Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: Vibram FiveFingers Spyridon and Spyridon LS

Take a look at all that California dirt. 🙂

Just the other night I went for my first trail run at Torrey Pines State Park, near my new home in San Diego. My friend Vanessa has talked about this place enough for it to have become a place of legend in my mind, and once I arrived I could see just why it deserves such legend. Lining the shores of the Pacific, several windy, sandy paths cut through the brush and tan-colored cliffs, every one of them elevating and descending at whim toward the golden sands of the state beach.

My new running buddy Kate took me here, and after run-walk-climbing the first big hill toward the bluffs, we bounded up, down and through the trails at ankle neck-breaking speeds (well…not really, but it seemed like it, anyway). Sometimes the ground was hard-packed, and sometimes the sand slid under our feet, revealing all the loose stones hidden beneath. Ever so often we came upon a sharp downward turn that merely avoided a 20-foot cliff. The air was thick with salt, the ocean view was simply vast, and the setting sun grew heavy under the thick marine layer that was blanketing itself over the land and sea.

Yesterday’s run rivaled that of any run I’ve ever done, in beauty and in sheer enjoyment, with a person I’d just barely met but already felt bonded to. We ran four quick miles before it got dark, and by the time we were done my face ached from smiling.

And luckily for this review, I had chosen to wear my Vibram FiveFinger Spyridons.

I wore the Spyridons for this run because it was a new trail for me that could have had anything on it, and there’s just something so rugged and so sure-footed about this shoe (which I will of course explain shortly) that it felt like my safest choice among the many which populate my closet.

I’ve been running in the Spyridon trail shoe for several weeks now, most of them while I was still living my previous life in New England. I loved the trails there, because they were mostly made of hard soil with rocks and roots all over (easier to trip you with, my dear). With experience I have learned that I am very picky about a trail shoe. I need it to be lightweight of course, but also supremely flexible and grippy (the WordPress dictionary tells me “grippy” is not a word, nonetheless I’m using it; to hell with proper grammar usage).

I have learned that I must have a feeling of control over my feet when I am running trails; the notion that I can sense and respond to everything beneath me in a split second. That my feet are part of the trail floor. And if you feel the same way about a trail shoe, then you are probably going to like the Spyridon as much as I do.

Specs and Tech

Top: original Spyridon LS (laces)
Bottom: new Spyridon with hook-and-loop closure

So, what I’m really reviewing today is two shoe models, the Spyridon LS, which came out earlier this year, and the Spyridon (sans laces) that just hit the market sometime in July.

Both of these shoes are pretty much the same, but the Spyridon LS is essentially just the model with laces. I received a pair back in May, but the upper is made to fit so precisely along the mid-foot that I quite literally couldn’t get into them without some major discomfort. It was just too tight for me. So, despite the laces being there, the shoe is just not made for someone with a wider foot. I never ran in the shoe, so really the only things I can write about here are width pitfall (which shouldn’t be a problem for people who don’t normally have width issues) and the overall look, which is earthy and tonal for both the men’s and women’s models. Oh, and I also took some pictures before sending them back. 🙂

So you can imagine how thankful I was that my contact over at Vibram was feeling charitable enough to send me out a pair of the non-lace model to test once it was available. It fit me so much better! The lace-less Spyridon is made with an upper very similar to the KSO and Treksport, with the same hook-and-loop closure that runs around the back of the heel. But of course everything else is different about this shoe, from its Coconut Active Carbon upper and 3.5mm Vibram rubber sole, to its super deep, aggressive lugs and tough mesh “rock-block” layer molded into the center of the sole to your feet from trail debris. Not to mention it’s altogether pretty spiffy-looking, with its fuchsia, black and lime green colorway (the men’s shoe has two colorways: orange/ black and green/black).

Here, you can see the width of my foot as compared to the Spyridon LS. The tightness occurs where the laces are, although it’s not just the laces that make it tight – it’s the whole upper. Sorry about the bad manicure.

Fit and Feel

The rest of this review is going to be based on the hook-and-closure model, since it is the only one I really used.

Like the historically popular KSO, the Spyridon also has an elasticized collar that grips tight to your ankle and…well, KSO (Keeps Stuff Out). I appreciate that aspect of this shoe because there’s nothing more annoying than feeling a tiny rock digging at you inside your shoe while you’re trying to enjoy a trail run.

Elastic collar keeps stuff out.

