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Barefoot Running University.

New posts as of 2010 have moved to the new address. Please update your links and blogroll.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

"The Barefoot Running Guide" giveaway!

I'm still trying to build my collection of information regarding barefoot running (and ultras) on this blog and my Barefoot Running University website.  In an effort to spread the word, I'm going to give away copies of my "The Barefoot Running Guide" ebook to those that help me out.  There are three ways to get a copy:

1. If you have a website or blog, add a link to this blog ( and my website ( to your website or blog.  Once the link is added, send me the link to your site to this address: robillardj "at" gmail "dot" com.  I will send you the ebook in the return email.  If your site or blog is barefoot or ultra-related, I'll add it to my BRU links as well.  If you are an RD, I can add your ultramarathon to my calendars, too.  If you already have links to both, send me your address and I'll send you a copy!  Don't have a blog?  Start one and share your barefoot or minimalist shoe experiences!

2. Recruit five "friends" for this blog.  All you have to do is send me an email of the screen names of the five people you recruited at the same email as above.  

3. Recruit 20 "fans" for my Barefoot Running University fan page on Facebook.  Once you recruit 20, send me an email to the address above with the FB names of your 20 recruits.

I'll keep this going until Friday, March 5th at midnight.

Vibram Five Fingers KSO review

Vibrams's Five Fingers KSO is the current gold-standard by which all other minimalist shoes are measured. I have used this shoe extensively for about three years in many different conditions. It is my default gym shoe, my winter running shoe, my asphalt-too-hot-for-barefoot shoe, and the shoe I wore to finish my first 100 mile race in September of 2009. This model has served me well and is still my preferred minimalist shoe, but does suffer from some minor faults that prevent it from being the Holy Grail of minimalist running shoes.

When I first received my KSOs, my first impression was one of wonder. They are so different from any other shoe on the market, one cannot help but to appreciate the design. The individual toe pockets give them a style that is both distinctive and functional. The weight is light compared to traditional trainers, and close to the weight of most racing flats. The sole is very thin... I believe it is approximately 3mm thick down the entire width of the shoe. The sole is made of a rubber compound that wears well. I have about 600 miles on my original pair and I can still see the tiny grooves cut into the soles. The upper is a combination of stretchy fabric and mesh. A single velcro strap wraps around the heel and over the foot to help secure the shoe to the foot. Construction quality is very good.

When I put them on for the first time, I was surprised at the comfort. The shoe is designed to fit the exact shape of your foot. I would compare the it and feel to wearing a glove on your foot. Some people have reported being annoyed with the feeling of fabric between the toes, but I did not mind. I adapted to this feeling within a few minutes.

Putting the Vibrams on for the first time was somewhat difficult. Getting each toe in the right toe pocket takes some practice. After using the shoes extensively for a few years, I have mastered this particular skill. Wet feet can make the process more difficult. I will sometimes wear my KSOs with Injinji toe socks, which seem to make them somewhat easier to put on.

The feel of Vibrams on your feet is difficult to describe until you experience it because there really is no other shoe that closely approximates the design. The KSOs allow your foot to move as if you were barefoot because of a close fit coupled with flexible design. It really feels as if you are wearing a glove on your foot. I normally wear a 10.5 or 11 shoe size (US sizing). My first pair of KSOs are size 42 which fit my feet perfectly. If socks are worn, they are slightly constrictive. I also have a size 44 which are quite large. I purchased this pair to accommodate foot swelling when running long ultramarathons. On the larger size, my smallest toe sometimes falls out of its toe pocket. This doesn't seem to influence performance in any way.

The width of the shoe is sufficient for my feet, but my feet are rather narrow. Some individuals with wide feet may have some difficulty with this particular model. The width and individual toe pockets allow the toes to splay when running which is a critical component of barefoot running.

Walking in KSOs is a pleasant experience. When I walk barefoot, I never use a heel strike. In KSOs, I have a slight increase in heel strike walking. This is probably due to the lack of tactile sensation with the ground.

Running is where these shoes really shine. I always prefer to run barefoot. This shoe is the best alternative I have found. It's not a close approximation, but the flat, thin sole and flexible design allow the foot to work in a way that is somewhat similar to running barefoot. The thin sole is a major advantage over other shoes on the market, but Vibram apparently added another layer to the sole after the first generation of KSOs. This added layer decreased both ground feel and flexibility. This may have made the shoe more appealing to runners moving from traditional trainers, but was a regression for barefoot runners.

