe like one might with some other huarache laces.

I will admit the ATS lacing was a bit tough for me to figure out at first. Tighter or looser?  Should the elastic stretch across my heel or just sit there? How close should the buckle be to my ankle? The first two runs I took in them, I stopped about a half dozen times, tightening and re-tightening. I found that the way I need to wear them for running is not comfortable when I am walking, and vice-versa.

I learned that for comfort and stay-put-ability purposes, the buckle on the ATS laces must be adjusted tightly and as close to your ankle as possible, positioned behind that bump on the top of your foot. Otherwise it gets loose faster and it somehow tends to throw off the way the rest of the shoe fits (although it’s really not an issue when walking). Only problem is I can’t get the buckle to stay there; the loop that attaches the buckle to the lace is a little on the loose side, and as a result it keeps sliding back toward my toes. I’ve actually considered stitching the loop down to keep it there, and that might solve the problem. Also, this could just be an issue for my particular foot…as you may have read time and time again, I have a weirdly-shaped one.

Lacing aside, running in the Luna sandal is really, really FUN. The soles are truly comfortable. I love that I have air on my toes instead of hot fabric, and yet I don’t feel like I’m missing out on any of the positives of wearing shoes. I think they help me keep my form a little better than shoes, too. The first few times I wore these I got hot spots; but then it stopped. Since then my form has felt a little more natural, and I have been able to run farther barefoot, as well.

The original luna sandal was made for all terrain. I haven’t tried them on trails, I am not in any particular hurry to find out whether I’ll like having little tiny rocks trapped between my foot and shoe. But they are fine on roads. It’s probably good to point out that I have also had none of the pinching, rubbing or bloody toes referenced earlier. Please ignore the broken toe nails, though – hazards of running a hilly 50k.

Since it’s now summertime, my Lunas have all but replaced my other running shoes, sandals and flip-flops. I have been wearing them everywhere. To the grocery store, to the beach, out to dinner, even to the office. As I mentioned before, the ATS lacing isn’t the most feminine of Luna’s choices, but I’ve gotten along just fine. I’m happy to sacrifice for comfort, these days.

But don’t be surprised if I show up some day soon wearing a second pair of these babies, with traditional lacing. Oy vey.

Overall, I am very impressed with my Lunas. They exceeded my expectations for comfort, and they have made me into a cooler runner and person. 🙂


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Review: Pearl Izumi Women’s Peak II

I was recently given the opportunity to review this shoe, but since I’m now unable to run comfortably in traditional running shoes, I was sure I wouldn’t give it the fair review that someone else would. So my good friend Killeen McGowan agreed to review the new Pearl Izumi Women’s Peak II running shoe. I must say they’re absolutely adorable and I’m a bit jealous. Thanks, Killeen!

Hello, Day-Glo!

This was my initial reaction to the Peak II Trail Running Shoe by Pearl Izumi [PI]. Just as you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can’t judge a shoe by its exterior.  But, with neon mesh and a swirling logo, it’s hard not to be drawn to – or to apprehensively draw away from – PI’s line of trail-blazing kicks. If you’re like me, fun, funky colors are a huge plus. If not, consider the vibrancy as extra protection during hunting season.

But truly, choosing a running shoe shouldn’t have anything to do with fashion. So, let’s look beyond the aesthetics and focus solely on the athletics of these attention-getting trail trainers.

While not minimalist in specification by any means, the PI website cleverly calls this model “minimalistic.” Though there’s plenty of cushioning in the heel via foam on the insole and a thick, rubber outsole, the shoe’s upper is quite minimalist in nature. The seam-free construction, coupled with a notable lacing system, allows the super-breathable material to give your foot a glove-like hug. If the minimalist movement has you intrigued, this may be a good shoe to help you cross into that new territory.

That said, I put these guys on to go for a short, assessment run. With narrow feet that suffer from moderate bunions, it is difficult for me to find a shoe that fits snuggly enough, yet doesn’t squeeze and aggravate the joints in question. The general fit of the Peak II was immediately true to its claim of “anatomically forming to the foot for a tailored fit regardless of foot shape.” There was no unwanted wiggle room, nor was there much pressure against the sensitive sides of my feet.  Regarding length: these seem to run small. I am a strict size 8 and was thus surprised to find I needed an 8.5 to keep my toes from feeling crowded.

