Thin-soled running shoes, reviewed.

Posted on
May 23, 2011
Posted in: Products

For the last few years, I’ve resisted taking tennis shoes with me on trips. I figured there was no greater travel or fashion crime than wandering around a city in jeans, a button-down, and bright white tennis shoes, which, combined with my inherent neurosis, meant I was bound to be mistaken for Jerry Seinfeld. Simply, I could not let that happen happen.

I kick so much ass at Photoshop.

The alternative has not been easy. As woeful as they are to look at, tennis shoes are damn comfortable. And considering that I spend hours upon hours walking in a new city (I’m regularly on my feet for 6 hours at a time, taking a quick break for lunch, or cupcakes, or to sit down on the subway on my way to more cupcakes), it’s been hard to find something that works without leaving my back and knees aching (it does not help that I have inherited my mother’s tendency to carry a purse the size of an Ewok with me.) I generally opt for converse (what they lack in arch support, they make up for in street cred), or ballet flats which have not been designed for heavy walking (the brand-new pair I brought with me to New York last are now the shoe-equivalent of a Lohan. Rough-living makes them look far older than they are).

And yes, I pack heels. I realize the followers of Rick Steves are cringing in their denim dress shirts and khakis at the thought of me traipsing around the lower east side in three-inch-tall peep-toe confections, but I regret nothing (And I won’t be judged by people who wear socks with sandals.) Besides, I had my converse to fall back on. Or, at least, I did, until they met their demise in an incident that will be known simply “A-pooh-calypse.” (I am still debating whether or not I am going to tell you about that one).

I was now left with a pair of high heels, a pair of black dressy sandals, and ballet flats that were falling apart. And after sludging through Boston on a chilly day in the rain, with soaked toes, I realized, rather painfully, I needed tennis shoes.

Now, I’ll admit: I get a lot of joy out of shopping. But shopping under duress, when you’re desperately trying to find something warm enough/ water-proof enough/comfortable enough to wear for the rest of your trip, is absolutely heinous. Fortunately, I had some idea of what I wanted. I’d spoken to a few people who had embraced the idea of thin-soled shoes – ones that closely mimic what it’s like to walk around barefoot (yes, these are the same folks who wander around in those weird five-toed shoes you see everywhere). They preached the virtues of their new shoes with all the enthusiasm of the recently saved. Apparently god exists, in the form of really good arch support.

So, after reading a few dozen reviews on Zappos preaching the merits of the Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove, I walked into the Macy’s in downtown Boston and snatched up a pair. They didn’t have the individual toe holes (there is no way I’m wearing a pair of those. Sorry.) but the sole is supposedly the same (Merrell apparently collaborated with Vibram to create the shoe.) And the next day, against my better judgement, I wore them for roughly 6 hours. Here is a breakdown of how things went:

Day 1: I had read how fans of these shoes were amazed with how much more connected they were to the surfaces they walked on (“You can tell when you’re walking on gravel or grass.”) I found this a rather strange thing to say, because I generally tend to notice that with all shoes that I wear. What I did notice is that the muscles in my feet were flexing in some really weird ways. And my toes were twitching like an addict in withdrawal. What. The. Hell. I also felt like I had to work harder with each step – kind of like when you have to walk on sand. My arches felt like they had been stretched, and at the end of the day my feet and legs were tired, but not really sore. Also, my back didn’t hurt! I didn’t want to take my new shoes off.

Day 2: Dear god, what have I done? I tried to wear my new shoes again, but my Achilles tendon and ankle on my left foot are so not down with that. The back of my ankle felt like it was being stretched, and painfully so. I’d read this phenomenon happens with people who wear heels all the time and suddenly switch to flats – but as someone who wore flats, I was confused. And in serious pain. So I bought some converse. By the end of the day my back hurt, but I didn’t care.

Day 3: No way I was going to wear those bastard shoes again.

Day 4: Still nope.

Day 5: Now home, I figured I’d give them another shot. My Achilles tendon was still hurting, but it did feel comparably better than it had. And other than that, my feel did feel great. It seemed like I was actually getting a work-out when I walked, and not just like I was trudging around, destroying my knees and ankles.

Day 6: I might wear these again today. No, really.

Bottom line? I think that the thin-soled shoe has potential, especially if you start wearing them in moderation, and don’t immediately decide to run all around town in them. If you give your feet time, they’ll actually adapt pretty well to these. Of course, there remains the problem that they still aren’t that cute. I might pack them on a trip … but I’m still bringing my heels with me, too.

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