Traction on dry, hard surfaces is excellent. The rubber soles are both durable and "sticky." Traction on wet surfaces is still decent. It is similar to other traditional trainers. Traction on dry trails is also very good. Muddy, snowy, or icy trails are a major obstacle for KSOs. Traction is horrible in these conditions. Personally, I don't mind training in these conditions as it is a good strengthening activity. However, racing would be VERY difficult.

Ventilation on this shoe is excellent. The fabric and mesh upper dries quickly and allows moisture to drain. I would compare the KSOs ventilation to most trail running shoes. The ventilation also helps keep the shoe relatively cool in warm weather. While my feet will sweat, it is not excessive. In cold weather, I find the shoe itself to be sufficiently warm. I've worn the shoes without socks for 20 mile runs in temperatures around 10 degrees (F). I have combined the shoe with socks to keep warm in temperatures several degrees below zero. As long as I am running, my feet do not get cold. My feet will get VERY cold when stopping for more than a few minutes.

This shoe can be worn comfortably for very long periods of time. I have used them for several training runs of six to eight hours, and wore a pair for my 29 hour 100-mile finish.

One are of concern is smell. After about six months of use, my KSOs developed a bad odor. It was different than the typical and familiar "shoe stink" other shoes experience. This smelled a bit more like a rotting corpse. At first I assumed it was a function of my own feet. Then I smelled other peoples' KSOs (all in the name of a thorough review.) They smelled the same. I have attempted many methods to rid my KSOs of this overwhelming odor. I've washed them in a variety of detergents, sprayed with Febreeze, soaked in a bleach and water solution, soaked in a vinegar and water solution, left them in the sun, stuck them in the freezer, used medicated foot powders, and used effervescent denture cleaner tablets. To date, only the denture tablets and freezing seem to keep the odor at bay. Even this is just a temporary solution; the smell returns after one or two runs. The odor problem is not an issue for running. The problem arises at the gym. The smell is very noticeable up to about a six foot radius. This causes me to hesitate when wearing them in close quarters. It's not a deal-breaker, but I do consider it to be a major problem.

In conclusion, I would rate Vibram's Five Fingers KSOs as very good to excellent. There is room for some improvement, but these shoes stand as the current best shoe option for barefoot runners needing some protection. This shoe will work well for most people, but it may be useful to try them on before ordering. The individual toe pockets may not work for all feet. Vibram could solve a few small issues with this shoe. Otherwise, I would give this product my stamp of approval.

You can sometimes find KSOs here via Amazon:  I would also HIGHLY recommend Gazelle sports and Zombie Runner.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Chapter Three: Can I run ultras if I'm already a slow runner?

There's a myth that runners have to be good to run ultramarathons.  By "good" I mean fast.  Sure, many ultrarunners are blazing fast in shorter races.  It's not a prerequisite, though.  It's entirely possible to be turtle-slow and still finish an ultra.  I would go out on a limb and say it may be advantageous to be slow.
Generally speaking, there's an inverse relationship between speed and distance.  As distances increase speed (as measured by pace) decreases.  Once you get to ultra distances, the non-elites are pretty slow.  How slow?  When i finished my first 100 this last September, my average pace was around 17:30.  No, that's not a typo.  Yes, most people can walk faster than that.  The point... it's a VERY slow average pace.  Even at my fastest, I doubt I ran more than 10 minute miles.
In ultras, slow is the name of the game.  If you already run slow... perfect!  You won't have to learn how to restrain yourself in the early miles of ultras.  Many novice runners start out way too fast, which results in a severe crash-and-burn.  The ability to run slow is an under-appreciated skill set.
I know you're still doubting me.  You've convinced yourself that speed is a necessary ingredient to building long distance running ability.  Unfortunately this belief keeps many runners from ever attempting an ultra.  They convince themselves that they have to reach some arbitrary time-based goal at a shorter distance before they can make the jump to ultras.  I know people that can run 100+ miles per week, easily drop Boston-qualifying times in marathons, and can recite the ingredients and nutritional value of every energy gel, bar, and drink on the market.  Yet they doubt their ability to survive an ultra.
If your goal is to simply finish (and it should be if this is your first ultra AND you are truly a lazy runner), pick a goal race... maybe a 50k.  Find out the cutoff time (how long you are allowed to finish before everyone packs up and goes home.)  Go to the cool running pace calculator here:  Enter the cutoff time and the distance; it will return your pace.  Now go out and run a few miles at that pace.
Okay, now that you're back, how was that pace?  Pretty slow, huh?  I bet it felt like you weren't even moving.  I bet your normal training pace doesn't feel too slow now.  That is the minimum you would need to finish the race.  Anyone can do that.  Don't worry, I'll give you more advice in the coming days... just have confidence that your slow running is an asset in ultras! 

