Sunday, April 21, 2013

Merrell Barefoot Running Review and Other Running Run-Ons

Let me tell you how Christopher McDougall's foundational work, Born to Run, deepened my love affair with running beyond my wildest expectations(as people enjoy saying when they are too lazy to come up with a more apropos phrase).

But first let me tell you that I have never half finished that beautiful tome. Actually never read a sentence. Actually, I have never held its precious contents in my greedy hands. It changed my life by just existing. Maybe I happened upon an article detailing McDougall's conclusions, maybe a running friend mentioned it in passing, I don't really remember. 

I just remember simply hearing that a guy wrote a book detailing how he studied an isolated, indigenous community that runs long distances on a regular basis, barefooted, without injury, and combined with scientific research, concluded that all humans were designed to live in a similar manner. 

And I said, "YES!"

Having run a couple of marathons at that point in incredibly "supportive," heavy, and expensive Mizunos, it was easy for me to conclude that YES!: running for extended periods of time is a beautiful and therapeutic part of the human experience as God intended, and if so, then the Good God would have also designed our bodies to function just fine without $120 shoes. If not better than fine, considering I finished both marathons with the hips of a 90 year old, and at least three black toes on each foot.

But what's a girl to do? I'm not going out there barefoot on Florida in July asphalt, or worse, getting a half-eaten acorn lodged between my toes or broken glass in my heel!   

And I'm certainly not wearing anything that would require my feet to enslave themselves, glove-like fashion, into the fashion controversy known as Five Fingers

Enter Merrell Barefoot.

I'm sold.

These shoes have a footbed developed by the same company that has manufactured the soles for all shoe companies that offer a "barefoot" division, (as far as this runner/writer knows) : Vibram. They don't single out your toes from the rest of your feet like ugly step children that have all earned a special time-out room to call their own. Instead, the sole has what Merrell calls a 0 mm drop, heal to toe, and a generous area up front for your toes to live in happy running participation with the rest of  your feet without the embarrassment of literally being singled out. 

I bought my first pair:

a Mary Jane style Merrell calls Pure Glove, that I figured would be cute enough to wear as walk about shoes if I really couldn't run in them.

I could run in them.

In fact, I trained for two half marathons (only could run in one), and ran a total of about 1440 miles in (that is 18 months, multiplied by about 80 miles a month, or 20 per week,) before they developed that beautiful hole pictured above. 

I had completely fallen in love anew with the gift to the human form that we call Running. The beloved Mizunos I held so close could carry me about 400 miles before replacement was necessary due to injury caused by completely deflated footbed:

After a few hundred miles, the outer side of the heel, obviously the side I depended upon, had become completely dilapidated, resulting in painful hips and lost toenails (one of the little known consequences many long distance runners face).

The only reason the Merrell shoes needed to be replaced was the hole, and my fear of half-eaten acorns. After nearly 1500 miles.

The Transition

I believe all proponents of barefoot or minimalist running caution that a  slow transition is necessary in order to adequately allow time for muscle development of little before used muscle groups. Fortunately, I bought my first pair of barefoot shoes shortly after the cesaerian birth of my sixth child, Gargantua, aka Isaac Augustine. Due to varicose veins, I was not able to run,or even walk much during this pregnancy, and combined with the necessary healing period after surgery, I was beginng my running at literally mile zero. 

Still, along with the usual muscle soreness associated with beginning a new workout regime,I noticed soreness in my ankle and lower leg regions, but not the injury-type sensations, more like happy-feeling muscle growing soreness. 

I adjusted easily to this new way of running, an earthier feeling, (dare I say it?), with the way the toes in the sole are designed to grip the ground, and the body of the shoe is airy and light, actually designed to be even worn without socks (although I choose to wear them anyway, for smell sake). I started upping the mileage of my long runs, slowly. I noticed my gait was changing ever so slightly, especially the fact that I seemed to be utilizing the balls of my feet far more than my heels (that was causing so much trauma to the above Mizunos). After hitting the distance of seven mile runs, no more pain. No more pain. NO MORE PAIN. 

The shoes, honestly, feel akin to a good quality water shoe. And after I got over the initial apprehension of getting into a serious stride in these things, have been nothing but a dream. 


  • No more injuries or black toes. I have been in these, my first pair and then Merrel Dash Gloves to replace them, now for about two years, and have trained for two half marathons (only able to complete one due to unrelated circumstances) without a single discomfort. 
  • Almost immediately I began to notice that my feet felt stronger. Even typing that sounds strange, but I felt like the muscles in my feet have become stronger and more supportive of my frame in general.
  • Shoes last longer, more for your money. (As demonstrated above.)
  • My feet have shrunk. What?  Yes. I have worn a size 8 since probably eighth grade. Since about a year ago I have been buying shoes no larger than a 7.5, or more regularly, a 7. What in the world? Maybe my feet were just fat? I don't know, but to me it is simply indicative that my feet themselves have experienced a transformational journey to fitness. While  there is technically not a benefit to having smaller feet, it nevertheless shows that I have changed.
  • I am more beautiful, smarter, richer, and younger. 
  • Just kidding. Come on.

The End (finally)

So am I just dying to read Born to Run? NO. I don't have time for that and I truly enjoy dark Russian fiction second only to a good long run. But I am so thankful, so very thankful, that others have read it.


