Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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How to Find Your Mid-Foot

Over the last few years, more and more runners and training professionals have been touting the benefits of utilizing barefoot running form (or “bareform”), with a mid-foot landing, rather than the more common heel-strike. Many agree that a mid-foot landing is more natural, and I absolutely agree. Have you ever tried running in place with no shoes on? You’ll never land on your heel.

The human foot is an amazing structure, built with 26 bones, 33 joints and over one hundred muscles, ligaments and tendons. The arch is a beautifully designed spring mechanism that feeds energy to our calves, quads and hips and lets us run gracefully and painlessly…that is, if we just let it do its job.

The running shoe we see most often today has been around since about the mid 1980s, when more of the general masses started to take up running. The athletic shoe industry figured that the average jogger might want more comfort than the serious athlete, who had up until then influenced the market toward a more lightweight racing shoe.

So, all the major shoe companies started to add cushioning and a raised heel to the running shoe, leading to the heel-strike running form that’s so common today. Essentially they made running feel like walking. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

Since then we have seen an explosion of runners in all shapes, sizes and athletic abilities. But we have also seen an explosion of knee problems, heel spurs, plantar fasciitis, ankle sprains, and the list goes on. The super-cushioned, gel-filled, motion-control features of the modern running shoe have dimmed the natural movement of our feet and upset our skeletal balance, causing unnecessary injuries.

Because of this, some runners are setting their feet free. Some go completely barefoot while others are choosing to lighten up on their footwear, wearing shoes closer to what runners wore in the old days, with little to no cushioning and no pronation control. No bells and whistles.

Runners today are taking back their mid-foot and reaping the benefits with less injuries and more enjoyable runs. If you’re up for the challenge of finding your mid-foot and improving your running form, here are some tips to follow:

1. Lose Those Cushioned Shoes

Bare feet are your best teacher. If you aren’t comfortable going totally bare, try some lightweight footwear. You can choose anything from huarache sandals to a high-tech pair of minimalist running kicks.

The things to look for in a minimalist shoe are:

  • no significant lift from the toe to heel (4mm or less) or none at all (often marketed as “zero-drop”)
  • very little to no cushioning
  • an extra-flexible sole
  • plenty of room for your toes to spread and move

Here are some of my favorites:

Merrell Pace Glove
Merrell Dash Glove
Vibram FiveFingers SeeYa
Skora FORM
VIVOBAREFOOT Lucy Lite
VIVOBAREFOOT Breatho
NewBalance Minimus Zero Road

If you’re just too stubborn to part with your cushioned trainers, well…that’s okay. You can still be better off if you improve your running form by following the rest of these steps.

2. Stop Landing on Your Heels

The key to good form is in contacting the ground with the front half of your foot first. This is more difficult to do in heavy trainers, but it’s next to impossible to avoid when barefoot. The exact contact spot varies from person to person. Some land on the ball of their foot (forefoot landing), but most land somewhere in the middle (mid-foot landing).

Your heel should still touch the ground briefly. However, it should not carry a large weight load. Your foot must land directly under your center of gravity. As soon as your heel makes contact, your arch and lower leg muscles will gather the spring they need to move your body forward. This way you can land much more lightly and bounce out of each stride rather than pound the ground. I like to tell people that proper running form feels more like bouncing than stepping. And it really is.

Jason Robillard, bareform running coach and author of The Barefoot Running Book and the super-informative website Barefoot Running University, recently taught me that the best mental trick for learning a proper foot landing is trying to land with your foot flat. Yes, flat. All at once. Your mid-foot makes contact with the ground first, but the rest lands almost simultaneously, too fast for you to control. You don’t want to anyway, it’s supposed to be automatic. So if you just focus on landing flat-footed, you will land correctly, and avoid those weeks of ignorantly keeping your heel too far off the ground and busting up your calves while doing so.

Yeah, you know you did that. I’ll admit I did, too.

3. Stand Up Straight, and Shorten Your Stride

Remember what your mother told you: don’t slouch. A slumped-over runner wastes energy and allows for over-striding, which means extending the leg so far ahead that the foot lands in front of the body’s center of gravity.