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Barefoot Ultramarathon runner running 24 hours for hunger

Leif Rustvold, one of the few other barefoot ultrarunners here in the US, is running in the Pacific Rim One Day Run to benefit the Oregon Food Bank.  The best part- he's doing it barefoot!  Leif ran the Hundred in the Hood 100 miler last September in Vibrams... the same day I ran the Hallucination 100 in Vibrams.  He ran a marathon the next weekend while I was still hobbling up stairs.  Check out his Distance Minimally blog for more info.

Ultramarathons for Lazy Runners: Chapter Two- What does it take to run ultras?

So you're still deciding if you want to tackle the ultramarthon distance.  You're intrigued by the idea, but you have doubts.  What exactly does it take to run ultras?  As it turns out, it's probably not as difficult as one would imagine.

First, it does take some degree of physical fitness.  If your goal is to simply finish the race, it is critical that you have the ability to spend a long period of time on your feet.  The "time on feet" will likely be a combination of running and walking.  How will you know you are ready?  I like to use a 50% guideline.  If you can estimate your finish time in the planned ultra, your training should allow you to spend at least 50% of that time on a single long run.  For example, let's say you are planning a 50 mile run.  You anticipate finishing in 10 hours.  You could probably survive the distance if you are able to do a training run of at least five hours.  Greater fitness will obviously increase the chances of finishing, but the 50% guideline is useful to determine minimal readiness.

Second, completing an ultra takes training.  I do have a good friend that attempted a 50 mile race with a single 5k as his only training.  He made it to about 27 miles before he DNFed (did not finish.)  That was foolish.  Brave, but foolish.  In my opinion, one can get by with only a few runs per week and still finish an ultra as long as one of the runs is a long run of ever-increasing distance.  Since the guide is for the lazy runners like me, I can admit to rarely running more than three or four days per week.

Third, ultrarunners need to be reasonably familiar with the issues they may face when running very long distances.  They must be aware of the signs and symptoms of problems and know the appropriate response.  In marathon-and-shorter races, most runners can simply run.  If an issue arises, you can gut it out to the finish.  In an ultra, that is usually impossible.  It's awfully hard to gut out a chafed groin for eight hours.

Fourth, ultrarunners need to be mentally tough.  You will experience some degree of pain.  In all likelihood, you will experience A LOT of pain.  In my first 100 mile attempt that ultimately resulted in a DNF at mile 65, I seriously considered diving on rocks to break an arm just to end the suffering of having to continue.  Luckily I was too scared... instead I just let the cutoff times catch me and was mercifully pulled from the course.  My problem was simple- I hadn't developed very good strategies for dealing with the pain.  The second attempt hurt a lot, too, but I practiced much better pain-management strategies.

These are what I would consider to be the absolute minimum elements to running an ultra.  Other things like prior racing experience, outdoor survival skills, an uncanny ability to navigate through the wilderness, being especially athletically gifted, or single with no children will certainly help.  They are not necessities, though.  Almost everyone has the ability to run ultras... even those that may not believe it today.  If you can reasonably master these four elements, you will be in an excellent position to conquer the ultramarathon distances!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ultramarathons for Lazy Runners: Chapter One- Why Run Ultras?