The tire-like tread on the soles of the Peak II handled the rocky, crumbly trails I passed over without any issue. While a little overkill for a paved route, it is rather nice to have the traction when opting to run in the road’s shoulder.  I noticed that the aforementioned heel cushioning was significantly less than that of my typical running footwear, again making my new PI’s a good choice in the transition to a more minimalist style.

What I noticed most about these shoes was how little I fussed with their tightness. I often lace and re-lace before setting out for a run, especially if I’m wearing something rather new. I cinched these shoes up rather tight from the get-go, and I never had to adjust them once. The shoe’s tongue is built in such a way that it blends into the rest of the shoe, versus being this separate, bulky piece that you’d find in most classic styles. The seamlessness was also a huge factor in my comfort, and was likely the reason my trial run was 100% blister-free.

All in all, I was pleased with my experience in the Pearl Izumi Peak II’s. They’re a solid trail runner, and versatile enough for summer day-hikes. They are well aerated, comfortable, lightweight on top, and rugged underneath.

And, not that it matters, but did I mention that they’re fabulously flashy?

 


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Guest Post: Function and Fashion for Running Dudes

by Brad Waterson
My name is Brad and I’m a a runner.  I’ll run anywhere.  Trails, roads, 5ks, 10Ks, half marys, ultras.  I’ve completed 2 half marathons (one of them barefoot) and just recently, a 50K Ultra marathon.  I’m currently finishing up 120 consecutive days of running, as a challenge I highly recommend.  I’ve been a minimal/barefoot/bareform runner for almost 2 years now. I’m 100% certain that my careful transition to bareform running has allowed me to accomplish all of my running goals without (knock on wood) any running-related injury.
Trisha’s blog is great at giving you the woman’s barefoot running perspective.  She has recently posted an article on women’s running fashion at Active.com and since she offered to let me guest post, I thought it was time to bring a dude’s perspective to running fashion.  So without further ado, here is this dude’s take on guys’ running gear.

Brad finishing his first 50k, in his BI3 shorts and Buff doo-rag.

My Functional Gear Criteria

My running clothes need to be as minimal as legally and practically possible.  That means warm and light or cool and light depending on the season.  The one exception to this for me is pockets.  I need a place to store a light snack or phone or TP.  A big one for me is I need a secure bombproof pocket for my car keys.  I am obsessed with losing my keys on the trail to the point of distraction sometimes.

My Fashion Criteria

I’m an extrovert.  I need attention. Maybe this is the only-child coming out in me.  I’m also a middle to back of the pack runner.  I need to dress faster because I can’t run faster.  I absolutely love loud colors and loud designs.  They just look fast.  Nothing is more annoying than black tech wear and that is pretty much what you get for men’s running gear.

My Current Go-To Gear (mostly functional, but i try to spice it up)

For the most part, I find myself in the as-minimal-as-legal gear these days.  In the summer, that means any old tech race tee or bare on the top.  I’m a guy who likes to be well-ventilated.  On the bottom is typically a pair of BI3s.   My Brook’s Infinity III shorts (or BI3s) are short split shorts.  They are as close to naked as I am willing to get on a run, and they are great.  They kept the kibbles and bit cool on my 50K, and with a little Body Glide, I had no chafing issues.  They are brilliant in hot weather and they have pockets too.  They even have one of those little swimsuit pockets on the waistband that does a decent job of holding the car keys.  The definitely get me noticed because they show A LOT of leg.  The amount of leg shown can be sometimes problematic around some runners and non-runners.  My cousin has threatened to not run with me if I wear them around him.  They definitely satisfy the function criteria and, in an exhibitionist way, the fashion criteria too.  The last piece of kit I always have is my Buff.  This is my all time favorite and most versatile running accessory.  You can use it as a sweatband, do rag, hat, and neck gaiter.  I wore one on my head and one on my wrist or neck during my 50K.  I would wet them down or put ice in them to cool me down.

