Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Goodness from the Soft Star Elves

During the past few months I've moved from road running to trail running, and I may never go back (but that's another blog post for another day). Unfortunately, I have no proper shoes for trail running, so have been running in my Vibram Five Finger KSO and my Mizuno Wave Universe 3 racing flats - both great shoes, but neither offering the grip nor protection needed for technical, rocky, rooty, gnarly trail running (I've got the foot bruises to prove this..). So, I've been searching for a good minimal (good ground feel, zero support, zero drop) trail shoe, mostly unsuccessfully. My wide feet make it impossible to wear the latest minimal trail running shoes like the New Balance Minimus Trail or the Merrell Trail Glove. I have even tried some of Barefoot Ted's fantastic Luna Huarache trail running sandals, but couldn't bear the toe strap on my left foot.

I was ready to give up on my quest for a minimal trail shoe, but based on the positive reviews and recommendations from folks on Barefoot Ted's Huaraches Google group, I ordered a pair of Soft Star RunAmocs.

I sent in a set of foot measurements, along with the outline of my foot and choose a custom color combination to match the school colors of my alma mater, NC State University (go Wolfpack! I'll be adding an embroidered NCSU emblem ankle patch for a truly custom look, sometime soon).

The shoes arrived over a week ago and I haven't been able to get them off my feet since.

Yeah, This is Yet Another Interweb Shoe Review

I wasn't sure what to expect with these shoes. They certainly have a "distinctive" elvish sort of style, but I'm past the age of giving a rip about what others think of my (lack of) style. The import qualities to me were Fit, Protection, Performance and Quality. Anyway, I kind of like how they look...

Well, I must say, the elves at Soft Star did a great job with my custom pair - a near perfect fit. The RunAmocs have a beautifully wide midfoot and forefoot, allowing my feet to spread and toes to splay on impact without interference. The heel area is not snug, which is difficult to adjust to coming from more traditional shoes, but I haven't noticed any problems with my heel drifting about while running, even on very technical and steep trails. The sole, and therefore the upper, on my pair are matched nicely to my foot shape, which I believe contributes to their good overall fit.

I chose the 5mm trail sole for my RunAmocs, but was concerned it might be a bit too thin for some of the nasty, rocky trails I've been running lately. Fortunately, the sole coupled with the foot bed material (a very thin leather-EVA-leather sandwich) seems to provide enough protection from sharp rocks without sacrificing too much in the way of ground feel. As a test, I ran the Company Mill Trail in Umstead State Park, which has many sections littered with sharp, quartz crystal stones, sometimes thick enough to pass for a quartz gravel bed. This trail can be flat out evil when I run it in my KSOs. Normally, I run around these sorts of rocky sections, since I've bruised my feet several times running through them in the past. This time, I purposely ran through the gnarly quartz rocks - at full speed. I expected pain. I expected loud cursing (had my favorite ones all queued up in my brain). What I got was a nice foot massage! The insole/sole combination is just enough protection to knock the sharpness off the impacts to my forefeet. I could still feel each and every rock, but the sharpness simply wasn't there. Nice! I cursed, but only with joy.

A note to anyone considering the red leather - be warned that some of the color will rub off on your socks the first few sweaty or wet runs. Don't freak out when you take them off in the locker room, like I did, thinking that your feet are bleeding. This is uncool...

Since RunAmocs aren't form fitting, I thought perhaps my foot moving about in the shoe would be a problem on steep ascents and descents. I really expected to feel unstable, perhaps even dangerous (more than usual!), on trail sections where sure footing and grip were needed. Surprisingly, the RunAmocs performed very well. After the first couple of steep hills, I actually stopped thinking about the shoes altogether and just concentrated on flow and foot placement. My foot seemed to lock into the sole during steep sections. The 5mm Vibram sole, while not up to the level of a studded/cleated trail shoe, seemed to have sufficient grip for most situations.

I did have one epic, full speed, downhill fall on the trail, where I tripped on a root, sailed through the air, rotated, and landed on my shoulder and back (on the bright side, this gave me the opportunity to practice my cursing again). But I chalked up that fall to hubris, and of course my lack of any real trail running skillz. I thought I heard Krampus and Sasquatch snickering about this in some bushes just off the trail.

It's early yet, but initial impressions of the RunAmoc are of very good quality. A quick search of the interwebs turns up folks who have put hundreds of miles on RunAmocs. I hope mine last that long. Heck, they will probably outlast my decrepit old body anyway.

If the RunAmocs wear out, or more likely, if I wear out, you'll hear it on this blog.