Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: Skora CORE

myfeet

I was exceptionally grateful for another chance to test some of Skora’s much-anticipated offerings this year. Last fall I tested the FORM. Overall, I liked the shoe, and I gave it a fairly good review. It was made of soft and pliable leather, which was unexpectedly comfortable, even without socks. I wore it to a few road races and I liked the extra bit of cushion in the sole, relative to my other road shoes. It was a bit narrow for my taste though, and I found it to be a little stuffy and not great at absorbing moisture. For these reasons, and admittedly because of the color (white – not my personal favorite) the Skora FORM shoe ended up hanging out in my closet a lot, while my other road shoes got more wear.

Well, this didn’t happen when it came to the CORE.

Good Looks and Inner Beauty

The CORE is just so easy to love, folks. The biggest reason why? This time around they adjusted the last so it’s on a much wider platform. Now we’re talking an exceptionally cozy, slipper-like fit, similar to what VIVOBAREFOOT is famous for, though maybe not quite as wide. The CORE is also made of the same super-soft goat’s leather as the FORM but with much larger vent holes in the upper, as well as an inner layer of absorbent mesh (i.e. no more cow skin sticking to my foot), which is enough to keep my piggies from overheating.

sideview

I love the CORE shoe because it fits exactly how you want a shoe to fit: like it belongs on your foot. The first time I put it on, the CORE felt like it had been broken in for months. No bull. (Is that a goat-leather joke? I can’t tell). And that, my friends, is the beauty of  – and quite possibly the best reason for – a running shoe upper made of leather. You just don’t get that same feeling with athletic mesh.

Skora made a few other updates to this shoe, one of them being a drastic improvement on the asymmetrical lacing system (which is found on both of the new models, CORE and PHASE). By widening the lacing significantly and then totally reversing it so the tongue “burrito” faces inward rather than out, the pinky-toe-rubbing that I experienced with the corner seams (and with all shoes that use a similar tongue design) has vanished. Dig it. They put a lot more reflective material on this shoe too, which is really a plus for night runs when you forget to wear a brightly colored outfit. The available colorways are rad, too – very wearable. I really dig the bluish-charcoal-gray, teal and purple in my pair. I didn’t get to test the PHASE, but this time around the non-leather option is looking a lot more like the leather one, with three bright and fantastic colorways, but with mesh fabric and sold for a slightly lower price.

backs

Performance

I think it’s pertinent to point out here the thing I noticed most about this shoe while running in it: and that would be nothing. Absolutely, gloriously nothing. In my personal experience, any running shoe that lets me completely forget about its presence is the best kind of running shoe there is. After all, that’s sort of the point, right? Or at least it should be. This shoe fits my foot rather perfectly, and I would be hard-pressed to think of a road shoe I’ve tried that I like better. That’s right, I said it.

bottoms

The CORE is just absolutely my favorite road shoe right now. It balances lightness, comfort and road protection exceptionally well. The shoe weighs almost the same as the old FORM, but seems  a lot lighter because of the more lightweight leather/mesh combo upper. The stack height is 2mm lower in the new CORE as well, making the sole roughly 1000x more flexible. (Sidenote: even more flexible with the insole taken out, which I always do – I found the extra cushioning unnecessary and would rather the extra foot space without them.) The more open-width design really makes this shoe great for me. I’ve loved it so much that it’s gone with me for many miles, and it’s been my choice for recent road half marathons and training.

front

I’ve even taken the CORE out to a few trail runs because…well, just because. The CORE works fine over easy packed-dirt trails and protects my feet pretty well on the rockier ones, but I find it slides too much on the steeper hills I often find myself running on. The soles are just too flat and not grippy enough. But I know this shoe is made for roads. I’m definitely looking forward to Skora coming out with something more trail-friendly for the tougher terrain.

