Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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. 🙂


The 100-up Challenge

A still from McDougall's 100-up video (click to URL)

The other day, Chris McDougall, NY Times columnist and author of Born to Run, published a piece on the importance of good running form called The Once and Future Way to Run. In it, he describes his concern over the way that barefoot and minimalist running footwear has not by itself deleted the heel strike, or magically created a bunch of runners with perfect form, as once surmised it would. He writes about the New York City Barefoot Run in September of this year, an event that I attended. During the run, Peter Larson, an evolutionary biologist at St. Anselm College, filmed all of the runner’s scantily-clad feet. And despite our lack of shoes, the video caught a ton of us heel striking.

I like to believe I wasn’t one of those heel strikers, but even still the thought makes me want to re-evaluate my form. For the last several months I have been perpetually injured. I have been in the mindset that my injuries have been caused by overuse or some other excuse that helps me to more easily reject the idea that my form needs work. But if I’m getting injured at all, something is missing. It’s either a lack of good form, strength, basic ability or a little of everything…I need an overhaul.

At the end of this article McDougall posted a video introducing what’s called the “100-up Method.” It’s an exercise developed in 1874 by a runner named W.S. George. George didn’t have enough time to run during his lunch hour, so he did this exercise instead. The 100-up exercise made him a smoother, lighter runner with perfect form, and over time he was able to earn world records in several distances.

So I watched the vid a few times and thought to myself, hey, what the hell, I’m going to do this. I’m giving myself this challenge: practice 100-up every day for a month, and see if it does anything. If I like the results, keep doing it.

Today I got to 68 “minor ups” before I wonked out. The rule is that as soon as your form starts to slide, you stop and call it a day. I look forward to seeing how this goes.

So Check out the video, folks. Try it for yourself. It might make a world of difference, it might not. But I think it’s worth a go. I hope you’ll check back in a little while and let me know how it went for you.


Walk this way….run this way.

Choose your weapon or free your sole.

Yesterday afternoon I had my first appointment with the sports podiatrist. She told me I have injury to the intrinsic muscles of my foot. She put me in a walking cast for 1 week and told me to take 800mg of Advil twice a day for four days. She also told me that I’ll be able to run the half marathon I signed up for, in the beginning of October.

I remain skeptical.

Of course, being that she (like most of the medical community) isn’t a fan of barefoot running, she made the cursory attempt to convince me that I shouldn’t be running barefoot. Though, with that same breath she touted the advantages of barefoot form, and told me that I should try to mimic that form in supportive running shoes. It made me think the following two things:

  • Why does everyone hate you when you’re barefoot? You’re born barefoot – why is it so difficult to imagine living and exercising that way?
  • Maybe there’s some truth in what she is saying.

I’m not going to expand on the first point, because really it’s just more of a complaint. But I will say that nobody has ever been able to satisfy that question for me, and it is sort of frustrating. That’s a post for another day. I’d like to talk more about the second thought. In the year that I’ve converted from a hobby-jogger to a runner, I’ve stood firmly on the extreme deep end of the barefoot spectrum:

  • Barefoot is best, but minimalist shoes such as Vibrams or Merrels are acceptable.
  • There is a right and wrong form in which to run.
  • Arch support is your foot’s arch enemy.
  • A bare or minimally shod foot is a strong foot.
  • Everyone running in those cushy built-up Asics trainers is a damn fool.

I started running barefoot and minimalist because I read Born to Run and it inspired me to change the way that I run. To run smooth, light and strong. To run for health and happiness, like the Tarahumara people of the Copper Canyons (who don’t actually run barefoot at all, by the way). Caballo Blanco became my hero. But somehow along the way I completely forgot his message:

“[Running] is about form and it’s about running free. It’s not about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet.”

And it’s the same message that Christopher McDougall preaches to the crowds that gather to hear him talk. It’s the same thing that Mr. McDougall said to me when I briefly ran alongside him in Boston this spring. It doesn’t matter what you wear on your feet. Just have good form. Run smooth. Run light. Run free. In my forced hiatus from running this summer, I have thought a lot about what I should change in the future to prevent this from happening again. But being that I am so very prone to injury (I’ve barely ever gone an active year without something happening to my feet or ankles), and being a supinator (I land on the outside of my foot and fail to roll inward enough, which means no shock absorption) it’s tough to say that anything could change my future. However, since I have no plans to ever stop running, I am willing to adapt and find what the right thing is for me.

But what is the right thing for me?

  • Barefoot runners say that Barefoot is best, no matter what issues or ailments you may have.
  • Shod runners say get some cushioning shoes with curved lasts to force your foot to pronate when you run, with a pair of $400 orthotics stuffed inside.

I am finding that I agree with neither of these inflexible viewpoints. Life experience has taught me that being on one extreme end or the other of any issue is never as beneficial as seeing the positives of both sides and then falling somewhere between. Of course, there isn’t much of a supported middle ground when it comes to barefoot vs. shod running. For example, if I strap on a pair of Nike Frees I’m going to get an egg in my face from both sides. If I don’t shun one side in favor of the other, I have no home. And that sort of sucks because whomever I turn to for advice and support will just start by telling me I’m doing it wrong. But if I just remember what my first motivator taught me: “it’s not about what you wear or don’t wear on your feet,” then isn’t that where I belong? If I follow the Caballo, who runs in just about every kind of shoe there is, and also barefoot, then how can I go wrong?