Some Awesome Products on My Radar (Function, Fashion, and Flash)

SportKilt

Our favorite SportKilt model, Jason Robillard.

SportKilt is the original barefoot runner accessory (See Jason’s review at Barefoot Running University).  They make a great line of kilts in all types of tartans.  Their Hiking Kilt is the gold standard for runners who enjoy a more “free” experience while out on the trails.  The Hiking Kilt is made from lightweight but durable microfiber so it is cool and quick-drying.  The primary closure on the Hiking Kilt is velcro which is more than adequate but they offer the option of buckles as well.  They will even add a hidden pocket too if you order it that way.  My keys will be safe.  Fashion, Function, and Freedom, made in the USA!

INKnBURN

We at Barefoot Monologues do love our INKnBURN.

INKnBURN makes, without a doubt, the coolest running clothes out there.  Their page says “Don’t disappear into the crowd… Distance yourself with INKnBURN and the Art of Running.”  They are absolutely right.  Their designs are bold and powerful and would definitely get you noticed on race day.  My friend Trisha (the creator of this blog) wore their Peacock skirt to the Boston Marathon Expo and got tons of comments.  Crazy ultrarunning celebrities, Shacky and Vanessa, can almost always be seen wearing INKnBURN.  All of their designs are made in house in the good old USA.  For men, they have 41 different designs of just tech shirts.  All the designs are “printed” using their proprietary process that allows one to see but not feel the art on the clothing.  I’m assuming that this is similar to the way bicycle jerseys are printed but I’m not sure.  I’m particularly fond of the “Run or Die” shirts but I would really love to see them come out with a radical patriotic design.  A stylized eagle over the stars and stripes would be awesome.  A guy can dream, right?  INKnBURN also has a line of running shorts for men that feature elements of their artistic designs.  The shorts are made of super light moisture wicking fabric with an integral liner and pockets.  How cool would it be to have “Run or Die” on your butt!  Now that I’ve finished my 50K at Pineland, I’m seriously thinking about a pair of these badboys.

Thanks for reading my ramblings.  If you like what you read, swing on my my blog and check out what I’ve got to say about gear and running related topics.
Cheers, Brad (durtyfeets)


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Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Mary Jane

These are some serious heavy-wearing, every day minimalist shoes.

In the barefoot and minimalist shoe world, we folks spend an awful lot of time talking about shoes that we wear for running. Running shoes, running sandals, shoes specializing in trail running or road running, and so on. And though most of us are absolutely absorbed in running (and some of us run an insane amount of miles each week) we still all do happen to walk a hell of a lot more than we run.

So what about the perfect minimalist shoe for walking? For wearing with a skirt to work? To a wedding?

I’ve always thought it was a little strange that we spend so much time talking about how and why we all run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, but so little time talking about what we wear the rest of the time. I don’t know about you, but since I started recognizing the benefits of running naturally, I feel guilty if I do anything more than simply stare longingly at (or give away) all my old non-minimalist non-running shoes. All those gorgeous stilettos and espadrilles in my closet that I used to wear and love, and that have become nothing less than torture devices to my newly naturalized feet. I miss them, but I don’t ever want to wear them again.

I mean, all the muscles of our feet and lower legs are still being used when we walk, and we can still mess with our mechanics if we do it wrong, so why aren’t we minimalist runners spending at least as much time shaping the casual shoe industry as we are shaping the running shoe industry?

I don’t typically stand a lot at work, but a few times a year I attend trade shows and stand for 10-12 hours a day. After years of testing every kind of gel-filled, support-laden, memory foam gimmick out there, I finally gave up trying and bought a pair of these cheaply-made synthetic leather flats a few years ago (because every other “flat” in the stores still had a heel on it – so annoying). And even though those flats fell apart almost instantly and retained a rather funky odor, my feet felt better in them at the end of the day than in all the gel-laden shoes I’d tried before. It’s amazing what we can learn when we decide to simplify our lives. But I digress.

