Thursday, May 16, 2019

Z-Trail sandal by Xero Shoes: A Review

Z-Trail sandal by Xero Shoes

Lowdown: surprisingly disappointing

After owning my Xero Shoes Z-Trail sandals for less than a month, I had both of them blow out on a recent backpacking trip in Grand Gulch, the left foot on Day Two, the right on Day Four. The same thing happened to both: a small metal 'clip' thingy that attaches the main strap to the back velcro heel strap simply snapped off. I was able to adapt: the main strap was long enough that I could run it around my heel in kind of an old-school huarache wrap, though it was not at all sturdy or tight.

I was excited to see Xeros being stocked at REI, and though the price there was about $20 more than at the Xero website, I bought them. They look good: Xero's answer to sport sandals like Tevas and Chacos, with a way-thinner sole—still flexible like a huarache, but made of tougher material than their huaraches: Still bendable, but you can't, for example, roll them up. Very comfortable for walking around town and looking stylish.

I ran in them, both pavement and trail. I would be careful running in them on pavement, and if you're running on pavement you'd be better off just running barefoot anyways, but the toughness/hardness of the sole made them a little clunky: the first time I ran on pavement my heels hurt a bit after, but the second time I really concentrated on not heel-striking. For trail running they were good: the toucher sole makes them better for gravel, where even the Xero huaraches can leave my feet a little battered-feeling.

The Xero claim for the Z-Trail is “Adventure Everywhere”, and I was hoping they'd be both a running sandal and something I could take backpacking. So, I took them on a four-day hike in Canyonlands National Park, then a week later on a five-day in Grand Gulch, where they blew out—again, after less than a month.

One of the main ideas for the Z-Trail seems to be to get away from the 'thong' of the huarache: instead of a strap or lace between the big toe and the second toe, this new design instead runs a wider canvas strap across the toes, then flipping around to go across the top of the foot. I know some people hate the huarache thong, so they may like that (though I will say I used to be one of those people, but you get used to the thong, I swear). I will say that, at least at first, the sandals felt snug and comfortable, more than the Xero huaraches, though one problem with the strap across the toes, for my feet at least, was that my little toes got scrunched and irritated, though this happened more after I had to adapt the sandals after the blow out.

Another new thing Xero has introduced is a sort of 'heel cup'. I'm not sure why: if your heel hangs off your huarache, you should be wearing a bigger size. Maybe it's purely for looks, to make them look more like a sandal? In any case, what the 'heel cup' really does is catch pebbles and sand really well, and make sweeping them out harder.

So if you just want a thin-soled sandal you can wear around town this summer, with zero-drop and no toe thong, the Z-Trail is way better than Chacos or Tevas, and even more comfortable than a Luna sandal (which hurt my heels if I just walk in them on pavement). But I would not guarantee them to handle any kind of trailwork. Or to last long. I've been a fan of Xero, and would still recommend their minimalist running shoes over anybody's, but the same thing happening to both sandals within two days shows a lack of quality care.
(Sandals post-blowout, with main strap running around back to hold heel)

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Salem Paddy Pint 10K

Top o' the morning to ye! A fine sunny day to run a 10K, and at the reasonable hour of 10am! Instead of paying $100 for a St. Patrick's Day race in Portland tomorrow, I've opted for a cheaper one, $40 (and that was because I registered last minute) down in Salem today, where the money goes to a charity. I guess I'm less enthused about races in general, especially at the shorter end or 5K and 10K, distances I might coneiveably run anyway, but being with a pack does motivate me to push myself, run faster, though would be more fun with a friend or two. Or at least a fellow barefooter. Alas, I have neither.

The route starts in Riverfront Park, and loops around Minto Park, areas I've run before on my own. The 5Kers have a different start and will go directly to Minto, while us 10Kers will first go over the footbridge to West Salem and run around the baseball fields. I'd say the 5Kers double the 10Kers in number, and few of us even want to start near the START line (a chalk line on the sidewalk) thinking, like I am, that there's no way I'm doing this fast.

Air cool enough that I have running pants and sweatshirt on, though some folks are in shorts. They have shoes to help keep them warm. I'm not worried about whether the feets will make it, I'm just kind of out of shape, having spent the last month in Europe, walking on cobblestones a lot, with two hour-long runs since I've been back. Still, a 10K is doable. More a question of what kind of shape I'll be in afterwards. And, I can always walk.

Pretty low-key at this event: The countdown comes from a dude over at the rotunda on a PA, for both sets of racers, and we're released! Following one of the organizers on his bike, though there are volunteers at each of the major turns. He may actually be here to warn the normal pedestrians out here on a Saturday morning, of which there are many, looking at us like we're all crazy.

We go north and take a left over the Willametter River on the pedestrian bridge. So far no whispers behind my back about the bare feet. Maybe I'm just another Oregon crazy. Also, maybe my pants, which are loose, cover them up a bit. But feels good! Bare sole to pavement! I've missed this, what with traveling and cold weather.

