I’ve recently switched over to wearing Zem shoes for rowing, and I think they are perfect. They were originally designed as beach volleyball shoes, so they look weird but function well. They are essentially ankle-height neoprene booties with reinforcing bands and a split toe for mobility. They are also great for SUP. They are sturdy enough for minimalist running, and can slip right inside the shoes in the boat, hence minimizing dock time and solving the problem of wet socks and shoes on the dock! Plus you can crumple them up, store them in the car, and just throw them in the washing machine when they get smelly. Check them out!
Well I went for my first run in my new Inov-8 MudClaws (thanks Mom & Dad!) over the weekend, and I didn’t know what to expect. I went through Saddle River Park in Bergen County, NJ, with a combination of on-road and off-road running in below-freezing temperatures. Would the lug soles be squishy and unstable on pavement? Would the toe box feel too narrow, as I’ve read in some reviews of Inov-8 products? Would it feel weird to wear shoes after a summer of running exclusively in Vibram FiveFingers?
The answer is no, no, and no – these shoes ROCK in a variety of conditions!
1. On road – they are light and surprisingly flexible – almost as light as FiveFingers, and the mesh upper is so ethereal that I felt almost like I was wearing nothing. The rubber on the soles is really solid but also really light and flexible, which I can’t figure out. Great design.
2. Off road – ditto #1, except that it’s like having monster truck tires on your feet. I looked at my footprints on the frozen ground, and there was a big, wide, shredded circle where the forefoot touched down, and just a tiny little divot near the heel – clearly these things can tear it up even on packed, frozen earth. I ran some trails that involved leaf cover over pools of ice – no slippage at all. I purposely tried to run across pure black ice frozen puddles, and I was able to without slipping. I bounced up on rocks and right over a fallen tree. I deliberately stepped on some sharp jagged little rocks embedded in the ground that would have put me out of action in FiveFingers, and they were no problem. It’s like you get the shielding of 1/2 inch of rubber, without the weight or stiffness due to the sole design. Incredible. I can’t wait to try them in deep snow.
3. Toe box – I love it. I have a “Roman toe” (second toe longer than big toe), and these are the first running shoes in which I didn’t smash up the nail on the second toe. The toe box is long and narrow, which is great for me, but the area around the toe joint is very wide and very roomy, which is the best of both worlds.
4. Freezing temperatures – a standard running shoe with heavy “leather” around the lace holes and thick laces becomes like a block of ice as soon as it gets a little wet. These are made of mesh, the laces are tiny, and the lacing holes are angled so that they do not interfere with the flex at the toe joint at all. Again, because my feet were able to move and work, they were no uncomfortably cold. I am probably not using the correct “shoe” terms here, but it’s amazing that no major shoe company thought of angling the laces before this?
All in all, this is destined to become one of my favorite shoes. I can’t wait to try a Tough Mudder wearing these. I also think they would be great for doing sprints on a football field or other grass/turf surface – huge traction, tiny weight. Although they are designed as a specialized shoe, I will likely wear them all winter, for all kinds of applications. I can’t wait to try other Inov-8 products. Good show!
This is a great guide to minimalist shoes: http://tinyurl.com/37ojf52
Some are truly minimal (Invisible Shoes), others are high-end entries into the market by major companies. People will always find a way to segment the market and make money. I am interested in checking out the Altra shoes and the Zem “socks” as when I first started Crossfit I simply wore my Teva Proton aqua socks and they worked really well!
But the Roman sandals are my favorite! There seems to be more interest lately on many fronts about the “wisdom of the ancients”, such as in this recent blog post on what they ate. I can imagine wearing a pair of caligae around New Jersey. While most people look sideways at my FiveFingers on this coast, I might get some respect with the Roman sandals in this area, a la The Sopranos:
Non-Italian guy being shaken down: "And what happened to the Romans? Where are they now?"
Tony Soprano: "You’re looking at them."
Anyway, back to reality, I am looking forward to trying out my new Inov-8 MudClaws that were a birthday present. These are going to rock for deep snow running this winter!
1. It takes about a month or more to adapt your muscles to the new style.
2. Overall mileage is way down, but speed and intensity is way up.
3. Knee/shin pain disappeared seemingly by magic.
4. 6 months in, my arches are still not strong enough and I have some work to do.
I think the thing missing from the article is that it assumes people will need time to get back to their “weekly mileage”. I have had a different experience altogether. I am running much less, and for maybe 1/3 of the distance I used to per-workout. I am not interested in getting back to “weekly mileage” because my whole approach to running has changed. Because of #2 and #3 above, I can hop out, bust out a 2-mile run at anaerobic threshold, and then do it again later or the next day because I am not needing a week for my knees to heal. I am no longer attempting to replicate a “chronic cardio” approach of running 10 miles at “utilization” pace and then hobbling around for 3 days after. THAT’s the real innovation here!
The big question is how will I do when it starts to snow – stay tuned for that one. My bet is that it will be no problem, because my feet will be working and flexing, which will keep them warm, vs. being frozen stumps immobilized in giant shoes. Ice is another matter altogether…
So I finally broke down and bought Vibram Five Fingers. I had been using an old pair of Teva Proton water shoes for WODs at Crossfit Ignite, rowing, and stand-up paddling, but these are not appropriate for running, and I wanted to give the barefoot running thing a try because my knees are bad and getting creakier every year. Here are my first impressions.
1. They are great for running. My calves still get pretty sore and I still get blisters with no socks, but my knees feel great, I feel like I’m running on air, and generally I run faster than I normally would. I am up to 6 miles without feeling like my calves are being drawn and quartered. I still haven’t tried long distances or trail running but I think I’m on the right path once the calves get strong. Trail running could be challenging because I have loose ankles and I probably need to develop the stability that regular shoes masked.
2. They stink for jumping rope. I am not a great rope-jumper, and I get the rope caught between the toes and lose a lot of time untangling it in WODs. Shoes without the “toes” are much better.
3. They are great for things like burpees and deadlifts. I find that I am able to get my feet more directly under my body without having my feet slide around inside the shoes as they did with the Tevas. Because they weigh so little, I can move the feet at higher speed and get better range of motion.
4. They stink for rowing on the Concept2. The foot angle and the strap hinging on the ball of the foot causes a couple of my toes to slip out. This doesn’t affect performance but it’s annoying, especially for WODs requiring a short piece on the Concept2 followed by a transition to an exercise where you need the toes to be in the right spot.
5. I believe that they are going to be AWESOME for stand-up paddling! Being able to work individual toes is going to be huge. Looking forward to that.
6. They are going to be questionable summer footwear in New Jersey. In California, no problem. In Jersey, I will probably be regarded as a freak. But who knows?
7. They are AWESOME for business travel. No more size 12 running shoes taking up half the suitcase, no more separate sandals, etc. They are MADE for carry-on luggage!
8. The jury’s out on dealing with cold weather running. Talk to me in 6 months 🙂