Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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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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“Don’t Blame the Shoes”

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Life has been a little crazy, abnormally busy and consuming lately. I haven’t had any time to write in this blog…I almost want to apologize to it for my neglect.

But. While I am busy working up the next amazingly well-written post (snort), please take a moment to view my article about the Barefoot Running movement on Coach Rick’s blog, The Marathon Solution. Coach Rick is a Boston Marathon coach and inspirational marathoner and speaker, whom I wrote about here.

So please go ahead and read my article “Don’t Blame the Shoes,” and then stick around for awhile. Coach Rick covers a lot of topics on his blog. You might learn something.


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The Better Way to Inspire

An approximation of how it feels to run barefoot. But nowadays I just let people figure it out for themselves.

Over the past few years barefoot running has soared in popularity, bringing along with it a slew of “barefoot shoes,” scientific studies and articles, evangelical followers and bloggers worldwide. Since I started riding the barefoot tidal wave myself a couple years ago, I’ve sorta been wondering if and when the backlash would ensue. I mean, whenever you have this much of a swing in thinking, it is inevitably followed by some backslide toward the center again, nice and neat like a pendulum.

I can’t say for sure whether the pendulum has yet reached the other end in the barefoot running world, but I think we are maybe at least starting our descent. Recently I’ve been seeing more and more articles by barefoot enthusiasts (not just nay-sayers and middle-of-the-road-ers) who are now starting to nudge into more inclusive territory when it comes to running footwear. Some ideas like going totally barefoot maybe isn’t always best, that some cushioning isn’t such a no-no in certain situations, even that heel-striking might not be so bad for everyone, are starting to wash up here and there along the shore.

In the very beginning of my barefoot running life, I listened to, read and regurgitated everything that the gurus told me. It was probably best that way back then anyhow, because without enough experience, I may have caused more harm to myself than good. But once I had a handle on the general concepts, I made allowances to some critical thinking of my own. I was able to decide things like running totally barefoot 100% of the time isnt really my style, and that I’m okay with a little cushioning when I’m freshly back from an injury. And most importantly, I’ve decided that I’m okay with it if my friends hear how wonderfully life-changing this has been for me, and then still continue heel striking in their traditional running shoes.

At first I was somewhat of an outsider for this (an outsider to the outsiders! Imagine that!). I started writing unpopular blog posts like “What You Can Learn from a Cushiony Pair of Running Shoes” and “Why Form?” Also I wasn’t always taking my shoes off in the warm spring weather and I shunned the popular Merrells for my very favorite (and most hated by the cool kid majority) Vibram Bikilas. With laces. But now, some of the more popular bloggers are finally saying the same stuff I was thinking all along. Which is good, because that means people will probably begin to follow this shift in thinking, and then I’ll get to feel like I’m on track again. Weird how that works. But I digress.

The real thing I wanted to talk about here is the fascinating irony that people will come to your way of thinking, eventually, once you stop trying to pull them along. It is just a fact of life, but we often forget it. So around this time last year I was sitting at a table across from my boss and a bunch of coworkers at Truffle Café in Atlanta, getting a bit ruffled while trying to explain why I run barefoot. One person who was all too familiar with the argument muttered to herself, “Here we go again” as I began. Thankfully the conversation ended well enough, after the boss’s daughter generously piped up, “hey wait, my best friend wears those toe shoes to run. They’re so cool!” But basically it got to be a battlefield every time someone asked me about my weird shoes. And it was only because I cared. I wanted others to hear about how awesome it was to run in lighter shoes, and I wanted everyone else to share my epiphany.

But sooner or later I became disenchanted with the whole idea of spreading the word. My friends eventually got used to my monkey shoes and stopped asking about them. I endured the occasional barefoot joke, and it was fine because I can laugh at myself. Soon enough the only people even bothering to read my blog were already converted barefooters. Even my husband got bored of the content and just started blindingly re-tweeting my posts to qualify as showing his support (which I still do appreciate). And it didn’t matter much to me, anyway. By then I’d formed a thick skin and a nice group of barefoot running friends, all across the continent, with whom to share my triumphs and failings. I was pretty content with myself and with my non-barefoot running buddies, with their Brooks Ultra-Cushion Pillow Shoes and all. I didn’t care anymore if they decided to run barefoot or not.

But then it started happening.

“So, I’ve decided to start minimalist running…got any advice on what shoes I should buy? I saw that you review some of them on your blog.”

One person asked me at a party. And then another messaged me on Facebook. And then a couple inquired as to whether I would mind taking them minimalist shoe shopping. It was like music to my ears! At last I’ve been given the invitation to impart my mid-foot-struck running knowledge onto a few people, and it is marvelous!

I guess I’m learning that it pays to care a little less about whether I’m being heard – because sometimes people learn better with sight. I’m learning that if I’m to show anyone how freeing it is to run barefoot, I should do it with my life experiences, not with fact-spewing and propaganda. As I said in my latest active.com article, a happy runner is an inspirational one.

And I’m perfectly content to inspire in silence. How about you?