Over-striding is the main reason why a heel-strike landing is so bad. Because over-striding essentially puts the brakes on every stride you make, it can lead to a host of problems, joint pain and knee injuries in particular. So keep your back straight, lead with your chest and focus on every footfall being directly under your center of gravity, not in front.

Shortening the length of your stride and increasing your cadence makes it easier to straighten up and resist over-striding. The average heel-striking runner uses longer strides and a cadence of 90 to 120 beats per minute (BPM), but the recommended cadence for optimal mid-foot running is about 180 BPM.

Getting this cadence down was the main factor in my learning proper form. Even now if I get tired on a run, I’ll take a quick look down at my watch to make sure that my cadence is at least three steps per second.

4. Relax

Finding your mid-foot will make you a more graceful and energy-efficient runner. But there’s nothing graceful about running with stiff, robot-like limb and tensed-up shoulders. Loosen the heck up!

Relax your shoulders, neck, hands, toes, and even your legs. Focus on only using the muscles you need to make each stride. Extra tension in your muscles wastes energy and can cause a lack in flexibility and extra soreness. Bend your knees, shake out all the stiffness and let your body choose which muscles carry you forward.

5. Follow Your Body, Not Your Mileage Goals

Switching from a heel-strike to a mid-foot strike is serious business at first. In the long run, good mid-foot form is easier on your joints and spine and strengthens your ankles, feet and lower legs. But it is a big change for your very underused lower leg and foot muscles, which have essentially been in an immobilizing cast your entire life!

It is important to start slow—even slower than you think. And then slower than that! Build mileage gradually and always listen to your body whenever you think it’s probably telling you to stop. How do you know? Just use common sense! If you need a place to start, most knowledgeable barefoot runners recommend no more than 1/8 to 1/4 mile at first, and increasing distance by 10 percent each week.

For longer distance runners, this may seem ludicrous. Believe me, I understand the desire to continue your weekly mileage without interruption. And, runners are not known to be the most patient people in the world. However, learning a new running form is the equivalent to being a new runner. With that said, every runner is different. The smartest thing you can do is be patient, pay attention to how your body feels and avoid injuries by taking it easy during your transition period.

And if you overdo it and end up with PF or a stress fracture, you’ll have nobody to blame but yourself.

6. Learn from the Masters

Finding your mid-foot takes a little more finesse than just throwing off your trainers and heading out the door. Fortunately, there is a wealth of advice out there on running with good form. Helpful guidebooks by masters of the sport can be useful tools no matter what you wear on your feet. Here are some of my favorite:

The Barefoot Running Book by Jason Robillard
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall
Barefoot Running Step by Step by KenBob Saxton
Barefoot Running by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee

You can also look to instructional YouTube videos, informational minimalist running blogs and helpful runner forums for your education. There are even some barefoot and minimalist running coaches all over the country who can help you correct your form one-on-one in person or through email. You don’t have to learn all by yourself.

So go ahead and find your mid-foot. Your feet will thank you for it.

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A Lemming’s Argument

Three people have sent this image to me this week:

And each time I laughed a little.

It’s silly and funny, and it’s flattering to know that people think of me whenever the subject of barefoot running is brought up or joked about.

I get it.

. . .

BUT HERE’S THE MYSTERY:

The average person looks at a pair of “toe shoes” and automatically thinks:

“wow, those are weird.”

We all agree that Vibram FiveFinger shoes are weird-looking.

Right?

Well…but what’s the logic in that, anyway?

They’re shoes, shoes shaped like feet. Feet, which are a lot like the feet we all have beneath our ankles. We see them and walk on them every day. So…why would something that’s shaped like a foot freak us out so much?

*scratches head*

. . .

So, by definition, we should all agree that GLOVES look weird too!

Don’t we?

No?

WHAT THE…

. . .

AHH, YES…I GET IT:

Nobody thinks that gloves look weird, because nobody TOLD US to think that gloves look weird.

Another mystery solved.


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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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Guest Post: Accepting the Inevitable – I am a Runner.

Thank you to Kate, for writing this piece for my blog. You’re everyone’s favorite inevitable runner.

I have finally realized that I am a runner.

You will now be divided into two groups.

Those of you that know me will be laughing, wiping the tears from your eyes and saying, “You are only realizing that now?”