In steps the VIVOBAREFOOT Mary Jane. Like their Kali shoe that I reviewed last year, the oh-so-classic Mary Jane is made of ultra-soft Napa leather, with VIVO’s signature hexagon-patterned 4.5mm puncture-proof outsole, and a 3mm removable insole. The Mary Jane fits, wears and feels much like the popular Kali, but with some important differences. The strap is closer to the ankle on the Mary Jane, and it’s made of leather instead of elastic, with an easy velcro closure. Other unique features are the Dri-Lex moisture-wicking inner lining and the soft padded heel. The heel is an excellent feature, because it makes the shoe completely wearable and comfortable from the day you pull your pair out of the box. Unlike the Kali (as well as most shoes made of high-quality leather), I didn’t have to deal with “breaking in” the heel – something that usually involves many wears and many bandaids.

Soft fabric heel = NO blisters and bandaids.

Like all of VIVOBAREFOOT’s shoes, the Mary Jane is extremely flexible from heel to toe, has a wide last, roomy toe box and is structurally sound. After over two months of nearly daily wear, there is not so much as a misplaced thread or significant wear spot anywhere (all photos were taken the day this review was posted). I found this to be impressive, as quality-made shoes are increasingly rare to find these days.

Bottoms, after 2+ months of nearly daily wear.

Now let’s talk comfort. Much like the Kali which I also love, the Mary Jane serves as nothing more than a sole protector and a casual fashion item. There are no support structures, arch lifts, no raised heel, no padding, nothing tight, pinching or constricting, nothing at all that would alter your foot from its natural relationship with the ground below it.

And that’s why my feet, my calves and my heels did not hurt at the end of each 12-hour trade show day. Sure, they were tired from walking around for several hours more than I’m used to, but that’s to be expected and will happen in any shoe, regardless of cushioning (or barefoot). This was literally the most comfortable shoe that I have ever worn to a trade show. I felt like the keeper of some dirty little secret that nobody else knew, in their 2 inch-thick cushioned shoes, clutching their lower backs and limping over sore foot pads by 5 p.m. After the show closed, I happily walked 12 New York City blocks back to the hotel while everyone else waited 25 minutes for an empty cab.

It still amazes me when people get to talking about needing more “support” for their sore feet, but again I digress.

As for my personal opinion on the looks and styling of the Mary Jane, I think it is fine but could be better…sexier, maybe? Although I realize each shoe wearer has her own fashion sense, and although I didn’t have much of a problem coordinating this basic black Mary Jane with most of my wardrobe, I am rather picky about shoes. I do wish that VIVO had a larger selection of Women’s casual shoes, one that would aim to please the tastes of a wider and more varied audience.

Other than that, the VIVOBAREFOOT Mary Jane is, without question, the right choice for any woman seeking a comfortable, highly durable and well-crafted shoe for work and play, that embraces the importance of natural walking form and minimalist sensibility. I figure I’ll get at least 2-3 years of heavy wear out of mine, which makes their $110 price point pretty darn reasonable. Way better than those stinky old $40 fall-apart flats that I used to buy. You do the math.


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Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra

I am glad I took the opportunity to test the VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra because I wasn’t sure at first that I would like the shoe. But, much like the Transformer, the Ultra is more than meets the eye. This is a twofold metaphor too, so stay with me on it.

Gaining in popularity due to its unique features, this interesting cage-shaped shoe is molded completely of EVA foam. EVA is that super lightweight, super squishy rubber from which…yes…Crocs are also made. More on that later. The shoe comes with a sock liner that is completely removable, as well as completely wearable on its own (so they say – I haven’t tried it myself). Basically, the Ultra is like having three different shoes in one.

So you see, the Transformer reference totally fits.

I’m definitely digging all the bright and fun colors they chose for the Ultra. My purple and yellow pair are cute and on trend. The laces are elastic with one of those nifty lace locks. I like elastic lock lacing on my shoes, even though it’s always awkward figuring out what to do with the ends of them. Even still, it’s a much simpler solution. It’s quicker on and off, nothing ever gets untied on its own, and because elastic is stretchy there’s room for error with how tight you make them. With regular lacing I typically tie and re-tie my shoes at least twice every time I wear them. Because I’m anal just like Goldilocks and my laces have to feel not too loose, not too tight, but just right.

