Friday, June 27, 2014

SoftStar Shoes ReReview

I've had my Soft Star shoes/moccasins for almost two years now, since I moved to Portland, Oregon. I honestly do not wear my kind, my brand/style, at all.

My main complaint with the model I have is their look: they just look 'blobby.' Really wide, with the thin leather poofing out. Which, is what they're supposed to do, what they're designed for: to have minimal contact/pressure against the foot, and provide a big wide area for the foot. They stay on via an elastic drawstring lace around the ankle.

What I do like about them is the very thin rubberish sole. They are comfortable to wear and walk around in. They just look dopey for a 45 year old man. And I'm not even normally that self-conscious.

From what I understand from the Soft Star website, some of their shoes/moccasins are for children, for parents that want their children to grow up with strong feet, but who want them to have some kind of minimal protection. For this, Soft Stars would be perfect.

My reason for buying Soft Star Shoes was some kind of dressier minimalist shoe I could wear around town, and the video on their website featuring a dude in jeans dancing seemed to offer that. But the video is deceiving. Comfy? Yes. But that's about it.

What I never have never done is run in them. I just have other options. Either I, in warmer weather, I want my feet in fresh air and therefore use some form of huarache sandal, or in wetter weather I would use my VFFs. Or, in colder weather I would use either VFFs, or opt for my Merrill minimalist shoes. But, if someone was just coming new to minimalist footwear, Soft Stars might be a decent option for colder trail running. But that's about it. I have seen people running in them, in warm weather strangely. I think maybe because they somehow still want to run in a 'shoe' versus huarache-sandals. But if you think running in huaraches is weird, and therefore might lean towards some minimalist shoes like this, I urge you to try huaraches. You'll never go back! [see my other reviews on this blog]

That all said, Soft Star now features a new brand that I'd be very interested in trying out: The Portlander. It's the same super thin sole, but sleeker top design, with laces. Looks like a dressy, hipster-ish, sneaker. This would be good for around-town, day and night, and at work, as long as you weren't dressing too fancy. If I get enough disposable income, I may try this, though I'll drive over to Corvallis to try them on in person first.

What I hope Soft Star does, because no one else has, as far as I know (let me know below in the comments section if you have recommendations) is create/design a minimalist dress shoe for me. Something close to The Portlander maybe, but black or brown, no laces, and a still sleek design.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Oatmeal on running marathons

The Oatmeal nails it.

Click on the image to go there:

Friday, June 20, 2014

Luna Sandals ReReview

I feel somewhat guilty and conflicted about Luna Sandals, because on the one hand, I'm not recommending them, but on the other hand, I use them all the time.

It's all about the price.

I want to like Luna Sandals, because the company was started by Barefoot Ted, one of the runners featured in the mythic book Born To Run by Christopher MacDougall. I bought my first pair from him, when it was still a “one monkey operation,” and his huaraches were super thin and rubbery.
All of the Luna Sandals now are thicker, at least 6mm or more, and some now with some hardcore treads. My first Lunas are long since gone (the knot at between the big and second toes finally wore through the rubber. I now own a pair of the 'regular' 6mms with the leather laces. Actually the leather laces are from my first pair. I ordered this pair with the hemp laces, thinking, that since hemp supposedly tightens up when wet, that they would be good for Portland, Oregon running. But the hemp laces just never felt good, despite not ever having to stop and relace like with leather laces, and actually broke off at the toe joint area on a long cold rainy run, and they are almost impossible to re-thread when wet, and when one's hands are cold, and when one is dehydrated, and losing sunlight.
My other pair of Lunas are Leadvilles, slightly thicker, though also slighty more spongy—I'm not sure of the exact composition. And it's this pair that I've actually used on two trail marathons in Forest Park, where the gravel fairies have been busy on the trails, and also Leif Erickson road is just awful with gravel and rocks. I opted for the Leadvilles because of thickness, to just give my feets some sturdy cushion. And they performed well, because both races were during dry weather.

