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Wednesday, February 2, 2011

And my first pick in the 2011 Ultramarathon Shoe Draft is: Unshoes!

For Maple Grove Barefoot Guy's first selection in the ultramarathon gear draft, he selects as footwear: The 10mm Unshoe Huarache Sandal!  *overwhelming cheers from the crowd* *attractive women throwing their underwear at me* *mothers asking me to sign their babies*

The good folk at Unshoe have generously agreed to provide me with a complimentary pair of Unshoe huarache sandals for review and testing.  Of course it must be a dream come true to work with me.  I'm excited to work with them as well. 

I plan to write a preliminary review of these sandals in March or April, once the snow melts and huaraches become a little more practical.  I also plan to use these sandals while training for, and hopefully during, the Superior Sawtooth 50 Mile Ultra this September.  Afterwards, I will write another review detailing how the sandals stood up to high mileage training.

Be on the look-out folks, because there's something in it for you guys as well.  Maple Grove Barefoot Guy will be doing his first ever giveaway of a pair of these sandals as well!  That's right...a freebie!   

Why did I choose to attempt this ultra with this brand of huaraches?  It's not because this attractive young man is already sponsored by Luna Sandals (picture below).  It's because I hope that these shoes are the right tools for the job. 

There's Patrick Sweeney, as always looking like a professional runner in every picture...probably because, for the most part, he is...

Shoe Junkie

Here's the skinny.  Whenever us barefoot runners sign up for a race, we all become like women dressing up for a date.  No...we don't go put on something skanky and douse our necks in a gallon of Cool Water (seriously ladies, get a new fragrance...that stuff smells like stripper).  But the question,"What am I going to wear?" always comes to mind. 

This isn't a problem for our boat-anchor wearing counterparts.  Unless they have racing flats, they run in the shoes that they've been wearing while training.  If it's a trail race, and they have trail shoes, they wear those.

While gearing up for a race, us barefoot runners all do the equivalent of, "Do these shoes make my butt look big?"  We've been blessed with the freedom to run unencumbered by cushioned trainers.  At the same time, we're cursed with the need to find just enough shoe for the job at hand. 

The dirty little secret of barefoot runners is that we are really closet shoe-junkies.  Even the most hardcore among us has at least three pairs of minimalist shoes in his closet.  Personally, I own two pairs of Vibram Fivefingers (one for running, and one pair to embarrass my wife in casual public settings), a pair of New Balance MT100s for trail running, and some Luna Sandals.  And I consider myself to be on the low end of a shoe addiction.

The current state of my minimalist shoe addiction.  It looks like a woman's shoe closet.  A woman with horrible, horrible taste. 

Now sometimes the right tool for the job is barefoot.  Most of the time, that's the right way to go for me.  But after signing up for the Superior Sawtooth 50 Mile Ultra this September, I knew that this wouldn't be a race I would be attempting barefoot. 

I love barefoot trail running.  The combination of textures and terrain provide a sensory experience during running that is unlike anything else.  At the same time, it can be rough and downright dangerous.  I can handle stepping on rocks and debris for a quick trail training run.  I'm unsure of my ability to survive 50 miles on the trail.  After my friend Jason's attempt at a barefoot 100-miler went south after 33 miles, the thought of a 50 mile barefoot trail attempt makes me pee my pants.

Jason finishing strong at the Burning River 100.  It's amazing that after 100 miles he still has the same goofy look on his face.  There's fellow minimalist runner Jesse Scott to Jason's left looking very "Malibu Ken".

Note: That last link and picture was the blog equivalent of the high school nerd dropping hints that they want to go to prom with the captain of the football team, and hoping that they notice.  I don't want to go to prom with Jason.  I just look for every chance I can get to ride someone's coattails.  In the barefoot world, his are getting longer.  That is my effort at name dropping.  You better believe he will be tagged in this post on facebook!

So after signing up for the ultramarathon, the search was on for a pair of trail shoes.  Nothing in my arsenal currently works. 

