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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What You Can Learn from a Pair of Cushiony Running Shoes

Let me just start this blog with the following points: I consider myself a “minimalist runner.” But, more importantly than that I am a runner, and one who practices good form. I have said this before: I am at the point in my belief system where I don’t think it’s as important to run barefoot as it is to run with good form. Some believe it may be easier to learn good form while barefoot, and there may be a lot of truth to that. However, I think the notion that you must go barefoot to do it right carries with it an air of exclusion, division from the rest of the running world. Like others before me have said, there shouldn’t be “regular runners” and “barefoot runners.” We are all people who share a love for the same activity – the only necessary difference is what’s on our feet. I have always had a little trouble with barefoot runners having to be separate. Even from the beginning, my opinion was that I would rather have a whole world of runners learning about the importance of correct form, than a few hundred people converting to barefoot and the rest of the running world shunning their extreme views and missing the whole point. I mean, why wouldn’t you want everyone to learn how to run better? Why let a few millimeters of foam stand in your way?

I would like to say that I came to these conclusions after much inner debate and deliberation, and because of running barefoot for a whole year. But no, I must admit that what taught me the most about barefoot running were:

  1. my summer-long hiatus from running due to injury
  2. my Saucony Kinvaras

Saucony Kinvaras. They're loud. They're pink. And they're not as evil as you think.

Currently, I am not running barefoot. I am not running in my Vibram Five Fingers, or even in my Merrell Pace Gloves. I am running in Saucony Kinvaras. Kinvaras have been heavily marketed as a lightweight minimalist running shoe. But really – they’re not. They have squishy-bouncy soles, zero ground feel and a 4mm heel-to-toe drop (not much, but still). So, like most runners who prefer to be barefoot or minimally shod, I sort of object to the concept of the Kinvara as a “minimalist” running shoe. With that said, I am perfectly happy running in them for the time being. Why? Well, as I was coming back from my injury I decided to take the advice of my podiatrist, and ease the muscles of my foot back into their job more slowly than barefoot running would allow. But more importantly, I am just too damn paranoid of re-injury to run barefoot right now. So yeah, I was willing to drop the $70 on a pair of shoes to ease my mind as well as my feet. And when I’m good and ready, I will go back to running barefoot and in minimal footwear, and all will be well with the world.

What I know now is that when you’re running you must take heed of your feet. You must be sure to care for them, from the inside out, because without them you cannot run at all. My time being injured has taught me to respect my feet. To respect their workload limits, and more importantly, to run more for pleasure, health and meditation than for some constant self-imposed pressure to always improve. It was getting me nowhere, anyway.

Some people have asked me why I don’t just stay away from running at all until my foot is completely ready for barefoot running again. The answer is simple: because I don’t have to run barefoot to run. This is what my Kinvaras have taught me. When I first put them on in the store I was convinced this purchase was going to be the end of my credibility as a minimalist runner. And by the way, that attachment to my credibility was the reason I’d kept wearing unsupportive shoes all summer and subsequently prolonging my injury.

But when I took my first few strides in the Kinvaras I realized that they didn’t keep me from running with my usual form, as I had been told to expect. With the exception of the squishiness that had just enough give to satisfy my bum foot, I could still avoid heel striking. I could still stand up straight, lead with my chest and land with my feet under my center of gravity. All of a sudden, barefoot’s monopoly on good form seemed like a bunch of bunk, and for a moment I felt the disappointment of a child learning that Santa Claus doesn’t exist.

That moment of clarity brought on the completion of a shift I needed to make in my thinking. Finally it didn’t matter to me if I was shunned from the barefoot community for running in shoes that had more than 6 millimeters of sole, because the people who were stuck on that rule were going about it all the wrong way. They were preaching to a small, exclusive group of followers who would conform to the letter, and all who fell outside their canon need not apply. My resistance to conformity was the exact reason I fell in love with barefoot/minimalist running in the first place, yet here I was feeling compelled to conform to a group of non-conformists. So you know what? Fuck ’em. It was time to break away.

It was also time to quit worrying about stupid unnecessary things like distance, speed, pace, competition, blah blah blah. I run to run. This is my hobby. I’m not a career racer. I don’t have to run any faster or farther than my feet are willing to take me today. And I don’t have to be an ultra-marathoner lest I be named a hobby-jogger. I don’t care about any of that crap anymore. In three weeks I am going to be running in a race called the Devil’s Chase. I chose it because its 6.66 mile distance is gimmicky and fun, and because I can wear a goofy costume. And I plan to not give a shit how long it takes me to finish or if I tire and have to walk some. I’m going to put on a ridiculous outfit, run a few miles with a couple of my friends, and then I’m going to hang around Salem, Massachusetts, the center of the Halloween Universe, and I’m going to smile. If you’re looking to find me, I’ll be the one wearing bright pink marshmallow shoes and running with fantastic fucking form.

That, my dear readers, is what running is all about.