Those that don’t know me, will be looking at the those laughing and wondering why the hell they are bent double, falling to the floor and unable to breathe.

To the group of you that are looking bemused, let me introduce myself.

My name is Kate and I have been running for about three and a half years.  However, during that time I have never counted myself as a runner.  In fact I have been pretty adamant about it.  I don’t take running that seriously and just count running as something that I like to do.  I am not fast; I don’t run far.  There have been weeks – no months – where I may not have run at all.

Yet — and this is why those that know me are killing themselves laughing — my day is spent doing many things that are running related.  Here are a few examples:

I have been writing over the last two and a half years, a blog that is predominantly about running.  I also write about other subjects too; my Son’s Autism, my views on life and other general drunken ramblings.  In my view, just because I have a personal blog that revolves around running doesn’t make me a runner.

I have also been active within the Barefoot Runners Society. It’s fun and interesting work, but I see it more of an organizational challenge than running related. This role doesn’t require me to be a runner.

In the last year, I have been coaching some of my friends in how to run well. To me, this is my social life.  As we run, we talk, chat, laugh and muck about.  I help because it’s an opportunity to have fun. I don’t help my friends run because I am a runner.

In December 2011, I was asked by Canadian Running Magazine to write a weekly blog for their site about barefoot running.  I admit my non-runner status is probably on shaky ground now.

Writing for Canadian Running Magazine has been an education into the hidden depths of the running industry. It’s been fascinating and it has appealed to my innate desire to investigate and learn.  I love making new connections – both with people and in my writing.  Connecting the differing sides and views of the industry has been tough but wonderful.  Challenging myself and learning from those experiences does not make me a runner.

If you looked at my Facebook page you would see that at least half of my friends are runners — usually of the barefoot kind.  This is a case of like-minded souls being drawn together.  Just because we all seem to enjoy running doesn’t mean I should be labeled as a runner.

Is now a good time to admit I do actually run perhaps three to four times a week?  Getting out and enjoying the fresh air is my mental reset.  Going for a run makes me sane, but not a runner.

You can probably see why the people that know me think my sudden realization I am a runner is humorous.  You can also see that I still feel the need to validate my non-runner status.  My futile attempts now seem rather hollow.

So why, after all this time and after everything I do that involves running, do I now believe I am a runner.

I am a runner now, because it’s in my gut; it’s a part of me.

Before running was something I did.  I enjoyed it don’t get me wrong — I love to run. I always make it my mission to gain some personal connection to my run.  I bring joy to my run – I have fun and I try to make everyone I pass smile.

Yet, I always felt that I was viewing running as an observer.  Running enabled me to try different things.  I became a writer, an administrator, a coach and a friend.  When people labeled me as a runner, I always felt it was in relation to other roles that I saw myself in.

The last few weeks, I have been feeling a change in my perception.  I wasn’t really aware of what I was feeling until it suddenly hit me.

It was the sense of movement. There was a new awareness within myself.  I felt the power of my legs moving.  I could feel the breath going in and out of my lungs.  My whole body seemed to vibrate as my heart pulsed at every beat.   I felt my muscles and tendons – my sinew – release and contract with each step.

I was silent, I was strong and I glided.

The path wasn’t something I ran over – my feet seemed to hardly touch the ground.  It was if I was floating over the small layer of air that covered the rocks, dirt and tree roots.

Even though I felt as if I was slow, I realized I was fast.  The agony of reaching a certain pace wasn’t there.  I hardly seemed to be out of breath and I would look at my watch and realize that I was running minutes faster than I normally would.  I felt strong, as if I could continue forever.

Every part of my body worked in unison and running became effortless.  Before I realized, I was running six miles and I would just continue.  The thoughts of reality and the normal life that was waiting for me were the only reasons I stopped and headed home.

I have experienced runs like this before, but they have always been one-off’s.  The occasional run in the midst of the months where there was always one part of my run that was slightly out of sync.

However lately that balance has switched.  Now every run feels like it’s perfect.  I can see why people run – the primal connection we experience.  Running has become instinctual instead of something I have to work at.  As I make the next landing, every part of my body is working together as a joyous whole, just as it should be.  The reason for us to run as an individual, as a group – a pack — now makes sense.

