Yesterday my latest “gadget” arrived in the form of the Vivobarefoot Breatho trail running shoe. As the name would suggest it is a minimalist barefoot running style shoe. The Breatho is the trail running version, so it is a little bit heavier, with more tread on the bottom and a more robust outer to protect the shoe and your foot from the undergrowth. Read on to find out more.
The Vivobarefoot Breatho has been my one foray into proper barefoot running and I will be taking it for its first test drive later this morning. First impressions are that the shoe is well made, there is a lot of room in the toe box, but the shoe fits my “standard” size 10 foot well in other areas. The Breatho doesn’t have a conventional tongue as this would add extra weight, however I spent yesterday afternoon wearing it around the office and it was like wearing a very light pair of slippers, just not as warm.
If you have read my previous barefoot running articles you will know that until now I have been “barefoot” running in a very cheap, £8, pair of trainers that have no support in them whatsoever. You see, I couldn’t bring myself to shell out £60 to £150 on a pair of barefoot style shoes. The price didn’t make sense to me, why spend more than you would on your normal running shoes so that you can run “barefoot?” That was until the Vivobarefoot Breathos appeared in a Sportpursuit sale at a little over £30, that was more like it. I ordered a pair immediately and went straight to the house to confess the purchase to my wife. Oh, I did also try running properly barefoot but the cold ground made my soft cossetted feet go numb within a few strides!
Due to my intensive training and racing regime at the moment I can’t afford to take time off with an injury, so while I am prepared to run barefoot occasionally as a strengthening and training aid, I wont be doing any full length runs. The reason for this is that if you aren’t used to barefoot running then it puts a lot of extra strain on your Achilles Tendon and your calf muscles, and it becomes very easy to over do it. I have an easy sub-40 minute run scheduled for today, so I will pop on the Breathos and go for a slow, gentle run up my local woodland trail. The ground is fairly level, the path clear and the river will be running wild, so while it will be short, it will be very pleasant.
If you haven’t experienced Sportpursuit yet then I can highly recommend it. They have outdoor oriented flash sales and the products are changing all of the time. You have to wait a few weeks for your goods, but the prices often make it worth it. I did a full review of their service here.
——- Some time later ——
Ok, that didn’t quite go as planned. It started off easy enough. I was cruising along practicing the efficiency measures given to me by Neil Scholes, barely even noticing the shoes on my feet. I was wearing waterproof socks as it’s cold and wet and the Breathos have no insulation whatsoever. I was also wearing my hat, gloves and waterproof jacket. I ran the half a mile up the road to the woods and set off down the muddy trail, the shoes gripped well and I didn’t notice the puddles and squishy mud as I was being well protected by my waterproof socks. I could really feel the ground beneath my feet though and I have to say, the grip was really good. I cruised on, up an incline, onto the main path and past a couple walking their dog in the rain…..wait, go back. When I say “past a couple” what I mean was that I glided alongside them and bounded over a large rock at the side of the trail without thinking about. It felt effortless, my feet weighing nothing and each stride coming really easily. I probably looked like a right poser, but who cares, it was great fun.
I carried on up the trail as it got narrower, wetter and generally more yucky/treacherous. I was now almost skipping from one piece of solid footing to the next and had already gone further than planned. Oooh, a left turn up a near vertical bank, no problem. Muddy steps, no problem. Squishy path full of mud, puddles, roots and rocks, no problem. Slippery down hill where I leaped off of the path to go around a fallen tree, no problem. I still didn’t feel like I was going fast and my legs were turning over really nicely.
The rest of the run carried on in a similar manner, with a touch of fatigue creeping in during the last few hundred metres, the spring gradually fading from my step. I had only run four miles, but it included 433 ft of climbing, lots of mud, rocks and slippery bits with an average pace of 10min/mile and heart rate of 143, just below my alleged lactate threshold for running. (I say alleged because I’m getting it tested properly in January.)
So what about the shoes? They certainly contributed to the lightweight feeling and combined with the increased efficacy of my stride it meant that a short, fun trail run became even more fun. At the end of the run they looked exactly the same at the start, so hopefully that is a sign of how robust they are. The grip levels were good and they were fine on both tarmac, rocks and gloopy mud. As for running barefoot style I could feel the extra demands put on my calves from not having a heel in the shoe. I was still a heel/mid foot striker, however each calf was being stretched a bit more than normal to achieve it. The effect isn’t quite as pronounced during a trail run due to the uneven nature of the ground, but I would want to increase the distance gradually in the Breathos so that I don’t get a lower leg injury. Remember: running barefoot isn’t necessarily the same as running with a forefoot striking style, just remember to look after those calf muscles.
If you fancy giving a pair of barefoot shoes a try then you can’t go too wrong with the Vivobarefoot Breathos, they are well made and exceptionally light weight for a trail shoe. You can get lighter barefoot style shoes, but I get the impression that the Breathos would work in whatever environment I wanted to use them. Definitely get yourself a pair of waterproof socks though as they help to keep your feet warm and dry. If you can’t feel your feet due to the cold then you will lose some of the benefits of running barefoot.