Shoes: Merrel Dash Glove (now retired, I believe the Vapor is the replacement.)

Shorts: Nike  (this embarrassingly revealing bodacious looking booty photo, and a very fun discussion with running enthusiast and my blogger hero, Cari, have renewed my interest in finding the perfect running skirt.) (More to come on that.)

Watch: Garmin Forerunner GPS (wait for future posts, my second best running friend next to my shoes.)

Sunglasses: Fossil tortoiseshell aviators via Plato and his Magnificent albeit lice infested Closet

Ponytail: Hair Extensions by Mr. Ed

Soft Dragon-Like Underbelly, impervious to both diet and exercise: courtesy Peter,Jude,Joseph,AnneMarie,NaomiandIsaac, and Ben and Jerry (just kidding, I can't afford that. Publix Premium, Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough, thankya very much.)

Great Big Grin: courtesy endorphins produced logging 20 miles a week

The Obvious

Merrell, Vibram or Mizuno had absolutely no interest in me and my blathering on and on, but if for some reason, any of the above feel the urge, Size 7.5 please.

*Sorry! Had to remove "comments" option due to high quantity of spam. If you would like to ask a question, email me using the info under contact above. Thanks!*


  1. You are amazing. Those shoes look awesome. I hate running, but maybe one day I'll learn to like it!

    1. Honestly, I am as much of a believer in a good long walk. If you hate it, you will have all the more time to make excuses not to do it.

  2. Not for nothing, if my butt looked that good in running shorts, I'd probably run naked.
    But I'm an exhibitionist like that, so ignore me and all my naked-running comments.

    Love this post. Loved my Garmin until my kids took it "deepsea swimming" (in our backyard kiddie pool) and ruined it. Now I rely on my $2 "Zombies, Run!" app.

    Part 2 now, please?

  3. I used to be a runner, in a former before kids life. I started back up last year and was smitten from the first mile completed - then, my veins went and did some very unkind swelling in my legs which sorta freaked me out. Since then, I've been a power walker, but I don't think these shoes would snub me if I walked instead of ran in them - they look like just what I need!

    1. These are absolutely a walking, doing anything shoe. And on my running wish list are those new running compression socks that are all the rage, for the exact problem you mentioned.

  4. I got those Merrel Mary Jane's when I had aching feet and knees post baby #4. I am not a runner (just started a Couch-to-5k) but they did help me get fit enough so that my feet and knees didn't bother me any more. Maybe today I will try them on my workout. I also think I might like the tennis shoe style more because the strap tends to dig in to my foot.

    Why don't I like running? I blame a horrible case of shin splints in high school that left me hobbling around for months. My shins are still lumpy, umpteen years later. So, yeah, I'm a chicken.

    1. I do like the adjustability of my second pair. I often had to stop mid-run and re-pull the velcro on the mary janes. However, I still think they are much, much cuter!

  5. You have me sold! Now what to do about those flu-like symptoms that like to pair up with me and the quarter mile. (No reply!) (-;

  6. I love my Garmin too except I'm so competitive with myself that sometimes I have to not wear it or else every run becomes a race, ya know? I buy my boys Merrells for their school uniforms, and adore them (I even emailed them once just to say how much I love them and they emailed me back a 20% off coupon!) I never looked into their running sneakers, but now I must. Is that really hair extensions? I want it!

    1. Oh my goodness no! I just meant that I have hideous horse hair, hence the Mr. Ed reference!

  7. Bodacious booty or not, you look incredible! You hip moms make running seem so cool and I so want to do it until I remember that running makes me feel like I am dying and dying some more because I'm so ridiculously out of shape... Plus I don't have a quadruple stroller, so I can't go running with all the kids and someone's gonna call CPS if I leave some at home :P

  8. Try the fivefingers. You'll love them. Even more barefoot than the Merrells. Just because they're not cute does not mean they're not awesome!

    1. I agree, and I have heard so many good things about them. I actually don't even think they are "uncute," it is just that I know they draw attention, and to me that is a negative. The other thing is I have an aversion to anything between my toes, and that factor alone has stopped me from every slipping on a pair.

  9. So... could a novice runner (read: the fastest I've ever gone is a 15 minute mile walking) work her way into running with barefoots as long as she started (continued) walking and worked her way up?

    1. Being an expert on absolutely nothing, I say absolutely!

      I think the idea of the shoe is just that it gives protection and light support for the way your feet are designed to work by nature. If you are used to walking a lot wearing shoes that offer a lot of support, then these may take a while for your feet and legs to build up the right muscles, just like with running. And I have had to "start over" with running more than my fingers could count because of childbirth, injury or laziness, and every time, running begins with walking.

  10. This made me want to start running... and I kind of hate running. But I love long power walks, and would go everywhere barefoot if reasonable (e.g., no such thing as acorns and glass, as you mentioned!) so maybe I need to give these a try! Just have to figure out the right way to tell my husband why I suddenly need new shoes so that he doesn't ban me from reading blogs ;)

  11. Replies
    1. You found lice at Plato's closet?! Also, a good fairy god sister of mine gave me a pair, and they're awesome!!! F course, I only run about 20 minutes a day, not 20 miss a week!

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