I have ceased being an observer and have become a part of the majesty of how we move.  I have made that connection to why running is essential to our species.  Running is now in my DNA.  I can’t remove it.

Why would I want to?

I am a runner.


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Wallis Sands Half Marathon Race Report

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

Just in case I’ve got any readers who may have somehow been lead to believe that I’m not a hack that I’ve run a lot of long distance races, let me correct your misinformation here and now: I’m still a relative noob. Up to this point I have never run a race longer than a half marathon, and the Wallis Sands half marathon was only my second half marathon. Like, ever.

In fact, Wallis Sands has been my first race longer than a 5K since last June. But not for a lack of trying, though. If you are sort of new to reading my blog, you may not have seen the solid three-month-long block of posts on the subject of being out of commission due to a major foot injury last summer (and lucky you). The suckiest part of all is that if you count the time it took me to re-train myself, I was set back nearly a year of progress, and gained ten pounds as well. So this half mary was a triumph of sorts for me.

Last year I ran Great Bay. It was extremely hilly (something I didn’t know until the day before the race when I picked up my race packet and a shirt with “These Legs Conquered the Hills of Great Bay” printed on the back) and my lack of preparedness for those hills had me struggling through it at the end. So this year I signed up for the other really popular New Hampshire spring half marathon. It was almost totally flat. And the irony of it is that since last year’s half I’ve acquired a love of hills, so it was a bit boring to run such a flat road race. Ah well, such is life.

I signed up for this race with my friend John, who wanted to run his first half this year.  I’m certainly no veteran of the half marathon, but it was pretty cool to witness his milestone experience.

And it was nice to approach the starting line with some basic knowledge of the distance. Much unlike last year’s half, I’ve run farther than 13 miles now and I understand a bit more how to pace myself, how much water and fuel I require for the distance and how tired I’ll feel at the end. Per experience, I had fully expected to become tired enough to take walk breaks by mile 7 or so, little did I know at the starting line that I’d be surprising myself soon.

My bib had a yellow stripe on it. It had been so long since I’d signed up that I couldn’t even remember what finish time I’d selected, but the race went in heats (which I thought was genius) and yellow meant I was heat 4. Luckily John’s bib was the same color as mine so we got to stand around the starting line together, me in my INKnBURN skirt and him in his bright red Devil’s Chase race tee. We exchanged anxious grins and absorbed the excitement in the air around us. But as soon as the gun blared, he took off ahead, and I took out my mantra.

Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. Don’t go fast. Don’t follow the crowd. This is not a race for you – it’s just a training run for the 50K.

And I didn’t go fast or follow the crowd. I sunk into a nice conservative 11:30 pace right away and really just happily stayed there, determined not to use up too much energy. I enjoyed the overcast, 45-degree morning. For the first few miles the ocean was to my left, just over the rocks near the road. It was pretty amazing to look at, and, amazingly, it was also the first time I’d ever gone for a run so close to the ocean. Being that I’m an insatiable ocean lover I realize that this is preposterous. At any rate it sweetened those first few miles that are always hardest for me to get through.

Early on I caught up and began chatting with a woman in her 50’s, whom I later found out was from my hometown and knew one of my cousins in high school. Then, like an alarm going off, I had to pee. I always have to pee about a mile or two into my long runs. Why is this? As if on cue, we came up to a porta-potty and I dived in. I’ve probably never peed so fast in my life. I jumped back out and banged out an 8-minute mile to catch up with the group I was in before my pit-stop. The woman in her 50’s was now talking with someone else so I paced in behind her, hooked an earphone into my right ear and started chugging at 11:30 again.

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

During the race I passed water stop after water stop, snagging a water and a gatorade each time to be sure I took in enough fluids. John got smaller ahead of me, until he was just a little red dot in a sea of black, blue and gray. I didn’t mind it at all; I enjoyed the relative quiet of the runners around me. I felt like I was with them, silently one of them.

Like I said before I fully expected to start walk breaks somewhere around mile 7, because, well…that’s my usual modus operandi. But at mile 7 I felt fine. I was two miles into my first Gu (those things never get easier to choke down, do they?) and feeling hydrated enough. I was still doing fine by mile 8, and still by mile 9 – even though my GI tract was starting its usual fuss and noise, which I was, however, successfully ignoring. The flatness of the course made it so incredibly easy that I was covering the miles with little trouble. And so by then I decided I might as well just stick it out the rest of the way.