The Goldilocks Effect

So final note on the new CORE versus the original FORM. My first thought after reveling in the happy roomy fit of the CORE was this: so the last is nice and wide, but is it too wide? The thing is, I write all my reviews from the standpoint of someone whose feet are naturally wider than average and have only gotten wider since taking up minimalist running. I’m biased. In my world, every running shoe should be made with an insanely wide last so that my toes can move around and not feel bound up by my shoe. But a lot of people have average to narrow feet and that can mean the opposite problem: a shoe that’s too wide and feels huge. Personally, I think that the CORE is the Goldilocks of minimalist shoe lasts: it’s not too narrow (think NB Minimus Road 00) and not extremely wide (think VIVO Lucy Lite).

comparison

This photo shows the 0.15″ width difference between last year’s FORM and this year’s CORE, which has made all the difference.

That said, I would probably recommend that if you normally find your feet are quite long and narrow, the FORM may be a better shoe for you. Although I’ve illustrated several differences between the two models, I believe the fundamentals are still similar enough that going with the earlier model won’t have you missing out on a whole lot.

And for the rest of you, I can’t think of any reason not to love the FORM, except maybe that you’ll find them so beautiful you’ll have a hard time wearing them somewhere dirty. No worries though, they’re actually just as machine washable as your regular mesh running shoes – and they’ll probably last even longer. Happy Running!

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Review: Skora Form

I started following the Skora bandwagon well over a year ago now, before they’d even released any of their shoes. Heck, they probably weren’t even close to having designed one yet. For months, with their mysterious, snippety teaser ads, Skora promised me the World’s Best Minimalist Running Shoe. I was so enthralled by the idea of a brand new shoe company starting their entire business on the platform of minimalist running, that I immediately inquired as to whether I could test a pair. It took an excruciatingly long time for that package to finally come, but it was worth the wait (pretty packaging, too, I might add – I kept the magnetic-closure box for storage). I imagine that’s a little like how the owners of Skora also felt earlier this year, on the day they released the first two models of the line.

Those two models are the Base and the Form, released early in Spring for men, and followed too much later by the women’s models over the Summer. The Base model features a stretch mesh upper and cross-over strap closure, while the Form features asymmetrical lacing and is made of goatskin leather.

I chose the Form model because it was the only modern-day running shoe I’d ever heard of that was made of leather, and I was curious about how the material would mix with running. I mean, not only does it have this goatskin upper, but the liner inside the shoe is leather as well, sheep skin. It’s like running inside of a wooly goat. Too macabre? Sorry. But still…leather liner? That’s crazy talk!

As I talk more about in a minute, the goatskin was one of the many things about this shoe that I thought I could predict as soon as I saw a photo, but that definitely surprised me in the end.

The color of this shoe reminded me of an Easter bunny so I photographed it in the grass to entertain myself.

First Expection: This shoe is way too freaking narrow

You’ve read some of my other interviews. My feet are like blocks of wood. They’re built wide and strong, and they only got wider once I started running barefoot (which is the way it’s supposed to be). Any shoe that wants to rightfully call itself “minimalist” absolutely, positively MUST nurture your foot at its very widest, and leave room for a runner’s toes to do their job.

Please try to ignore the weird pattern pressed into my leg. I took this photo right after kneeling in the grass to take the photos above. And also I’m really pasty.

When I took one look at this shoe I thought for sure I was going to waste five paragraphs of this review in lecture-mode about proper shoe width. But the shoe was not too narrow for my foot. And over time, the upper got all buttery-soft and adapted to the shape of my foot, in the awesome way that…wait for it…only leather can. Sorry, vegan friends.

I think there’s still a little room for improvement in this avenue, though. Even though the width of this shoe isn’t much different than a lot of my other road shoes (i.e. the NB Minimus 00 Road, or the Merrell Dash Glove), the Form, like these others, could do with a wide-width version and give a little more toe room to us runners with naturally wide feet.

Second Expectation: The goatskin leather is going to be way too hot

Yeah, total surprise here.  Even though there’s tons of little holes all over the upper, I thought for sure my feet were going to die in these shoes. I hate having hot feet. Not to mention that leather liner that’s sure to be impossible to get my sweaty foot out of at the end of a run. I was actually shocked to find out that the leather is no stuffier than any other typical running shoe. In fact, the leather actually absorbs sweat and keeps your feet from getting nasty and blistery inside. And even after about 30-40 sweaty summer miles in these things, the shoes still smell like a new leather couch. My Vibrams never smelled so sweet after even half that mileage!