Another reason the Ultra was more than meets the eye to me is because, as it turns out, I like them a lot more than I thought I would initially. Several questions ran through my head upon first being asked to test these. Holey foam shoes, seriously? How weird will they look on my feet? Are people going to think I’m wearing Crocs? How squishy are the soles, and will that affect my form? Which variation of the shoe is more comfortable? And if I take out the liner, how will EVA feel against my bare feet, especially once sweat is involved? Do they pinch, rub, cause hot spots? And where the hell did Vivo get the idea to make these, anyway?

Fit and Feel

When I tried these on for the first time a few of my questions were answered right away. The EVA part of the shoe seemed so much bigger than the liner, which was way too tight and constricting. So I took it out and that immediately improved the fit. Yeah, it’s a bit of a peculiar look with my feet in full view beneath the holes, but I actually sort of like it. They are easily the lightest shoe I have in my closet, weighing in at a bare 3.1 ounces with the liner out.

I want to be sure I point out that the last on these babies is super wide! I challenge any foot in the universe to be too wide for this shoe. For the first time in probably ever, I had to cinch the laces to get a tighter fit. A definite positive for me. So if you’ve got a wide foot like me or if you like a lot of extra room in the toe box, then I recommend just picking up the Ultra Pure instead, which comes sans liner and is $30 cheaper. But if you like a more snug fit or think you’ll want the extra layer for any reason, then by all means go for the full Transformer.

Performance

Running in the Ultra was also better than first expected. They’re sorta squishy, yes, but I forgot about that once I got moving. The little bump pattern in the sole is nice, too. I think it’s there for grip, but it’s also kind of massaging. In a barefoot shoe, those things are almost like guilty pleasures! Heh. But I have a feeling that over time the sole will flatten out and get less bouncy anyway, as EVA does. That is, if they don’t wear out first. I do have some question about the overall durability of the Ultra, but I haven’t put enough miles on them yet to determine that for sure. Either way I’m willing to bet that the lower price point offsets any longevity issues for the most part, anyway.

If you’re the kind of person who hates having hot feet, the Ultra is a good shoe to try. I mean, it has holes in it! Especially at the top, the ventilation is great and while you’re moving you can feel the airflow throughout the shoe. It’s pretty nice, actually. Great for sloshing through puddles and streams, too. Although, after a lot of sweating and/or wetness, my foot does get to sliding around a bit in the shoe. Not enough to alter my balance or gait, but enough to cause a bit of rubbing in places. After a hot 5 miler, I had a small red spot at the top of my pinky toe. I think the problem is that even though the shoe is plenty wide, the material doesn’t have memory like a fabric or leather. So the shoe doesn’t alter itself to the shape of your foot as it moves in the shoe. It wasn’t a huge problem for me though, no blisters and the hot spot went away quickly. It is what it is.

Although I do know a few people who go for 10+ mile runs in these shoes, I think my favorite place for them will be short rainy runs, hot summer walks, weekend errands and traveling. I didn’t like these on trail because tiny rocks and sand immediately jumped into the shoe and made it uncomfortable. So that was out. Beach sand might be a little weird too, but maybe not. I’ll have to get back to you on that one, soon as I find time to get to a beach. Summer can’t come fast enough!

In Summary

  • uniquely versatile shoe that’s amphibious and well-ventilated
  • it comes in a variety of colors
  • wide last, but the liner can be an awkward fit
  • easy on and off elastic lacing
  • comfortable and squishy
  • great for travel and every day, as well as for running
  • good shoe for roads and wet areas
  • nice price point


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Review: INKnBURN Running Skirts

Showing some INKnBURN love at the Wallis Sands half marathon

Despite not being a “Left Coaster,” as Californians are often called by some of us pasty and snow-ridden New Englanders, I have been a pretty big fan and admirer of INKnBURN clothing for some time now. Why? Well, because their clothing is awesome and it stands out. As it says on their website:

“Our favorite people to design for are those who don’t want to blend in with the crowd. Ever notice that in the huge pack at the start of a race you’ll see maybe 10 different shirts? We decided to change that.”