I believe running is a sport of one: and that is why I love it. I run for myself. I motivate myself. I compete against myself. The only person I have to answer to is me, and I should run in whatever suits my feet, my body, my stride. What I should take away from others is the importance of good form and the inspiration to learn more, to work harder. And after using all the information I know to find what’s right for me, what others say about my footwear is of no importance.

The only thing that is important to me is to run. Run free, run happy, run smiley.


Running as Art

Get the Book...Read the Book!

Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t like sports.

Despite having been raised by an athletic father who played softball in the summer and hockey all winter, despite having been a basketball and football cheerleader in high school, and despite the fact that I live right smack in the middle of Red Sox Nation, I have absolutely no interest in sports. It’s a lot like living in Nashville and not liking Country Music. While most of my coworkers are looking for tickets to the Yankees/Red Sox game during our next business trip to New York City, I’m mentally planning a quiet night at Shake Shack with the few who don’t give a hoot about which team wins.

No, I don’t like sports at all. But I am a runner. So what gives?

Last weekend I attended the Boston leg of Chris McDougall’s “Naked Run” tour. It was Marathon weekend, so there were tents, noise, streets blocked off and police everywhere. And the glorious finish line was all set up right next to the Boston Public Library, where about 60 barefoot and minimally-shod runners met up to run a 5-mile loop together. Regular Joes and Nancies all pounding the pavement with the likes of Scott Jurek, Dr. Daniel Leiberman, Lee Saxby, John Durant, and of course the man himself, Christopher McDougall. It was probably the coolest run I’ve ever done to date…yes, even cooler than that warm morning jog on Coronado Island last December. Kathy and I smiled until our faces hurt and she snapped a photo every 3 minutes. We ran behind McDougall most of the way, and at one point I was able to catch up to him for a quick chat. It was relaxed, laid-back and beautiful, exactly the things you want out of a run. With a half mile left we stripped off our shoes and ran “naked” across the Boston Marathon finish line and back to the library steps, still smiling like a couple of fools.

Running...ahem..."with" Chris McDougall.

What strikes me the most about that run, and about all of my running experiences since reading Born to Run, is that running represents nothing but joy to me. Unlike those who grunt out two miserable miles on the treadmill twice a week to fulfill their New Years resolutions, I’d rather be running than doing pretty much anything else. Could it be because I took my shoes off? Revamped my slacker running form? Could be. But I think the real difference is that now I see running less as a  sport and more as a practiced art.

The subject of barefoot running is filled with a ton of historical hypothesis, instructional information and biomechanical science. There are books, blogs, videos, forums, events and lectures all over the place about it. Anything you want to know about why you should run barefoot or with minimal footwear, it’s easy to find. There will be at least a few minimalist runners at every 5k and half marathon you’ll enter this year, and every running store worth its salt is carrying at least a few pairs of minimalist running shoes.

Running naked in Beantown.

I don’t believe that running should be thought of like a sport, or used as a workout that you do to get back into your high school jeans. Those jeans are out of style, anyway. I believe running should be approached as an art form, like dancing, singing, painting or writing. Things that we all do at some level all our lives, as a form of pleasure or social activity. For example anyone can sing, and it’s enjoyable even if you suck at it (think of all the times you’ve belted out “Happy Birthday” to your embarrassed friends and family at TGIFridays). And then there are people like Aretha Franklin, who sing too, just much, much better.

What I’m saying here is that some activities are part of who we are, part of our cultures, our societies. Why have we made running out to be anything different? Running is a default movement of our species. More specifically, it’s a default art form of our species. It’s inherent in all of us to run, just like bopping our heads to a great song on the radio, or drawing a stick figure of ourselves on our notepads during snooze-fest board meetings. We all have the tools to run; our bodies were built with parts meant to make us able to run, stuff that not all creatures have. We run constantly as children, and we do it without the aid of motion-control shoes or GPS watches. Certainly 99.999% of us will never win the Boston Marathon, we just don’t possess the talent. Still thousands show up every year to run it, just the same. It’s because these people know that running is a good thing, and that yes, it’s good for you. These people haven’t forgotten how to enjoy movement. Haven’t allowed themselves to become too distracted by their televisions, their careers or their iPads. They’re not members of the huge majority of Americans who have inexplicably convinced themselves that they can’t run. So let me take a moment here to remind everyone again, in the words of Chris McDougall:

  • You weren’t born broken.
  • Running isn’t a perilous punishment-for-pizza.
  • Everything you need [to run], you had the day you were born.
So yes, I believe that running is a form of art. Or at least that’s what it’s become for me (an artist by trade) since reading Born to Run last year. The book taught me that practicing my running form is cathartic on a level superior to deep breathing or antidepressants. That completing a difficult run is 90% mental. And that 10 miles is about so much more than just burning calories…it’s about the journey within myself. Learning these things has made my life happier, and in some ways it has even made me a better person.

Precisely the moment at which I choked. I thank my good friend Kathy for catching it on camera.

I wanted to thank Mr. McDougall for writing the book that would do such a thing for me, last weekend when I finally caught up to him on the bridge over the Charles River Basin. But instead I choked, and ended up asking him why he wasn’t running barefoot. It turned out okay anyway, and I even got a compliment on my running form. Maybe if I read the book again, I can learn to be zen enough to talk to celebrities without that residual “OMG I’m such a GEEK” side-effect. One can only hope.

I even geeked-out at the signing.