The only down side to the upper construction is the tongue. I love the burrito-style, asymmetrical look and function of the overlapping tongue. Only problem is that the overlapped part digs into my foot where it connects near the base of my pinky toe. This is the only part of the shoe that isn’t 110% comfy. And I don’t wear socks with this shoe because it feels too tight. To be fair, the same thing happens with the NB 00 Road. It is what it is.

Third Expectation: After all that waiting, there is sure to be something differently great about this shoe

Not really. This is a review so I have to be honest…aside from the pretty freaking cool properties of the leather upper, there isn’t a whole lot that’s different about this shoe, as compared to its competitors in the marketplace. There are some things it does great, and others that it just toes the line on.

For example, the sole: it’s pretty darn good. It’s more flexible than the NB 00 Road and the Dash Glove, for sure. But I guess I had hoped for something even more bendy, something closer to what VIVOBAREFOOT puts out. There isn’t a ton of stack height on this shoe, comparatively, but the sole curves up toward the upper on the outsides. When I’m running on roads I can really feel the outside edge of this sole digging into my 5th metatarsal. Sometimes it doesn’t bother me, but other times, my feet feel sore afterward. Could be a possible downside to having a wider foot.

I should also mention here that the second I got these I ripped the insole out. If there is a removable insole on a shoe, I almost always do this. It fit me better that way, and I could actually feel the ground. Could be that if the insole was in I would feel the edges less.

The Form is touted as a zero-drop shoe, and I certainly don’t doubt it. But there’s this “feature” of the sole, if you will, where the center of the heel has a separated pod that gives it this feel of being “lifted.” I don’t know how else to explain it. It’s curious to me, and I’m not sure what it’s there for. Perhaps it is to add to the rounded feel of the sole, and to make it more flexible. But I guess it’s neither here nor there, because the heel of any zero-drop shoe means nothing to me once I’m running.

What Didn’t Surprise Me

What didn’t surprise me about this shoe was its performance. As promised, Skora put out a solid minimalist road shoe on the first try, and I gotta respect that. Sticky and protective, the Form lets me feel the ground but gives me enough of a buffer to stave off fatigue for awhile during a long run. If you’re looking for superior ground-feel, this is no Luna Sandal or Vibram SeeYa. But I would probably bring this shoe to a distance road race. It’s decent on trail too, if you find yourself on one, as long as it doesn’t require a ton of traction.

For obvious reasons, I didn’t love that Skora made the decision to release the men’s models for six months before the women’s. Additionally, the women’s model release came with an addition to men’s colors, so they have four cool colorways to the women’s two. I can’t even tell the difference between the men’s and women’s shoe, except the men’s are probably wider, so in hindsight I suppose I could have just requested a pair of them instead. I didn’t love the color choices on the women’s side – as is often true, we only get to choose between pink and blue. But in this case the pink choice is actually mostly white, and somewhat takes on the look of a 1970’s bowling shoe. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, really – retro is in, baby! But I’ve never really been a fan of white shoes, so I actually had trouble figuring out what to wear with these.

Yeah, I wrote that. Deal with it.

Final Thoughts

The long-awaited Skora Form is truly a beautiful specimen of the minimalist road shoe, by a brave newborn company that was willing to take risks to offer something just a little different. I’m definitely a fan. With its buttery goatskin leather and slick design, the shoe can be taken to a marathon in the morning, and out for beers under some jeans later. The Form leaves a little room for improvement with its slightly narrow toe box, but it covers all the other minimalist shoe basics by being flexible, zero-drop and anatomically designed. It is a solid shoe that will hold up well to the demands of many minimalist runners.

I should also mention that the Skora Form comes pretty true to size, or possibly a little large, comparatively. A size 8 fit me great, where with most shoes I’m more comfortable jumping to an 8.5.

If you’ve clicked on any of my links you probably noticed the price is higher than you might be used to  – $185 – but that’s all because of the goatskin leather. If you like this shoe, the added durability of the high quality material will, in all probability, pay for itself in the end.