I have never been much the fan of those 10 different shirts by Nike and Adidas that hang in the racks at the local big chain athletic store, logos flashing flamboyantly away. I have bought a few of them, sure, it’s not like there’s a ton to choose from. But to be honest they’re not really my style. I mean, just because I’m kind of an athlete doesn’t mean I have to be into all that sporty looking gear. I like to dress a little more, I dunno…creatively. I mean, I go out in public wearing toe shoes – I’m not exactly your everyday fashion conformist.

And neither is this small, quality-minded clothing company. Unlike what you’ll typically find on sale at Dick’s Sporting Goods, the folks over at INKnBURN create clothing with the endurance athlete in mind. With the sweaty, exhausted, 7-hours in to a 50-miler, ultra-marathoner in mind. The way they figure it, if an INKnBURN tech shirt can hold up to that level of moisture-wicking, fast-dying, low-annoyance comfort, then just about anybody can stay cool and happy in their product.

And I agree. Their stuff works pretty darn well. At least the skirts, anyway. I look forward to trying out one of their t-shirts at some point, too. Another day, another review.

Anyway as I said, I’ve been a fan of INKnBURN for awhile now. Enough of one that I talked about their creative designs in this article I wrote for active.com, before I’d ever owned anything by them. What can I say…as an art director by trade, I admired their unique design choices.

A few weeks after the article was published, INKnBURN’s owner, Megan, wrote to thank me for the mention, and to ask if I would like to try one of their popular running skirts.

WOULD I?! Are you freaking kidding?

I tried to remain composed, while I tripped and skidded down the staircase to the living room, to tell my husband the news (I think “Ink and who?” was his actual response). I was really very excited for the chance to try their skirts. I hadn’t bought one yet because I rarely ever have it in my running budget to buy a new running skirt. Two reasons: it’s too cold to wear them in New England eight months of the year, and most running skirts never fit me well so the cost of a skirt bought online is hardly worth the monetary risk.

Now that I know better, I am here to tell you that these skirts are well worth their price tag. Make some room in your closet.

In my Peacock skirt and dirty feet at the Boston Barefoot 5K

I was lucky enough to get two of their cool skirts, one from their gorgeous Peacock line, and the other from their Asian-infused Lust line. Made entirely of soft and rather (for lack of a better word) sturdy moisture-wicking fabric, based on fit and feel alone, INKnBURN skirts are unlike any of the other running skirts in my closet. The best way to explain it is the skirt is substantial…it is a piece of truly durable, well-constructed clothing.

Compression shorts with the adorable complement pattern

The skirt layer is made of a fabric that has an interesting check pattern spun into it. Like most all running skirts, it includes a (really cute) sewn-in pair of compression shorts. Compression shorts have never been very good to me on the whole, given that I have not been blessed with those miraculous independent thighs that refrain from touching in the middle. So I never expect much out of a pair of shorts that come with a running skirt. But while these compression shorts are not defying any laws of physics (it still rides up some), it does manage to stay in place longer than most of the other skirts I have worn. Or at least, it finds a happy place to be and stays there, instead of rolling up into one of those uncomfortable bunches under my ass. But you’ll probably have much less riding up if, like most runners, you have thinner thighs than me.

At first I ordered my usual pant size, but when the skirt came it was too big. Ahh…there’s no better compliment than a clothing line that runs large! Haha. So my word of advice is that most of you can probably go down a size when you order yours. Megan and her staff were exceptionally gracious and exchanged my skirt right away for a smaller size. When I talked to Megan she also told me they are presently adding discrete drawstrings to their skirts for a more perfected fit, and my new Peacock skirt has one. It’s a sign of a good company when they constantly update and improve their products in response to customer feedback.

And maybe most importantly, INKnBURN skirts are designed and manufactured by some talented and hard working individuals, in the good old U.S. of A. These folks really seem to do things the way they should be done.

Overall, I like wearing this skirt. I’ve worn them on long runs and I’ve worn them to the grocery store. I plan to spend a lot of time in them this summer.

So check out INKnBURN.com when you have a chance, and browse through their growing selection of women’s and men’s running gear. You’ll get to look amazing and support the little guy, so it’s a win-win.