When people ask this seemingly simple question, I'm often left without a response. There are the typical canned responses like, "I like the challenge", "I enjoy trail running/nature/pooping in the woods" or the ever-popular "Oprah ruined the marathon."
My reasons are a little more personal. We all have that little voice in our head that tells us to stop. It is the self-doubt or regulator that is ready to throw in the towel. Some would call it a self-preservation instinct. As a dedicated lazy ass, that voice wins out a lot. Do I get off the couch to put my beer bottle in the garage, or do I just leave it on the table? Ninety-nine percent of the time, I leave it on the table. When running, that voice is constantly reminding me how I could be doing something more relaxing.
Don't get me wrong- I love running. But the longer I run, the louder that voice becomes. I enjoy the inner turmoil of mustering the will to overcome that voice. I don't always have to silence it; the occasional ultra will do.
I also run ultras for the social scene. In every ultra I've participated in, the race directors, volunteers, fans, and other runners have been absolutely awesome! There is a sense of camaraderie that simply doesn't exist in other races. Maybe it's the mutual suffering. Maybe it has something to do with nature. Maybe we've all suffered a self-induced lobotomy from long runs. At any rate, the ultra crowd is filled with genuinely nice people that are willing to help each other reach the finish line.
Finally, I like doing stuff that most people believe is impossible. Running extremely long distances is one of those things. I like that only about 1-3% of all runners even attempt ultras. Of course, I'm a pretty crappy ultrarunner as I often finish in the back of the pack. I don't mind, though, the front-runners motivate me to continue to improve.
The decision to run ultras is ultimately a very personal decision. It is up to you to find your motivator. Having said that, each and every person reading this should have the capacity to run ultras. It's not as difficult as it may seem. If my unathletic, slow self can finish them, you surely have the ability. My goal with this blog series is to help you along that journey.
Okay, so you're seriously considering the idea. My advice at this point- COMMIT! Go to one of the many ultra calendar sites on the 'web (as a shameless plug, I recommend Pick a race in your area. Depending on your experience level, it may be best to start with a 50k. If you're a complete running rookie, allow a good six months to train. If you are a veteran marathoner, you could probably do one next weekend. Print out the registration form or register online. Ninety percent of tackling ultras is mental, and a good first step is initiating the process. The rest will take care of itself.
If anyone does sign up for an ultra, share your news in the "comments" section!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Ultramarathons For Lazy Runners: A Guide to Becoming a Back-of-the-Pack Ultrarunner


I admit it.  I'm a lazy runner.  Some of my fellow runners are "type A" runners.  If they do not run X miles on any given day, they are crippled with shame, guilt, and anxiety.  I'm not like that.  I have the ability to talk myself out of any training run.  I have the ability to work hard some time, but not all the time.  I also love running ultramarathons.  The result- I am constantly experimenting to find the shortest, easiest route to the finish line.  This idea sprouted another- why not make a guide to share my accumulated lessons... a guide to help other lazy runners accomplish their goal of running crazy distances with minimal effort!  

Over the next few weeks or so, I will write about specific topics from training to hydration to post-race recovery and all the topics in between.  To be clear- I am not a good runner.  I am not fast.  I don't aspire to be the best.  I just like to challenge that little voice that resides in each of us.  My competition is my own being telling me that I cannot continue.  This journey won't make you a good runner.  It will however give you some great insight to dabbling in the world of ultramarathons.  If you aspire to escape the doldrums of the standard marathons but face challenges of limited time, resources, or motivation, this collection of blog posts will be perfect for you!

If any readers have specific ultra-related topics you'd like me to discuss, add it to the comments section. I'll add it to my list of "ultrarunning essentials".

Monday, February 22, 2010

Why the reverence for Boston?

My friend Shelley Viggiano recently blogged about qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  By the way- check out her blog, she's an awesome writer!  It's a goal many of us runners have.  Adding a "BQ" to your accomplishments is a badge we wear with pride.  It's tough to do.  If I were to qualify this year, I would need to run a 3:10.  Given my aversion to speedwork and inherent laziness, it's not happening.  After next year, I will gain an additional five minutes.  BFD.  Shelley's blog forced me to ponder this odd accomplishment.  It is THE measuring stick used to quantify your ability as a runner.

Then I remembered this elevation chart from Stan Jensen's website. 

The small red area represents the Boston Marathon... the pinnacle of the road racing world.  The big wavy line represents Western States, the pinnacle of the ultramarathon world (in the US, anyway.)  Neither race is the toughest in the world, but both are the most prestigious races in their particular genre.  Note "Heartbreak Hill"... a art of the Boston course known for it's treachery.  Doesn't look too bad compared to WS, does it?