For those of you who do not wear leather shoes, the Base model is designed on the same sole as the Form, but it uses vegan-friendly mesh fabrics instead of goatskin.


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NSAIDs and Foam Rollers: Active Recovery or a Delay in Progress?

Aside from looking pretty ridiculous, are these guys helping their legs recover, or simply enduring an act of needless torture?

Last week I ran barefoot out at Carlsbad Beach for the first time, and running through the waves was so much fun that I may have gone a little bit overboard. I stretched when I was finished, but by later on that night my calves were sore and hard as rocks. Hey, it happens sometimes…especially if you run in little to no shoe. So I popped a couple Advil to keep the inflammation at bay and went to bed.

The next day my legs felt a little better, but I was still overwhelmed with guilt because I couldn’t find time to use my foam roller on them. So I threw on my blue calf sleeves for a quick run with some friends that morning, hoping that the compression would encourage blood flow to my torn-up calf muscles. Later on that next night I did find the time to sit down and roll them out – and it was absolute effing torture.

“It’s a good pain,” says just about every person who has ever used a foam roller. I pretend to agree and carry on the message, but secretly I hate it. I still do it all, anyway…as a sort of guilt-induced process toward progress. I roll my legs, I stretch, I wear calf sleeves, douse myself in ice and sometimes even take NSAIDs, all because I have been taught that these are the steps I should take to avoid injury, aid muscular recovery and become a stronger runner.

But do I really need to assist my after-run recovery? Why, exactly, can’t my body do it just fine all on its own? What did all the runners throughout history do before they discovered foam rollers?

Do our muscles actually benefit from all this help, or have we been adding unnecessary steps to the end of our workouts, and possibly even stunting our own progress with it?

I recently read this thought-provoking article by Kyle Krantz, Social Media Coordinator of Skora Running, called “Artificial Recovery.” In it, he talks about just that: perhaps, using artificial means to speed up our bodies’ recovery time after exertion is actually holding us back.

If you reduce the duration of the recovery period, could you be reducing the adaption as well?

And it really got me wondering whether Kyle is really on to something here. If you’re expressly trying to reduce the amount of time your legs have to adapt to a new or difficult exercise, then are they even getting the full effect of the exercise? Or are you just working out all the kinks for your muscles and never letting them figure it out on their own? The more I think about it the more it sounds kind of like paying the rent for your 27-year old child’s apartment and then wondering why their credit card balances are still so high. Students never learn what you fail to teach.

What if, like the softie parent, we are aiding a slow learning process for our muscles by artificially assisting their recovery, and thus, their adaptive learning? Would they be better off if we gave them some “tough love” by relying less on all those chemicals and gimmicky products? Possibly.

Based on this theory, I would be able to delete a lot of my runner’s guilt from all those ice baths I didn’t take, and all those days last year that my foot hurt and I failed to make a date with my foam roller. Perhaps not having done those things helped more than I ever realized.

Moreover, lessening our dependence on artificial means to recovery might help us rely more on all the natural ways. Things that people never talk about, like getting enough sleep or utilizing proper hydration and nutrition. Think about it: have you ever been complaining to a friend about your sore quads after a hard run and heard her say “Take my advice: go home, eat some kale and then get to bed early.”? Yeah, none of that here, either.

That said, I still believe there is a proper time and place to utilize the artificial solutions: when recovery needs are above and beyond the usual after-workout soreness, i.e. when there is injury involved. Last year I injured the tendons on my left foot and it took months to heal. Now, ever so often I (stupidly) over-do it and have to spend a few days on the sidelines to circumvent re-injury. In that case I might pop a few NSAIDs before bed and roll out all the muscle tightness that caused the sore foot chain reaction. But perhaps now, in addition to that, I will always make an effort to consume more lean proteins and vegetables, drink plenty of water and get some extra sleep. I’m not entirely sure what part of that habit will be the magic bullet (or if there even is one), but it can’t hurt.

So, next time you don’t have twenty minutes to suffer through an ice bath or forget to wear your compression socks to a race, skip the guilty feelings. Your legs just might benefit from the tough love.

What are your thoughts on this issue? Do you use a lot of artificial recovery methods, or just let your body work it out naturally?