Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Review: InvisibleShoes Contact 6mm Huaraches

Let me just start off by saying that I’m not much of a huarache person, or maybe not yet, who knows. But my relationship with huaraches, and Invisible Shoes specifically, started at the NYC Barefoot Run back in September. Most of the folks I was hanging out with were wearing some version of a running sandal half the weekend, and except for one time at the Hotel Del in Coronado, CA, the previous December (and I wish I’d stopped to see if he was someone I actually know), I’d never even seen a pair of huaraches on someone before. But during the trip I had a conversation with Steve Sashen of Invisible Shoes, and somehow he managed to convince me that I needed a pair of huaraches. Good salesmanship, I suppose. And a good discount code, too.

So in early October I purchased the 6mm Contact do-it-yourself kit, because I figured that since I’m an art person I must therefore be good at constructing my own running sandals. I guess I must have blocked out all the botched towel holders and teetering curtain hangings I’ve committed in the past, due to my utter lack of construction skill and patience. Alas, what came in the mail was two flat pieces of rubber, two long black tie strings and a link to some videos on how to put everything together. It looked so fun that I immediately ran upstairs to the computer room and got started.

The Construction

I would say that in the progress of my life there have been very few occasions when I have felt truly stupid, and this was one of them. Now, before you start to think that maybe making Invisible shoes huaraches is difficult, let me alleviate your mind by saying it’s actually not. It’s very easy if you possess patience and the correct tools. The soles come with two holes punched into them, one hole that you need to make yourself (between your first and second toes) and a lace that is a little wider than the pre-made holes. Therefore you need to employ a hollow bit (which I don’t have) or a leather punch/awl (which I also don’t have). And if you don’t have any of these items, you should go buy or borrow one from your neighbor (which I didn’t do). Don’t use scissors and an Exacto knife (which I did do).

At this point I’m sure I probably have 20 skilled huarache-lovers rolling their huarache-wearing eyes at me, but what’s done is done. I played the video of Steve and his lovely 70’s-inspired curly locks about 18 times, memorizing each step and doing my best to recreate it with my shoddy tools. I found that the sole didn’t need to be trimmed at all to be an exact fit to my super wide feet (this being the only sign in my genetic code that I’m 1/8 Native American – thanks, Dad’s pasty-white skin), which was good since I probably would have screwed that up anyway. But I had the worst time trying to get the lace through the pre-made holes on the sides – it probably would have been easier with the thinner 4mm Connect┬ákit – but once I got them through, the lacing part was fun. I chose the “slip on” tie method because it looked the most comfortable, and it took me several rounds of watching the “tying” video before I got the tightness right.

The whole process took me 70 minutes, two Exacto blades, half the fuel in a cigarette lighter and 30 F-bombs, but when I was done they looked as awesome as the ones on the feet of all the sandal-wearing hotties at the NYC Barefoot Run. Mostly because the laces hid all the little knife slips that marred the surface of the soles.

By the way, if you suspect you are as much of an idiot as me, I might suggest getting a pair of Custom Made invisible shoes.

The Cool Factor

Like I said above, I’m not much of a huarache runner. I’m not much of a barefoot runner, either. I love the idea of running totally barefoot, and I feel like a badass when I am doing it. I can even be caught taking off my shoes on a mild day, on an interesting ground surface, or when I feel I really need to examine something in my running form, but it’s not my default. I think it might be the same story with huaraches. With that said, running sandals, especially the Invisible Shoes brand, have a huge cool factor in the barefoot/minimalist running world, and in my mind, which made them attractive to me. They are also the lightest and most reasonably-priced viable “shoe” on the market, and everybody who is worth their salt is running ultras in them. So that cool factor definitely draws me to the look and performance of Invisible Shoes.

Also, if you were inspired like me to become a minimalist runner because of the ultimate kings and queens of cool – the Tarahumara tribe of runners in northwestern Mexico – you should probably at least try out a pair of huaraches. And the Invisible Shoes look and feel a lot like the ones the Tarahumara wear, so they seem authentic and may even fool you, like they did me, into thinking you’re an awesome runner. I mean, I will admit that when I started my first run in mine I felt like a god-damn rock star.

The Run

By the time I’d purchased, received and constructed my very own pair of Invisible Shoes, it was already too cold for me to run in them. Late October dumped an unheard-of foot and a half of snow on New England, trashing electrical wires and emptying supermarkets all across the area. Then Thanksgiving came and it was 60 degrees outside. Rather than scratching my head at the insane weather pattern, I slipped on my Invisible Shoes for a nice three mile lunch-break run around a local pond.

Keep in mind, not only was this my first run in a pair of Invisible shoes, it was my first run ever in sandals. So this review is more about my experience wearing running sandals than it is a comparison between brands.