What's the point of this post?  I have no idea.  Even though I'm more or less mocking the Boston course, I'm not fast enough to qualify.  It IS a goal of mine... just secondary to my ultra goals.  Why is this such a major goal for us?  Why do we obsess about this singular race?

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Vibram / Top of Foot Pain Connection?

I've officially begun my next training cycle.  My goal race- Mind the Ducks 12 Hour in Rochester, NY on May 15th.  Training for this race will require something I have historically avoided- lots of miles on flat, smooth ground.  I love trails... so much so, it's all I've done this winter.  For whatever reason, I decided to go for a long run earl Sunday morning.  I woke up at 3:30 and was out the door by about 4:00.  

The original plan was 17 Vibram-clad miles.  At about mile six, I realized the mileage was a bit optimistic.  I turned back.  By mile seven, I noticed a familiar twinge on the top of my right foot.  Top of the foot pain.  The bane of barefoot runners.  By mile eight, I was reduced to a shuffle.  By mile nine I was unable to run.  I walked the remaining two and a half miles.  The frigid temps combined with thin, sweat-soaked clothing made the trip miserable. 

After returning home, I assessed the situation.  It hurt to run.  It hurt to walk.  If I flexed my foot in any way, it hurt.  I hobbled through the rest of the day.  I was expecting to be out of action for at least a few days.

I am pleasantly surprised to report the pain completely vanished.  I ran 2 miles at a fast pace this afternoon without any discomfort.  While I am ecstatic that my training wasn't derailed, my curiosity is driving me crazy.  Why did the pain start and why did it vanish?

Typically, TOFP is a symptom of doing too much too soon.  It occurs when the soft tissue of the foot adapts to the rigors of barefoot or minimalist shoe running.  It's not a serious condition and it does require one to back off training to a degree.   This was different.  The run was shorter than the trail runs I've done over the winter.  Could it be the roads?  Could the flat, repetitive nature of road running have been the culprit?  Or was it my choice in footwear?

I was wearing my venerable Vibram KSOs.  I've had these shoes for about three years.  I've run approximately 700 miles in them.  They have been my choice for gym footwear since I purchased them.  They smell horrible.  And I love them.  However... they could have been the cause of the injury.

It has long been speculated that the strap on KSOs that transects the top of the foot somehow causes TOFP.  I have always questioned this assumption... it simply doesn't make sense from a physiological standpoint.  Having said that, I've had three incidents of TOFP in the last four years.  Each one occurred when wearing those KSOs (I do almost all of my running barefoot.)  Part of the mystery may be the tightness of the strap.  If over-tightened, others have reported experiencing TOFP.  

My question to the greater barefoot/VFF running community- what are your experiences with this?  Is it something you've experienced?  Anyone have a good theory that explains the physiology?

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Winners announced for being a blog follower!

Congratulations Anzura and Denis Rosiere for being randomly picked as winners of "The Barefoot Running Guide" ebook!  You two were chosen from the 90 followers of this blog.  I sent both of you a message.  just respond and I'll send the pdf file back to you.

Congratulations to Andrew Roberts, Robin Robinson, and Doug Lovall for winning a copy of the ebook for being a fan of Barefoot Running University on Facebook!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Win a Copy of Jason's eBook!

Win a copy of my ebook "The Barefoot Running Guide!"  This Saturday, I will randomly choose one "follower" from the current list of followers found in the right margin of this blog.  If you are already a follower, you're automatically entered!  If you are not a follower, simply click on the "follow" button:

If you are not already a member, you will have to join Google's "Friend Connect."  The winner will be announced by Saturday evening here on the blog.  Good luck!

The Importance of Patience when Learning to Run Barefoot

The following is an excerpt from my book "The Barefoot Running Book: A Practical Guide to the Art and Science of Barefoot and Minimalist Shoe Running."  The book should be available by March 1st.

Throughout the process of learning to run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, it is important to be patient.  Your feet have likely spent many, many years encased in heavy, sweaty foot coffins (a term Barefoot Ted coined).  Those shoes have weakened the muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, and plantar skin of your feet and adjoining anatomy.  This book addresses the need for patience by slowly increasing your barefoot experiences.   In the beginning, you may be tempted to run further than you should.  In the barefoot running world, we refer to this as “too much too soon” (TMTS).  You will also reach various “break-though” points where everything seems to come together.   Your form will finally click.  Everything will feel great.  You will be tempted to try out your newly-perfected form.  It will once again be important to exercise caution.  Do not increase your mileage more than 10-15% per week or pace by more than 15 seconds per mile per week.  If you exercise adequate caution, your transition to barefoot running should be smooth and injury-free!