Soon after, I started passing some of the people who had blown by me back at mile 1, and John-the-red-dot started getting bigger again. I caught up to him somewhere after mile 10 and although he was still plugging along, he looked a little tuckered (later I found out that he hadn’t consumed anything but water for the whole race). He was busy concentrating on his run so I continued on and soon he was lost again behind me.

That’s when I realized I was having a really good race. I only had two miles left and I hadn’t stopped to walk even once. Sure, my feet were a little tired in spots and my hips were achey, but I’ve grown used to those minor pains and they don’t really bother me much anymore. My IT band was fine, my lungs felt great, and even though I was slowing down a bit (I was riding a 12 minute mile by then), I was thrilled.

The only annoying thing was the mile markers were WAY off throughout the whole race. And because I stupidly trust mile markers on USATF Certified race courses, I thought my Garmin was dying when it was beeping almost a half mile after I’d passed each marker. Then, mile 12…well, mile 12 was a mile and a half long. Looks like the guys they sent out to set down the markers were off from the start, and didn’t go back to fix their mistake. Yeah, pretty evil.

Photo “borrowed” from the Wallis Sands site (click photo for link).

Even though the last mile was a bit brutal, being right on the beach again made it a little easier to take. And then, soon as I came around a bend and saw the tents near the finish line, “The Final Countdown” played on my iPod – true story. It’s like that song has a sixth sense or something. I grinned big and bore down on that last quarter mile like I had zombies chasing me. I finished 13.1 again, and this time I did it with a big smile on my face, instead of tears. And despite being ten pounds heavier than I was last year, I finished three minutes faster, and pain-free. It felt like breaking a curse.

But now the Final Countdown has truly begun. Pineland 50K, Memorial Day weekend. Will I finish? Will I DFL? Will I die? The answer is still two weeks away, my friends, so stay tuned. But at the very least I plan to enjoy it as much as I can and, when in doubt, do my best to smile like a badass.

Or maybe I’ll just follow Kate Kift‘s advice and wear a pink tutu.


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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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Non-Runners: Stop Making Dumb Excuses Not to Run

Photo stolen from WIRED Magazine

“I don’t run unless it’s away from something. Like…a zombie.”

Such is the absolute stupidest, and most common, excuse to avoid running that I have ever heard. I’ll be in some social situation or another and someone will ask me a question about running. And sometimes, before I even answer, I’m smacked in the face with this ridiculous statement. Sometimes it is varied (but equally stupid) and sounds more like: “the only time I run is after my child…like, if he gets hold of a butcher knife or something.”

I’m sorry if you’ve said it to me in the past and I’m insulting you…well, actually no I’m not sorry. I mean it. And if you’re a friend of mine you’re probably a pretty smart person, which makes this an even more insanely dumb thing for you to say.

First of all, if a zombie was chasing you, you wouldn’t be running….you’d be sprinting. And most runners don’t sprint, anyway. That’s a completely different sport that even I don’t really understand. Second, if the first and only time you ever run is at the start of a zombie apocalypse you wouldn’t make it a block before you became a screaming, bloody mid-afternoon snack.

But I digress.

Some of the other dopey excuses that I’ve heard from people who refuse to try running are the following:

I don’t run because I have bad knees
Truth is, you don’t run because you have bad knees, and you have bad knees because you don’t run. Also, you’ve spent years in cushioned shoes that have fostered your poor posture and shitty running/walking form. Or perhaps you have an injury from way back in high school when you played sports. What kind of shoes were you wearing then? Corrective cushioned shoes? I figured. Strengthen your feet, straighten out your posture, fix your form, and you might discover that your knees aren’t as “bad” as you thought.

Running is bad for you
I hear a lot of this crap from the pro-orthotics camp. They stuff these ridiculous custom orthotics into their cushioned shoes to splint their feet indefinitely, closing them up from the sensory environment they were meant to thrive in. These folks have lumpy, weak feet and legs and therefore running hurts them. Then they read some study from other pro-orthotic folks on the frequency of running injuries (among shod runners), and conclude that running must be bad.