I am going slow. I was at the back to begin with, and getting passed, resisting that urge to start fast in a race, hopefully to avoid the burnout halfway through. Or maybe I'll just come in last. We cross the bridge, take a sharp right down to the baseball fields and a large road loop, the pack starting to spread out. I get stuck behind this group of college kids, or that age anyways, all of the young women clustering around this one young man, it's 'his' group, as he regals them with a long joke. I don't know, I guess this is what extroverts do when they run.

Right in front of them is some guy running with a backpack, attached to which is some kind of speaker or Alexa-thing blaring really insipid fizzy techno music, loudly. Like, 1) Did you ask anyone if they wanted to listen to your music? 2) You couldn't wear earbuds? and 3) That's what fires you up to run?

That combined with all the people and their beeping ant twirping watches feels like I'm running in a video game. Well, so, I can either slow down and let them all get ahead, or, use this as an opportunity to pick up the pace for a little bit, just enough to get me far ahead of them. So, adelante! And I do pass them, or at least some of the beepers and Techno Blaster Dude. Unfortnately, the Cult of Personality group also picks up the pace after me, coming up right behind, and the joke is still ongoing. And it's not even being told well! We've gotten on a bike trail, and I step off, so I at least don't have the guy yelling right at my back, which one young woman mistakes for me just getting out of their way because they're taking up the whole bike path. She says thank you. I don't know, I guess I'm just jealous that the young women are clustering around him and not me. But why would they cluster around me? They never have in my whole life.

But running! Yes! Body in motion in the sun and, DOH!, I stub my toe. This happens to me, and somehow the more it happens to more it seems I'm likely to do it. Nothing major, or doesn't hurt, just scrapes the tip of my right big toe, but I know immediately what's happened: just a little scrape rips open a flap of skin. I look down: blood covers my toe. Argh! Again, no pain, and I'll finish the race, won't even slow me down, but it's the optics of the thing: I want people to see how easy barefoot running is. This will not convince anyone, this will kill all curiosity, this will horrify. I'm the worst barefoot running ambassador.

Grr, adelante....Up back across the pedestrian bridge, back through Riverfront Park, where the 5Kers are already returning. That was quick! Have we gone halfway already? Must be. Up over the Taco Bridge into Minto Park. This is a new bike path, just completed last year, connecting to 20 miles of trails overall, including along the Willamette, though we're crossing a 'slough' at this point out into a marshy area, still on bike path, and while the route so far has been smooth, at this section the path gets a lot of pebbles on is, so I have to pay a bit more attention to where I'm stepping, even then still getting the occasional rogue pebble.

Along a pine forest/old plantation, still on paved bike path. We take a right towards the Willamette, and I'm hoping/thinking that we'll go along the river, but no, I can see runners in green turning left: onto the gravel road. Gravel: my nemesis. And it ain't gravel fines either. Fortunately there's a thin section of grass to the left, but that soon gets into a section of blackberry brambles, which has been cut back from the road, but that has left some smaller sections of blackberry twigs. Which have thorns. Argh! Please no splinters please no splinters! Gotta shift the gravel! Argh!

I slow way down, and who should catch up to me but Techno Blaster and his girlfriend. A whole bunch of people pass me here. But it doesn't last long. We hang a left across some grass and back on bike path, where my pace picks right back up and I proceed to pass everyone who just passed me. Including Techno Blaster. And, he's just cranking it, with some kind of computerized pacer thingy that interrrupts the music to announce his pace and distance.

He's got some other folks behind him, and his speaker is facing them, not even himself. I pass him, but I can't help myself, and as I do I turn to him and say, 'Hey man, could you turn the volume down a little bit?'

He's shocked, shocked, then disgusted. He sneers. 'No man, I'm good.'

Ok, I tried. Not gonna press it. Maybe if someone else says something he'll get it. I'm actually at a good pace, and I pull away. I hear his girlfriend ask what I said, then the music seems to get louder, and I think, Oh wow, he just turned it up to spite me. But then it stops! I do believe his girlfreind got him to turn it off! Bless all girlfriends of asshole dudes!

Loop back around past the pine trees, back over the rogue pebbles, passing all the walkers now (which, as a side note, how crazy is that to pay money to walk in a park you could walk in anyways? How crazy are we all?) and back over Taco Bridge. Home stretch! One little loop-de-loop, clogged a little at the kids' playground and the 5K walkers and their strollers, none of whom see aware that the 10K runners are coming behind them. 'Make a hole!'

I put on the sprint. I always push it at the end. Maybe only gets me five seconds on the time clock, but it's a matter of personal pride. One guy I pass gets inspired and starts to sprint too, and this is the benefit of running a race, we inspire each other. A guy ahead of me I guess hears my feets slapping, or my labored breathing, and he starts to sprint. I yell out, 'I'm coming for ya!' but he's got it. We all get some claps at the finish line for the extra effort, which, the appreciation is nice, and we're done!

And, crickets. I look down at my feet. Oh wow, that's bad. Somehow the blood has sprayed everywhere and my left foot is covered too. Damn, this is embarrassing. Well, my work is done here, results will be posted online later. I have a mild curiosity, now that I'm 50, if I'm decent in my age class, but I'll find out. Not with a bang, but a sore limpy body do I make my way to my truck...

PS-Placed 62nd overall (our of 114, so halfway), 57:42 tra la la....