Monday, February 8, 2010

New Balance Apologizes for Barefoot Comments... they're okay in my book

New Balance recently posted an article regarding barefoot running, which I commented about here.  They added this comment to the article:
Jason (and Trock [another commenter]): Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. It wasn't our intention to belittle or distort the needs of barefoot runners—apologies if that's how it came off to you in the article. In addition to the MT100, there are some recommendations above for current low-support models we recommend, but we hear you that your ideal would be something far more minimalist. It's an area we're investigating and will continue to investigate in the lab, as Sean Murphy mentioned in the Globe article reference above. We appreciate your perspective and will do our best to continue to develop gear that meets the unique needs of runners like you.
I was pleased to see New Balance clarify their statement, apologize, and acknowledge the needs of the barefoot and minimalist community.  Of the major manufacturers, New Balance is one of two or three that has consistently developed quality "reduced" running shoes.  I would love to see them develop a true minimalist shoe.  Hats off to you for stepping up to the plate, New Balance!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Shoe Review: Terra Plana Vivo Barefoot Aqua

     I have to preface any shoe review with this disclaimer: I’m a barefoot runner.  I only use shoes in extreme temperatures, extremely rugged terrain, or when running indoors at an establishment that disallows barefoot running (like my local YMCA.)  I do wear shoes at work (I’m a high school teacher), during the winter, and when frequenting most businesses.  As such, I am always searching for shoes that allow me to run in extreme conditions and wear casually. 

     I’ve known about Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot line for some time.  As a teacher of barefoot and minimalist shoe running, I’ve done a lot of research on shoe options.  However, I never tried them myself.  I’m a pretty skeptical person.  Their claim to be a “barefoot shoe” seemed to be akin to Sylvia Browne’s claim of being able to see peoples’ future… it’s just clever marketing to bilk money from unsuspecting saps.  I was contacted by the Vivo Barefoot USA offices to try a pair of their Aqua shoes.  While I was very skeptical, I was curious to see if their claims were even remotely truthful. 

     When the box arrived, I was pretty excited.  I had read a few reviews online, but most came from people that had a preference for running in minimalist shoes.  There weren’t many comments from runners that ran almost exclusively barefoot.  This would be a fun experiment!

    I opened the plain gray box.  Inside were two fabric bags containing each individual shoe.  This packaging was a nice touch.  I took the left shoe out of its bag.  I didn’t know what color I would receive (they come in a variety of colors, some of which would not be appropriate for my school.)  I was relieved to see the dark brown model. 
     My first impression was not necessarily positive.  The shoe was slightly heavier than I anticipated.  I read that some people enjoyed running in Aquas.  As a barefoot runner, the weight of a shoe is critical.  For comparison, they were about as heavy as my Vibram KSOs and slightly heavier than my Saucony Kilkennys.  The Aquas weighed about half as much as my traditional dress shoes I sometimes wore at work.  Also, I found the sole to be much stiffer than I anticipated.  It could easily be bent, twisted, and rolled into any shape, but my preference had always been extremely flexible soles. 

   On a positive note, the shoes looked very cool.  The style was definitely better than any minimalist casual shoe on the market today.  Also, the sole was very thin… maybe a few millimeters throughout.  The heel and forefoot were the same height, a necessity for any minimalist shoe.  The workmanship was top-notch; neither shoe had a single flaw.  It is obvious that quality control is important to Terra Plana.  The shoes were wider than any casual shoe I found, which is usually a kiss of death for other minimalist shoes.  So how did they feel?

   After carefully inspecting each shoe, I put them on and walked around my house.  To say I was amazed would be an understatement of epic proportions.  They felt amazing!  At first, it was hard to describe the experience.  Most minimalist shoes I tried seem to be designed to hug your feet to move with the natural motions of the foot.  It is as if they are designed to be sock-like.  The result is always some degree of awkwardness as the materials of the shoe cannot work in perfect unison with the complex motions of the foot.  The Aquas were different.  It felt as if my feet were working in the exact same way as they would if I were walking barefoot.  I could feel my toes splaying with each step as the wide toe box allowed for this natural movement.  This feeling was unique; it is the first shoe I have tried that allows for freedom within the shoe, yet does not feel “loose” or sloppy.”