All huaraches do poorly in wet conditions. If the tops get wet, then my feet slide all over the place, causing the laces to dig into flesh, and making any kind of incline, up or down, hard to get traction on. For wet conditions, my go-to minimalist footwear is still Vibram Five Fingers, the KSOs. They cling to the feets well, wet or dry.

The best thing the monkeys at Luna did was come up with a cool, practical, new sport lace, the _____, which is partly elastic, so stays snug, and doesn't need re-tying, and makes slipping huaraches on and off easy. As with everything at Luna, it seems pricey, at $15, and if it were the only option I'd pay it. But Xero Shoes now offers a similar sport lace. 

That said, there is something to be said for the tradition leather laces. I just like the gladiator look, and it tends to make people do a double take. And, when tight, the leather wrapped up around the ankles seems to provide some stability, which most minimalist runners shouldn't need, really, I guess. I do always have to stop on a run with them, and re-tighten the laces. The leather just stretches out. So, if using them for a race, try and wear them with plenty of time before hand, and may even go for a light job, then readjust right before the race start.

Many people like the look of Lunas, especially with the sport lace, and use them for a more sporty casual look around town. They look kind of like Tevas or Chacos, say, but with a way thinner sole. You can get some models with an additional leather top, which make them look more traditionally sandal-ish, and may make them less slippery (I've even heard of people putting surfboard wax on them to prevent slipperiness). And, I do like the look, and sometimes just walk around in them. But I find, for some reason, I'm not sure why, that when I walk around with them on pavement in the city that my heels get a soreness, almost plantar fasciitis-y. Maybe it's something to do with the sponginess, or maybe the thickness lessens my foot sensitivity and I lapse back into longer strides and heel-striking.

The main, and best, way I've used my Luna Leadvilles (with sport laces) is for backpacking. I wore them for my two recent epic trips down into the Grand Canyon, with great success. With an extra 40 pounds on me, I can't be as nimble-footed as I'd like, so still wanted some thicker soles, while also, because of the heat, being able to have natural air-conditioning on my feet. I did manage to both freak out and impress my hiking companions, all of whom still opted for boot-coffins. Again though, on the one trip, in which there was some wet muddy trail, when my Leadvilles got the least bit wet, my feet would slip all over the place in them.

So, with all these good things to say about Lunas, why am I not recommending them. Well, the price: Almost a hundred dollars, or more, for most models. And, Xero Shoes offers some equivalent models for almost half the price. Xero also still offers a thin-soled huarache, and Luna does not. Xero Shoes now also even has a sport lace similar to Luna's. Some of Lunas more hardcore models do have some super tread, but if that tread is supposedly for maybe wetter muddier conditions (though may just be about looking gnarly and cool) then your feet are going to be slipping around on top anyways.

But, I bought my two pairs of Lunas before Xero Shoes was even in business I think, and they're still basically good, good products. Which counts for a lot. But I think also the mystique of Barefoot Ted and Born To Run counts for their popularity too. There are other huarache brands out there—Xero Shoes are the only ones I've bought and used. As someone with a limited budget, I just can't afford to buy all of them, nor even opt for the 'cool' expensive ones.

If you buy Lunas, you won't be disappointed. Just know that Xero Shoes huaraches, for example, are almost half the price.

[also note: the best way to learn to run in huaraches is to run barefoot first. Do NOT run in huaraches like you would in 'regular' running shoes. Keep a shorter stride, smaller and quicker steps. Just go slow at first, and use them on trails. For pavement, you're better off barefoot anyways]

Friday, June 13, 2014

Merrill Trail Glove ReReview

Merrills are shoes, and therefore lower on my list of go-to minimalist footwear for running, but they have had some good uses.