It’s just plain wrong, guys. Some animals are made for walking (like cows), and some are for running (like cats). Humans are built to run. We have features all over our bodies that are there to be used for the act of running alone. Running isn’t what’s bad for you…not running is bad for you. Your sedentary life is bad for you (and not just because it’ll make you fail to outrun zombies). Modern society allows us to sit on our ever-growing asses almost all the time, parked in front of computers or bad reality television, stuffing ourselves with artery-clogging processed foods that we drove our cars 4 blocks down the road to pick up at the supermarket. Most people basically do everything they can to never have to move their bodies. And then they pass a runner in their car and shake their heads because “running is bad for you.”

I have to lose weight before I’ll try running
I don’t even think I need to explain why this is stupid. But postponing exercise to lose weight is surprisingly common. Heck, I’ve even done it. Super diets like Weight Watchers and Slim-Fast try to make you believe that you can lose weight and be healthy without ever exercising. And well, it’s partly true – losing weight is really all about taking in less calories than you burn, but that has nothing to do with being healthy.

If you sit on your ass all day long, you don’t need very many calories at all. But chances are you’ll be kinda hungry if you only get, say, 1,100 calories per day. And that usually yields one or more of these results: your body goes into starvation mode and significantly reduces your metabolism to conserve calories, effectively slowing weight loss; You fail the diet because you eventually give up and eat four hamburgers to avoid passing out from hunger; Or you resort to living on low calorie, high-carb diet junk crap which is full of simple sugars and has absolutely no dietary significance. Then, the second you hit your goal weight and have to go back to “normal” eating, you don’t even know what that is so you make all the same wrong choices you used to make and in less than three months you’re back where you started again.

How about this time you eat some real food, up the calories so you’re not starving and add in some daily exercise? Or even better, stop dieting to get skinny. That’s all bullshit, anyway. You don’t have to be skinny. I’m not skinny. Just be healthy and active. The rest will follow eventually.

I’m bad at running, I can’t even run a mile
This is probably the dumbest of all the dumb excuses. You don’t run at all, so of course you can’t run a mile, stupid. In my opinion, the All-American addiction to immediate gratification is really getting out of hand. I’m the sort of person who loves working up to my successes. I love the idea of taking a low-end job at first and working my way up to the top. I take pride in the fact that I was given practically nothing in childhood, but have made so much of myself as an adult. Nothing makes me happier than the repayment of lots and lots of hard work toward my goal – especially in running. And I still have so much farther to go in running, which keeps me motivated. But I’m different from a lot of people. Most kids want to barely graduate college but expect their first job to be CEO of Apple. And they want to be able to lace up their Nike’s for the first time, take a left at the end of their driveway and run 5 miles at 8:30 pace. And if those things don’t happen right away, it’s time to pack it in and start blaming the world for being so unfair. You guys all give up on shit way too easily. Also, I think you’re too comfortable with being mediocre.

Hey, we all make excuses for shit. I tell people that my lawn is ugly because nobody taught me how to care for a lawn and I can’t afford a gardener. But that’s just an excuse. The truth is I’m overwhelmed by how shitty my yard already was when we moved in, and I’m too indifferent about lawn care in general to waste an entire spring weekend working in my back yard. Excuses are essentially lies. Lies we tell ourselves and others so that we can circumvent our own guilt about something. I should just tell anyone who asks me why I have a crappy yard that I don’t give much of a shit about it and I don’t spend any time in it anyway. The trails are my backyard.

I wish people would be more truthful about why they don’t run, rather than making these dumb excuses. If people were more truthful, they could give me the real reasons why they won’t ever try to run (unless something is chasing them):

  • I’m too lazy to exercise
  • I don’t want to do anything that’s difficult
  • I can’t handle an endeavor that doesn’t have immediate positive results
  • I refuse to try running barefoot or take the time to learn correct form
  • I would rather conform to the idea that running sucks

But of course nobody will say that to me. It sounds lazy and defeatist. And if they were to admit to themselves that they’re just being lazy and defeatist about running, they’d have nothing left but to change their ways.

Of course I realize that for most of my readers, I’m just singing to the choir. What other dumb excuses have you heard from people who refuse to try running?