Like I mentioned above I don’t really run barefoot a lot, which means I don’t have very tough soles. I think this might have been a down-side for me with these shoes, because the 6mm sole, while not really any thinner than those on my trusty Bikilas, let me feel…..EVERYTHING. Don’t get me wrong, ground-feel like this is a great thing, but man did these shoes teach me a few things about what I lack as a “barefoot” runner. A good section of the path around the pond is an unpaved rock trail. I think I stepped on about a dozen really sharp rocks and every one of them made me want to swear loudly (but I couldn’t because there were too many old couples sitting on benches within earshot). I can’t put my finger on what the sandals lack that my Bikilas have, but I don’t think I’ll take these out again on such rocky terrain. Luckily the path also had sections of paved road, concrete, grass and hard-packed sand (it’s quite the cornucopia of surfaces, now that I think about it), and the sandals handled those just fine for me.

Big surprising plus to the fit of these shoes: I absolutely expected the nylon laces to bite into my feet and ankles while running. In fact I panicked a little when I realized I forgot the BodyGlide I’d meant to slather all over my feet. I mean, the laces don’t appear to be designed for comfort or stretchiness like some other brands. But to my relief the laces didn’t cause one single blister or sore spot on any part of my foot. The soles of the sandals also didn’t get caught on cracks in the road or cause me to stub my toe on tree roots, which I also feared. For the most part they acted exactly like a very light, very minimalist shoe (as advertised).

I only had one issue during my run, and it was all in my left foot. Again, the shoes reminded me that I still have imperfect form. Over the first quarter mile I kept getting a sharp pain on my second toe because of the lump of knotted lace end on the bottom of the sole. After cursing the whole idea of huaraches for about three minutes, I realized I was scrunching the toes in my left foot and pushing off. Oops. That was an easy fix and it was fine afterward, but I noticed my feet were flopping into the front of the shoe a bit, and my normally silent footfalls were making a “flop-THWAP, flop-THWAP” sound. I stopped to adjust the laces but they were pretty tight on my feet already and I didn’t want to over-tighten them. So I kept going, hoping that my feet would swell up a bit after awhile and fill out the extra space.

By the time I finished my three miles I had a hot spot near my big toe on the ball of my left foot. It’s the only place I’ve ever sustained reoccurring blisters since I started barefoot running, so I know it’s a lacking in my form (my left foot always stays on the ground too long). But it’s a lacking I have worked on for so long without success that I’ve come to think it’s more to do with some musculoskeletal imbalance that I have yet to identify. The Invisible Shoes highlight this imperfection. So I would say the big plus of these sandals is that, like barefoot, they don’t let you get away with shitty form of any kind. Because of that, this would be an excellent training shoe for a beginner minimalist runner who doesn’t want to go completely barefoot. For this purpose they would be much better than, say, a pair of Vibrams.

The Public Reaction

I want to include a commentary on the public reaction I got from running in my Invisible Shoes. A couple of years ago, the Vibram FiveFinger was the favorite “weird, creepy running shoe” of the barefoot running illiterate. But nowadays I no longer even get a second glance if I wear my Classics out to the mall. But if you ever decide you want to renew your bounty of weird looks in 2011, go for a run around the ‘burbs of Boston in a pair of Invisible Shoes. It’s funny, too, because I don’t think people would think much of me walking in these sandals, they don’t look much different from what’s in style these days.

The lake near my work.

Anyway, it was a beautiful 65 degree afternoon when I ran in these, so there were a ton of old and young couples walking together, moms pushing strollers, dog walkers, executives talking business while exercising on their lunch breaks, speed walkers in matching sweat suits, and a couple of shod runners (with horrible form, I might add). I got a weird look from each and every person I ran by. One middle-aged lady actually pulled her Portuguese Water Dog closer to her for protection when she saw me coming. Halfway through my run two power walkers whom I had lapped twice stopped me to yell out “Where are your sneakers (pronounced ‘sneak-as’)?” I just shrugged my shoulders and answered, “Oh, I lost them.” They returned to their walk, completely perplexed, and I turned away quickly so they wouldn’t see my grin.

Final Thoughts

Although I do think I like my Invisible Shoes, I still have mixed feelings about huaraches overall. With that said, this review comes after only one test run, and at a time in the year that doesn’t afford me the chance to do a whole lot of running in sandals.

My dirty feet after the run.

The pros for me are the extremely light sole and comfortable laces that offer versatile tying methods. I also appreciate their very authentic Tarahumara huarache feel, which I find many other running sandal brands lack.

What I need to get used to is their inability to cover up any flaws in form (which is actually a plus, but I’m being whiny about it), and I need to perfect the tightness of the lacing to prevent the flop-THWAP problem. Apparently, the sweet spot is somewhere between comfortable and too tight.

So even though I had a lot to say about my first run in these shoes, I plan to revisit them again when the weather warms up this spring.

How do you like your Invisible Shoes? I’d love to hear.

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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.