First, I just prefer running barefoot when possible. When not possible, for longer trail runs especially, when rocks and sticks just start to wear on my feet, I like huarache sandals, where my feet can be in the open air, but I have a minimal rubber-ish sole. Huaraches just don't work that well in wet weather though, and so, being from Michigan and Oregon, I've used Vibram Five Finger (the traditional KSOs) as my go-to minimalist footwear for most of my longer races.

What neither huaraches nor VFFs are good for though, is cold weather running. And that's why I bought a pair of Merrills. I was looking for a minimalist footwear that offered a zero-drop heel, while also covering the feets. And, for this, they work very well. As I wrote before in the race report on this blog, I ran a trail marathon in Winter in Michigan, temps just around freezing, on packed snow trail, wearing just the shoes, no socks, and my feet were fine—snugly warm.

The other big thing I used my Merrills for was when, two Winters ago in Portland, Oregon, I was training for Badger Mountain 100 Miler in the Spring. For my long training runs, there was no other footwear that offered what I needed: warmth. Though I will say that Merrills offer both a durable foot shell in general, and some traction on the soles, for the very muddy trails in Forest Park.

I like the way these shoes are designed: they 'grip' or 'hold' at the mid-foot, around the arch, and at first I didn't like that feel because if felt too 'arch support-y'. But it's not, and this allows the area to the front of the foot to be wider: my toes have plenty of room to spread out, without the shoes slipping forward and scrunching them up.

They are shoes, and shoe-ish, so I do not at all like to run on pavement in them. They do limit foot sensitivity, like typing with over mitts on my hands, and I find myself falling back into heel-striking if not careful. For pavement I run barefoot, or with super thing Xero huaraches.

I do use these shoes for occasional regular streetwear. If I need shoes, and the occasion is not too dressy, then I'll put them on. I don't use socks though—if I did they'd bee too tight, and I don't like socks anyways—so they (like the Vibram Five Fingers) can get smelly. Sometimes really, embarrassingly, bad. So if you want them for wearing around town, get a size up if you plan to wear socks. Also: I will wear them for biking around town, since my pedals tend to tear up my moccasins.

Also, if you're buying them in a store (which I recommend, because the sizing is slightly different than 'regular' shoes) make sure the salesperson actually uses them herself, which might actually be rare. Also note that minimalist shoes like these are now usually being sold as trail shoes, with the idea that one should use 'regular' running shoes for street running. Which, is kinda true, but for the wrong reasons: they're 'trail shoes' because barefoot runners might want a little bit of protection on rocky trails.

One more note: in my quest to find a pair of men's minimalist dress shoes, the kind I could wear with a tie (ack) and dress shirt for an interview, say, I bought a pair of black Merrills. They apparently don't make this model anymore, or at least not in black. They still look a little running shoe-ish, with laces, though I don't run in mine, and I have in fact worn them to interviews, even with the laces. I'm not sure if that affected my chances or not, but I didn't ever get an offer. But, for a night on the town, especially in Portland rain, and so as not to embarrass my date by wearing worn down moccasins, I've worn these.
So, if you're a barefoot runner, these might be good for cold weather trail runs.
If you're a regular running shoe wearer, but looking to try minimalist, first I'd recommend running barefoot first. Do not run in Merrills, or any minimalist footwear, in the same way you'd run in evil bad normal running shoes. The heel strike will mess up, badly. As will the longer stride. And, mostly, take these out on the trail.

And if you're just looking for a good sporty minimalist shoe to wear around town, these will do. Much better than any non-minimalist shoe. Though consider moccasins, and/or something like Soft Star Shoe's new model, The Portlander.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Vibram Five Fingers ReReview

If you go back and read my 'race reports' over the years, you'll see that my go-to footwear, IF I use footwear, has been VFFs. All my paved runs and races have been barefoot, but my VFFs have served me well on multiple trail marathons and 50Ks, two 50 Milers, and on the Burning River 100 Milers (which I DNFed on, but they got me to Mile 67—the problem was not my feet or footwear).