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Review: Merrell Wide Width Pace Glove

In case you didn’t hear it, that explosive sound was me giving a giant round of applause to Merrell for designing a really kick-ass minimalist trail shoe.

End of review.

Haha…just kidding. I’ve got to write more than that, because I took a bunch of really awesome photos and I like to anchor my photos with a little text.

The Wide Width Pace Glove is of course the wide version of the popular Pace Glove, Merrell’s minimalist trail shoe for women. The Pace Glove came out last spring, and I picked up a pair of them one day while out looking for a non-toe-pocketed running shoe to wear on the trails by my house. They were a strikingly cute lime-green color and I loved them. But alas, after a few miles I realized they were just too narrow for my monkey feet so I gave them away to a friend. Sad face.

Fast forward to this spring, when my contact at Merrell tells me they have a wide-width version of this shoe now. Imagine my drooling surprise! I was so glad to get them in the mail – it was like being reunited with a long-lost friend. A long lost friend who’s changed her ill-fitting ways and has come back as an improved version of herself. And in gray and purple.

Since wiping the drool off, I’ve put about 25 trail miles on these girls, including last weekend’s 13 mile long run. Some quick and relevant stats on these: they have 4mm zero-drop Vibram rubber soles with a 1mm thick rock plate that protects your feet from the occasional sharp, pointy rock that you didn’t see. The uppers are made of microfiber mesh and synthetic leather, and there is a nifty little rubber bumper at the toe – perfect for the 300 or so rocks I inevitably end up kicking around the trails during my runs. Merrell’s Omni-Fit lacing system keeps the laces evenly tight throughout. It’s a slick design with some pretty sound details overall.

But, all construction features aside, the thing that makes this shoe such an exceptional piece of footwear is the fact that it’s…just there. It just stays there and does its job, no questions asked. It’s definitely more “shoe” than most of what’s in my closet these days, but it really doesn’t feel like much. When I’m running there isn’t any rubbing, chafing, pinching, twisting. No adjustments need to be made. My foot doesn’t get cramped or go numb. My heel doesn’t get chewed. The shoe surrounds my foot perfectly, and then pretty much gets forgotten as I enjoy my run. It’s hard to quantify just how amazingly good this is for someone with feet like mine that just…well, don’t really like shoes.

The only painful thing that happened with these shoes is at one point I clipped my right ankle with the sandy heel of my left shoe, while making a sharp turn on some loose dirt. It dug a pretty good chunk of flesh out of my ankle bone. These are some rugged trail shoes, they’re like little trail-chewing monsters. The tread isn’t all that deep, and there hasn’t been any ice or slippery ground available for me to test on, but so far they’ve been great at keeping me upright over rocks, roots and gravel.

I loved the Wide Width Trail Glove so much that I even let my good friend Kathy test it for a few miles today (woohoo, two-for-one shoe review!). She’d had some prior questions about the “supportive arch,” as she put it, that she felt once when trying the regular-width version of these shoes on at the store. I assured her that the molded construction of the sole is there to hold your foot in place, not support it. I think she believed me. After a couple of miles, Kathy reported that she found the Pace Glove to be much roomier than the shoe she’s been wearing (last year’s original NB Minimus Trail – now called the “Minimus 10“) and that she wasn’t getting the usual hotspot in her forefoot that had been causing her blisters. I think she liked them as much as I do.

The only real gripe I have about the wide width Pace Glove is that it never really came out in stores – or at least not any of the ones I frequent. So I never even knew they existed, and had written off the shoe altogether. It could be because the regular width shoe sells quite well and perhaps Merrell isn’t seeing enough of a demand for it to add it to every store shelf. But given that I’ve owned both, I think the wide-width Pace Glove is a better choice for anyone who doesn’t describe their foot as narrow. That extra bit of room makes an amazing difference in the wide width shoe; it provides an appropriate amount of space for the foot to flatten on landing, and for toes to splay. It does what it’s supposed to: encourages natural foot movement.

I can finally see why everyone loves this shoe. My wide-ass feet are pretty late to the party, yes. But hey, at least they got there.