I like the ground feel on this shoe despite its aggressive tread, and I’ll tell you why. To me, there’s just something about the basic structure of a FiveFinger sole is just perfect for trails, so I was psyched when I found out Vibram was developing a trail-specific shoe (finally, no more having to make do with the Bikila). Like I mentioned earlier, I base a lot of importance on having a trail shoe that is flexible and pliable. I need my foot to sense and react to rocks and bumps and debris, to curve around objects and make minute and immediate corrections to my balance at all times. A thick-soled or stiff shoe doesn’t do well for me, I just tip over and injure myself. But in the Spyridon, with its infinitely pliable sole, I feel extremely sure-footed and confident on trails. I can feel the rocks and bumps and respond to them, without getting as many dings and bruises. The molded mesh rock plate does a pretty okay job.

My one complaint with the fit is, believe it or not, the hook-and-loop closure. It’s actually the one reason I never bought a pair of KSO’s. The fabric of the upper stretches over my foot just fine, but the closure has no give at all and when I close the velcro strap at its widest point, I can still feel the nylon strap digging into my heel. I’ve thought about just cutting out the whole strap contraption altogether. But strangely enough, it doesn’t actually bother me at all when I’m running (a similar outcome as with the SeeYa and its droopy heel cup – review here), so I just left it. I know that seems weird, and well yeah…it is. Can’t explain it. It is what it is.

Performance

I have a lot of darlings on the trail side of my running shoe collection, and they’re some mighty fine players. I’ll be honest: I didn’t think the Spyridon was going to fare well amongst them. I mean, I’m talking Merrell Pace Gloves and New Balance Minimus 00’s here. Some mighty fine minimalist trail shoes. But the Spyridon really  stacks well up to them, believe it or not (and I know there are some non-believers out there). The two biggest factors are the excellent tread that really lets me tear up some trail without sliding around like a cat on ice skates, and (again, believe it or not) the benefit of separated toes, for that added feeling of control in the front of my foot. Our feet were built with those digits on the end for a reason, folks. And putting them in an anatomy-driven shoe that allows them to work independently of each other is really beneficial for balance and proprioception. Which I, for one, really need…because I am remarkably accident-prone by nature (see left-handedness).

Lots of important movement in these.

You can still decide to knock a five-finger shoe if you want; but the Spyridon impresses me. It serves me well and does it silently, no bells, whistles or cushioning needed. If you’re looking for a lightweight or minimalist shoe that will give you back some control on the trails, I’d say this one’s definitely worth a try.

So to wrap up, here’s the quick-reference rundown:

Pros

  • unique tread pattern and mesh “rock plate” provide excellent traction without taking away too much ground feel
  • still a relatively lightweight shoe at around 6 ounces each
  • separate toe pockets add to your control over tricky terrain
  • two options, lace closure or traditional KSO hook-and-loop
  • stink resistant coconut active carbon upper
  • no-seem liner for sock-free wear
  • gnarly color ways for the Spyridon, earthy ones for the Spyridon LS

Cons

  • the LS model might be too tight in the mid-foot if you typically fall into the “wide” category with your other shoes
  • hook-and-loop closure was pretty much a non-necessity for me (similar to the SeeYa)
  • would have liked to see one or two more color ways in both models

Have you tried the Spyridon yet? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

 

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Adventure Packing

I haven’t had much time to write this week because I was in NYC for work. But now I’m back and I’m exhausted, and hoping I can stuff enough hours of sleep into the days and nights leading up to the race so that I can actually finish without conking out on the side of the trail.

And speaking of stuffing, I have been spending just about the whole day thinking about what the hell I’m going to pack for the weekend. My friend Jason Robillard says that the amount of stuff a runner packs for an ultra is directly proportionate to the runner’s experience. And since I’m a complete noob, I pretty much plan to pack half my home. The list includes:

  • Running tanks
  • Capri-length running tights
  • Running skirts (INKnBURN, baby!)
  • Zensah calf sleeves
  • Invisible Shoes (re-laced and cut shorter to better match the shape of my foot)
  • Merrell Pace Gloves
  • VIVO Breathos
  • Merrell Dash Gloves or Vibram SeeYas
  • at least 2 pairs of Injinjis
  • sports bras
  • albuterol inhaler
  • my handheld water bottle
  • my Nathan hydration vest (even though I’m 99% sure I won’t use it)
  • tons of snacks
  • at least 2 gallons of water
  • Body Glide
  • my Garmin watch
  • Nuun
  • a cooler
  • almond milk
  • bananas
  • chia seeds
  • dried mangos
  • dates
  • whey protein
  • homemade potato salad (the race director requested a food donation)
  • my blender

You should notice two things here: 1. I did not list underwear.  2. yes, I said I’m bringing a blender. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

The things I hope to learn from this weekend’s adventure are the following:

  • whether I am able to run 31 miles without dropping dead or injuring myself
  • what I don’t need to pack next time
  • how well I can function after a week’s worth of sleep deprivation and high alcohol consumption
  • why Jason Robillard insists on wearing such short shorts

The race is in three short days, readers. Wish me luck!


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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.