I've been using VFFs for five or six years, ever since I've been running barefoot. I use the traditional KSOs (“keep stuff out”) that come up over the top of the foot. Vibram has since come out with multiple new brands, some of which are built like tanks, other of which are made to look more shoe-ish, and some of which even offer arch support (!) none of which I recommend. And there are VFF imitators out there too, most of which seem to opt for the more tank-like design. But I recommend the old-school KSOs. You want minimal protection in your minimalist footwear. VFF KSOs offer a good thin rubber-like sole, flexible, yet sturdy enough to keep sharp rocks and sticks at bay. That is, you'll still feel what's underneath you, but you'll avoid and cuts or contusions.

I prefer to wear huaraches—I like having my feet to the open air, but they just do not function well in wet weather. The rubber soles get slippery. VFFs however (especially KSOs) work great in wet weather. They cling to your feet, wet or dry. Most of my running and races has been in either Michigan or Oregon, both wet states. On one of my Michigan 50Ms, the course was laid out so as to be as annoying as possible, with many stream crossings, and even wading through a lake. Other runners had to plan out shoe changes along the way, but I could just breeze on through. And the Hagg Lake 50K Mud Run in Oregon was no problem, though I did slip a bit. KSOs don't have a lot of traction.

One disadvantage VFFs have is cold weather: They just do not hold heat at all, and in fact seem to be colder because the toes are separated out in individual sockets, rather than huddling together for warmth. For colder weather running, I've been using Merrills, which are an actual shoe and enclose the whole foot [see my latest review of them on this blog].

Another thing about VFFs is that they get strongly smelly. You can wear the Injinji toed socks—either thicker cotton, or a thin nylon. The thin nylon ones will work for keeping the sweat smell to a minimum, but note that one, they're pricey ($12-15 for one pair!) and two, they wear out and tear quickly. The thicker ones last longer, but then you'll have to bump up your VFF shoe size, meaning you'll either have to wear socks all the time, or buy another pair for wearing barefoot. The thicker socks will also had some warmth, though note, I recommend buying socks a size bigger than what they recommend on the package. But I don't wear socks anymore. And there are ways to combat the smell, though they involve chemicals.

Also, I should mention this. My first pair of VFFs fit fine, and were always comfortable, so much so that I keep wearing them even though they're almost falling apart. My newer pair, which I won in the Bigfoot 50K for being the first, and only, person to finish in VFFs, fit basically the same, but something inside rubs against the skin on the ball of my left foot, causing a blister or even a cut on longer runs. I think this would go away if I used them more. But I should note that this happened to a friend of mine with his VFFs too. Try a new pair out slowly, and check for hot spots. If so, apply some duct tape to the area.

Unfortunately, Vibram just got hit with a class action lawsuit, claiming that their claim that VFFs will make your feet stronger isn't true. I actually think it is true, and the real problem is idiots going out and running in them like they would in 'regular' running shoes, with the hard heel strike and a wide stride. You can't do that. The best way to learn how to run in VFFs (and actually to re-learn how we should be running) is to run barefoot first, or at least in conjunction with VFF running). I've never had a problem, though I now don't like running on pavement in VFFs, and don't recommend it. If you're in the city, just run barefoot, and/or use a thin huarache, like the Xeros (please see my reviews of them on this blog).

Actually, those people that get injured running in VFFs may have just been misinformed by the idiots who work at running stores but who know nothing of running barefoot and/or minimalist, but pretend to—if buying minimalist footwear from a store, make sure you ask the person selling them to you if she or he actually runs in them).

In any case, the only people who 'won' in that class action lawsuit were the lawyers. I'd like to have a class action lawsuit against the shoe companies who claim 'running shoes' are good for you. Where's the proof? Where's the science?

But, I rant. Here's the deal:

The Vibram Five Fingers KSOs are my top overall favorite minimalist running footwear. First prize!