For example, I love my MT100s for shorter, technical trail runs when I don't feel like worrying too much about where my feet land.  But they are the heaviest shoes that I own.  In comparison to my old 13oz. Mizuno Waves, these 8oz. shoes are like Rocky in Rocky IV (for those who haven't seen the greatest Rocky of all-time, that means they are much leaner, and much meaner).  That being said, I can always feel my legs getting fatigued while wearing them, even on short trail runs.  The cumulative effect of 50 miles in these things would not be pretty.

On the other hand, all of my other shoes suffer from the same problem.  They don't provide enough protection.  My Vibram KSOs provide good protection from rough terrain.  Still, after long mileage, I start to feel discomfort from rough surfaces.  Not to mention more ugly issues that creep into play during very long distances while wearing shoes; namely, foot swelling and sweating.  Having now run two marathons in my KSOs, I know exactly how my feet feel after extremely long distances.  They feel and look like Sasquatch caught swampfoot.  Huge, sweaty, putrid meatballs attached to my legs.  Gross...


So as a solution, I've been attracted to the idea of training to run this ultra in huarache sandals like my Lunas for a while now.  For those who aren't familiar with huaraches, they are essentially sandals designed for running.  Well...they were originally designed for hippies and Mexicans (no really...read Born to Run), but have become popular among the minimalist running crowd. 

They are popular because of their open design and extremely light weight.  My Lunas weigh in at a slim 3.5 oz.  They allow my foot to breath and swell and splay...and all the other weird things feet do, to their hearts content.  They are the closest that you can come to barefoot running without being barefoot.

Picture of my Luna Sandals, a rather over-priced and underwhelming brand of huarache sandal.

There's just one problem...I dislike my Lunas.  I've tried really hard to like them, since I dropped $80 on them (yes, I dropped $80 on the equivalent of the bottom of a shoe with a lace attached to it...at least I didn't order a time machine or a Chia Obama online okay!).  I go out for a run with them every so often, like that obligatory second date, just to see if we have some chemistry.  I just can't get to like these things.  

I should be more specific.  The sandal isn't the problem.  The Vibram sole with suede upper is actually very comfortable.  And I love the way it conforms to my feet.  The problem is the lacing.  The leather laces make me look like an ancient Greek, but without the cool toga (sometimes...see profile picture).  They also cut the inside of my toes to hell.  If you search Youtube for "huarache tying method", you'll discovery that there are about 400 mediocre ways to tie these buggers.  They are always too tight or too loose.

The Unshoe

Enter Unshoes.  When I saw Unshoes, I thought to myself, "These are the huaraches I should have gotten."  This sandal, like most running huaraches, uses either 4mm, 6mm, or 10mm Vibram soling material.  Instead of the typical tie lacing system, they use a tubular webbing that is more strap than lace.  The finished product is something that I think resembles a Teva sandal, but without having to go to REI and purchase them from a guy in a fishing vest.
My favorite part...the webbing has an adjustment that allows you to tighten or loosen the sandal simply by pulling or pushing the toggle.  My hope is that this makes my problem with lacing adjustment a non-issue.  I chose the 10mm model in hopes of mimicking the Luna Sandal Leadville model, which is a 10mm Vibram sole with a tough, leather lace.

I'm not going to talk about them too much, because I still have a review to write.  But I will plug them incessantly.  Right now Unshoes is migrating to a new website (for more information visit their blog), but you can currently buy them at their Etsy store.  For any other questions, please visit their main website.

End of shameless plug...


  1. Dude!!! The new Luna Sandals have a new strapping system that is blowing my mind - an elasticized leather material that makes the whole experience even simpler and better...and I have been testing and playing with these things for a while now ;-)

    Check'em out here: www.lunasandals.com


  2. Wanna send me a pair of Leadvilles with the new laces to test for comparison. I shouldn't be so hard on your product Ted. It's that damn lace that I don't like, not the rest of the shoe. And the price. I haven't had a positive experience for those reasons. But I've had some good runs in them, they look sharp, and they are comfy.

    A side by side comparison would make a great post for my blog ;) Think about it!

  3. I like the 4mm version of the unshoe. Though I actually run barefoot so don't need the footwear. The less footwear the better for a barefoot lifestyle.

    I don't understand these BF runners with a closet of min shoes. Once you put a shoe on you are no longer a barefoot runner. You are just a runner in a shoe using a natural running gait landing on your forefoot first. Any footwear eliminates natural sensory feedback, and any shoe alters the natural running gait.