     The weight of the shoe was not an issue while walking around.  The shoes felt lighter than I had originally anticipated.  I’m not quite sure what to attribute this to other than the fit.  I had used a pair of driving moccasins prior to the Aquas.  They are a lighter shoe, but yet feel heavier in actual use. 

     The purpose of the stiffness of the sole, which I was concerned about initially, became apparent.  It allowed my foot to move freely within the shoe without being impeded by the floppiness of the sole.  I was also surprised that the sole felt much more flexible on my foot than it did in my hands.  As I later read, the soles contain a layer of Kevlar-like material to offer protection against punctures. 

    After thirty minutes of walking, skipping, and jumping around my house (hey, it works well as my testing criteria!), I was convinced of the claims made by Terra Plana.  This shoe really did work as advertised.  If only I could say the same about Sylvia Browne…

   The true test came a few hours later when I wore the shoes for a run around the block.  Initially, I did not wear socks and removed the insole.  Running was okay, but not as impressive as walking. The shoes were a bit too heavy for my tastes.  Aside from that, they continued to function in the same way as walking.  I could feel my feet moving within the shoe just as they do when running barefoot.  The sole was a bit too unresponsive for me, also. I couldn’t “feel” the ground as well as I like.  This will always be an issue with any minimalist running shoe.  As a barefoot runner, my preference is to have nothing between my foot and the ground.  The trade-off is protection.  To really test the shoes, I ran on an extremely technical trail near my home.  I could easily run over any obstacle (rocks, roots, chunks of sharp ice, etc.)  without problem.  What the shoe lacked in ground feel, it made up for in protection.

     Since most runners are not barefoot runners, I gave the shoes to two runner friends to test out.  Both are in the very early stages of transitioning to barefoot and minimalist shoe running.  Both LOVED the shoe for running.  It was obvious they appreciated the degree of protection offered by the shoe coupled with the design that allowed for natural foot movement.  As a running shoe, hard-core barefoot runners will probably shy away from the Aqua.  New barefoot and minimalist shoe runners would likely find the Aqua to be an excellent running shoe option.

    Over the next four weeks, I wore this shoe daily.  It performed flawlessly as a daily “work shoe.”  The lack of a raised heel and design that allowed my foot to move as intended makes this an ideal casual shoe.  As time passed, I actually experienced less aches and pains from standing and walking at work.  I would confidently rank this shoe as the best casual shoe I have ever worn.  I always recommend my barefoot running students spend as much non-running time barefoot as possible.  This shoe would be a perfect solution for occasions when my students must wear shoes. 

     As a running shoe, it would be ideal for new barefoot or minimalist shoe runners.  More experienced barefoot runners may prefer a more minimal running shoe.  Terra Plana is preparing to release their EVO running shoe, around March of 2010.  If the EVO is designed based on the same principles of the Aqua, it would be hard to imagine it wouldn’t be a runaway success. 

Here are a handful of other issues:

•    Cost- these shoes are expensive compared to the other minimalist options available.  It retails for $150.  This is what initially prevented me from seriously considering this shoe as a minimalist option.  I don’t have a problem spending more for quality products, but my skepticism prevented me from spending the money on one pair of shoes.  After testing these shoes, I would not hesitate to spend $150 for these shoes.  Truth be told, I think they are under-priced for the value.  Not only are they the only causal shoe I’ve tried that acts as advertised, the design, construction, and durability are impeccable. 

•    Fit- My Aquas are EU size 45, which is larger than what I would normally wear.  I would recommend ordering one size larger than your standard size.

•    Traction- Traction on dry and wet surfaces is very good.  Traction on ice is bad. I live in Michigan, so I spend a good deal of time walking on icy sidewalks.  The Aquas perform very well on every surface except ice.

