A few months ago, I did something I’ve never done before. I pitched a company, asking to try their product in return for a review on my blog. One would think, given the subject matter of this blog, that I would pitch a food appliance company or company that sells low carb or gluten-free ingredients. But no, my first ever pitch was to a running shoe company…because I wanted them. Badly. So much so, that I was willing to pay for them myself if the company turned me down. But I figured it was worth a shot. I’m no expert on running or running shoes, but I love the sport, and I have a lot of readers who run or who have recently started running programs. And like many people, I am very intrigued by the minimalist and barefoot shoe movement. To my delight, they agreed and sent me a pair of the very stylish Skora minimalist running shoes.
But now I am faced with a dilemma. A big one. Because I don’t think I can give my readers a very objective review. The problem is that I unequivocally, hands down love these shoes. Love them. I had in my head that I would test out the shoes in various ways and make note of all pros and cons so that the reader could make an informed decision. But I don’t really have any cons to speak of. I think the shoes are fantastic and I would recommend them enthusiastically to anyone who was interested in minimalist shoes. After reading Born To Run, I am all about the minimal and barefoot movement, as it jives with everything I learned in my graduate program in human evolution. I feel strongly that less shoe; less structure, less support and less cushion, is integral to my continuing development as a runner. And to my continuing injury-free.
So I am going to tell you about my experience with these new shoes, and then I am going to direct you to the Skora website for more information. I will leave it to them to explain all the technical details, because they do so very well on their website. They also have a great blog that touches on many subjects about running, proper running form, and minimalist running. They are quite a new company, and as such they face stiff competition from the more established institutions, but I think they are well placed to win over many runners.
Barefoot Running: So, as you may know, I was experimenting a bit with barefoot running before I got my shoes. And by that I mean actually barefoot, with no foot-covering whatsoever. Mostly it was on grass, but the little bit that I did on the track at our local high school tended to chew up the skin of my feet. And that wasn’t even true pavement or asphalt, but a softer, more cushioned surface. I know that with time, my feet would build up a toughness, but I wasn’t sure I really wanted them to. True barefoot runners must have callouses inches thick on their feet! And personally, I like my pedicure, thank you very much. As a road racer, my feet take enough beating as it is, so some measure of protection between me and the hard street was in order. Enter my Skora Base shoes.
Ground Feel: If you are used to conventional running shoes, running in a pair of Skoras will at first feel a little like you are running in slippers. Really, there just isn’t all that much between you and the ground, although there is more than one would get with some barefoot shoes. But all that cushioning and softness you get with traditional running shoes is gone. You feel what’s under your feet, you feel the rock, or twig or acorn you just stepped on. And that’s a good thing, because it gives your body the chance to adjust to the surface under you. You pay more attention to the ground surface, you place your feet more carefully. You connect.
Less Impact: It may sound counter-intuitive to say that running with less cushion in your shoe means less impact on your body, but it’s true. The arch of the human foot is designed to absorb impact, but as cushioned shoes take away our ability to feel the ground, we land more heavily as our foot seeks to feel the surface and adjust to it. You simply can’t come down as hard in a pair of Skora shoes, which actually means LESS impact on your joints than traditional shoes (one of the more interesting points made in Born to Run). If you turn off your music and listen to the sound of your feet on the ground, you will hear it. A light tap-tap-tap. No hard clomping, no heavy footfall. Like running in slippers. Ballet slippers.
Footstrike: A common cause of many running injuries is footstrike, or where one comes down on their foot when they land. Conventional shoes have stacked heels with many layers of cushioning, and this allows many runners to heel strike, or come down on their heel first. But that’s not how the human foot is designed to absorb impact, and it can cause many issues. A mid-foot strike is much safer, more comfortable and sends far less impact through the legs and back of the runner. In a pair of Skora shoes, you will find heel-striking very uncomfortable. There is no cushion to help the heel come down and you feel it. I was always a mid-foot striker anyway, but like most people, when I am tired, my form gets sloppy. My Skora shoes are a constant reminder to keep my form tight, which means less chance of impact-related injuries. I’ve gone almost 3 years, my whole running career, injury-free…knock on wood it continues.
Take it slow: When transitioning from conventional running shoes to minimalist or barefoot shoes, it’s important to start slow. It employs your muscles differently, and you need to take time to build up strength to avoid a different sort of injury. My Skora Base shoes felt so good right from the beginning, my legs felt lighter (less shoe at the end of them!) and my form felt spot on, so it was tempting to put away my old running shoes and never look back. But on the advice of my contact at Skora, I was careful to alternate and to use them only once or twice a week, on shorter runs. Then I built up from there. I promised myself that when I could do a whole long run in them, I would write my review.
For the long haul: Last week, I went out for a long run in my Skora shoes. 14 miles, my second longest run ever (I once did 17 miles, but that was because I got lost). And I felt fantastic every step of the way. In some places, I felt like I was flying. It wasn’t my fastest pace ever, but it was quite good and I felt strong and light. So I have now converted completely to my Skoras and put away my other runners. I had some muscle soreness the day after my long run, but no more than I would have in any other shoe. Less, in fact, than I’ve had when amping up mileage previously. I’d call that a success story.
So yes, I love them. I think they are great shoes and I highly recommend them for anyone thinking of transitioning to a more minimalist running style. The folks at the company certainly believe in them and wear them on their own runs (my contact happens to be an ultra-runner!). They were also wonderfully responsive when I had questions, and gave advice freely about how to transition and how to size them properly. The company tagline is “Run Real”, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.