    I do agree that the BFT sandals are heavily over priced. Though people still pay the price based on the hype. People just really desire something on their foot, and after reading the infamous book they want to spend money to "connect". It's a great marketing tool for BFT.

    The 4mm unshoe would be more attractive if I were in the market for a sandal, and the pricing is realistic. In my own opinion 10mm is way too much sole, but then again any artificial sole is too much.

    1. You make some bold statements against having anything on one's feet. Running surfaces vary widely, and not all are suitable for truly barefoot running. To take your statements to their illogical extreme, one might suggest that wearing heavy protective garments in the arctic should be avoided because they reduce your natural sensory feedback. Yet this statement is ridiculous on its face because the nature of the environment demands some degree of protective clothing. The same can be said of any environment and the implementation of our desired activity in it.
      Heck, even sunscreen reduces your natural sensory feedback in that it allows you to prolong your UV exposure without receiving the typical feedback.
      So my question to you is: Do you never select your attire based on the environment in which you will undertake an activity? If this is the case, then you have a solid foundation for your statement "I don't understand these BF runners with a closet of min shoes." If you do select your attire based on your environment, then you have the basis for understanding.

  4. I agree Butner with all of your points. I would much rather be barefoot than wear shoes on any day. And I certainly don't consider myself to be "barefooting" while wearing any sort of shoe.

    I may decide that the 10mm is too much for the job. But my goal for the race is only to finish, not necessarily have a good minimalist shoe experience. So I picked the 10mm Unshoe because I think it will have the best of all worlds with respect to comfort, weight, and protection from rocks and other trail debris.

    Thanks for the comment!

  5. I have the 4 mm Unshoes and ran with them last summer after first trying out the Luna sandals with the leather straps. I then flip-flopped, pardon the pun, between the Unshoes and the Lunas until early winter when I then switched to the Runamocs. And then the Equus straps arrived for the Lunas. They were so comfortable from the get go I ended up running on the Luna / Equus combination for a half marathon last month.

    I prefer the Luna / Equus combination for the snug fit and yet they stay nice and comfortable. The Unshoes were always fairly loose, which did not bother me as much as the leather straps on the Lunas. I'm pretty sure the 10 mm Unshoes will do you well.

    But I do agree with Barefoot Butner, barefoot running still feels best. I just don't feel like doing it year round in the Northeast.

    Good luck!

    - Rory

  6. Thanks for the tip Rory! I may be testing a pair of Equus laces for a side by side comparison on my blog at a later time. I appreciate your comments on both!

  7. I should mention that the intent for Unshoes was originally to create a minimal sandal based on huaraches for outdoor recreational use such as hiking, backpacking and kayaking. Most of the customers have been runners but that was not the original intent.

  8. Neat! A friend of mine is making those for his high school senior project (he's our best runner this year, 5k PR is 16:26 I believe). His dad makes/repairs shoes so its a pretty do-able project.

  9. Hey, before I read "Born To Run" or any of the other barefoot running books and blogs, I bought some VFF's because I saw Mark Sisson running on a beach with them. I ran for an hour in them on Thanksgiving day and thought I was going to die because my calves were so sore! I was sore because I was now forefoot and mid-foot striking. At least the shoes were causing my body to run natural.

    After running a few weeks in them, the VFFs KS Treks felt like shoes. I wanted something more bare. Those KSO Treks hurt my toes. I don't have the prettiest toes. I could not for the life of me get comfortable in them. I blistered on top of my feet!

    I bought the KSOs and within a month they fell apart. The stitching blew out on the right side. I had about a half mile to go before I returned home. I took the stinking VFFs off and ran home bare. My feet instantly felt better. One of my neighbors who sees me running daily asked why I was running barefoot. I told him "My shoe blew out!" He does not ask anymore.

    It's a good thing that I found out about Huaraches 2 weeks ago. I made my son and myself each a set of 4 mm Invisible shoes. I would rather run completely bare, but some of the fire roads in California have this nasty heel cutting gravel spread all over.

    We also ran bare back in high school at Minnetonka Senior High. But that is another story in itself.



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