•    The company- The more I researched Terra Plana, the more impressed I became.  They are a socially and environmentally-responsible company that is deeply concerned with producing quality products that meet the demand of their intended audience.  Their customer service is second-to-none.  I anticipate this company will grow by leaps and bounds as the barefoot/minimalist shoe movement takes off… I really hope the company doesn’t lose this “family” feel.  Even though Terra Plana is a major player in the world of shoes, they do not have the ‘faceless behemoth” feel of corporations such as Nike.  I won’t go into more detail for brevity’s sake, but you can read more about the company here:


     If you are a current or aspiring barefoot runner looking for a casual shoe for work or play, this shoe is second to none.  After using this shoe for a month, I couldn’t even recommend an alternative to this shoe.  It will allow you to develop and strengthen your feet and legs during non-running times by allowing natural foot movement.  The cost is of this shoe is a value for the quality and function of the product.  If you are a new barefoot or minimalist shoe runner, the Aqua could be a viable option as a running shoe.  I am eager to test other models from Terra Plana’s Vivo Barefoot division.  Some other styles could easily be used for business or business/casual dress, and the EVO promises to be a quality minimalist running shoe.  Terra Plana also produces an excellent line of women’s shoes.  After hearing me rave about these shoes, my wife is looking forward to trying the woman’s line.  If you have any questions about the Aquas, please email me at robillardj “at” gmail “dot” com.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Do I Have To Run Barefoot? The case for minimalist running shoes

The following is an excerpt from my soon-to-be-printed barefoot running book:

Do I Have To Run Barefoot?

     While I would recommend barefoot running for all runners, it is not necessary to run barefoot full-time.  In fact, running in minimalist or even reduced running shoes will net many of the same benefits of barefoot running.  Research is still being conducted to determine what exactly causes the benefits of barefoot running, but many speculate the relaxed, midfoot gait is primarily responsible for the positive effects of barefoot running.  Based on anecdotal evidence, minimalist shoe running is a much healthier alternative to traditional cushioned motion-control running shoes.  In essence, minimalist shoes help the foot work as it was intended to work.  The more minimal the shoe, the greater the benefit.  If you do not intend on going barefoot full-time, this book can still help you become a better runner.

     I recommend all runners learn to run barefoot prior to adding minimalist shoes into your training routine.  Learning to run barefoot first will allow you to learn good form and strengthen your feet, legs, and other anatomy to help prevent injuries.  It is possible to learn to run in minimalist shoes first, but the lack of tactile sensation with the ground will interfere with the process.

© 2010 Jason Robillard.  All rights reserved.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Barefoot Running Workshop in Boston Area!

The Boston Barefoot Runners will be hosting two workshops in the metro Boston area in the near future.  Here are the details:

Want to learn how to run barefoot safely and gently? Here’s your chance.The Metro Boston Barefoot Runners—who have been running barefoot on area roads for over 13 years (including more than 250 5Ks and 10Ks), and have been subjects in the ongoing running research of  Dr. Dan Lieberman (featured in the bestselling “Born to Run”) — are hosting two indoor Barefoot Running workshops in Cambridge, MA.If you are new to barefoot running or have some experience and want to ensure that your technique is both correct and safe, then you’ll want to sign up for one of these two free workshops. Both will offer the same information on how to learn to run gently, how to avoid injury, and both will briefly cover minimalist footwear. Both will be fun!  We guarantee it, or your money back! (Oh yes, the workshops are free.)The workshops will take place inside and last just 1 hour. We will be moving the workshops outdoors in the Spring. What: Metro Boston Barefoot Runners WorkshopWhen: Saturday, February 27 and Saturday, March 20 both from 3PM to 4PM.Where: First Congregational Church, 11 Garden Street, Cambridge, MA 02138

Please sign up here:

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Anti-Barefoot Movement... bad for running

For those with their figurative ears to the tracks of the barefoot running scene, a new website as sprung up to "debunk" barefoot running.  While the author or authors chose not to reveal their name OR register the site without anonymous cloaking, we do know the site was registered a few days ago.  They immediately displayed a Road Runner Sports banner.  While it would be presumptuous to make assumptions, I think it would be relatively safe to assume we know the author or authors' affiliation.

This is a sad day for running.  One of the elements of this great sport that I find most attractive is the camaraderie of my fellow runners.  I feel a genuine connection to everyone that is willing to persevere through races of any distance.  You guys are my brothers.  It does not matter if you choose to wear shoes or not... we are in this together.  Shame on those that choose to drive a wedge through the running community.