Barefoot Running Revolution

We talked about the benefits of barefoot shoes, or as we say “beyond minimalist shoes”, because even minimalist shoes restrict some of the natural motion of walking, in particular the toe rise is constricted by the fabric covering.  Don’t get us wrong, we love our VivoBarefoot shoes!  There are times and places for shoes, and if they are going to be shoes, they should be shoes designed FOR our feet, and Vivo is the best for ergonomic footwear.  However in this article we are sharing our experience with the ultimate in minimalist shoes, the Huarache sandals made by EarthRunners.  

Rediscovering Barefoot

The running world changed in a dramatic way in 1993 when 3 racers in the famous Leadville Trail 100 mile ultramarathon finished in first, second and fifth place wearing not the latest technological running shoes, but rickety handmade sandals made from scavenged old tires.  This race was the the coming out party for the Tarahumara Indians, based in the Copper Canyons area of Northwestern Mexico.  Actually the name of Tarahumara is a name given to them by 18th century explorers who were unable to pronounce their real name, Rarámuri, which means, appropriately enough, “lightning-footed people”.

A population of around 40,000, they live in the remote areas of the Copper Canyons region scattered in villages separated by miles.  The Leadville Ultramarathon for them is just another race, they hold their own races called Rarajipari, in which one village will challenge another to a race involving small teams that kick a wooden ball over the course of 100-200 miles in a race that can last from 20-40 hours.  It’s a race where the whole village gets involved including the children and the real prize at the end is fun, they do this just for the sheer enjoyment.

The miracle or rather secret to their success is natural running motion and carbohydrate diet that provides energy with slow release for endurance, including a home-brewed corn beer, light in alcohol content but high in potential energy.  Their running motion is perceptively different than the long strides seen in trained endurance runners.  The Raramuri use a smooth but quick high-stepping motion suitable over the rocky terrain of the canyon trails, and always with patience and joy, there is no urgency to finish, ironically this propels them forward.  The two other secrets to their success is that they are used to running at high altitude of 8,000 feet above sea level, and perhaps most importantly, the landscape is stunningly beautiful with snowcapped peaks and deep gorges.

There is a wonderful telling of this story that appeared in Runners World and if you want to read more about these incredible people, you can pick up a copy of Chris McDougall’s book Born to Run here.

The Natural Mechanics of Running

It may sound counter intuitive but those fancy soft running shoes are doing more harm than good for your running.  The human body was designed before the advent of form cushioned running shoes, as is every other animal that is born to run.  The body requires the feedback from the feet on the earth, and the

The cushioned shoes throw off your center of balance, allowing sloppiness to creep into your posture. They also cause you to rely on air-injected foam to absorb shock, not the natural compression of your joints – meaning, your legs become more rigid and less responsive. Strip down to bare feet and you’ll instantly notice two sensations: First, you recenter yourself over the balls of your feet. Second, your body regains its innate gyroscopic ability – whenever you step on a pebble and flinch, your legs instinctively twist and bend, and then shift back to perfect balance again.

If you want to go deeper into this subject, we refer you to the research by Daniel Lieberman from the Department of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University here.

 

The EarthRunners Experience

First Impressions

Ordering Process

Selecting the right size and style is remarkably easily on the Earth Runners website and the check-out process is quick and easy.  Upon placing an order there was an email confirmation received immediately, then about 2-3 weeks later the package arrived as promised.  It would have been nice to get some correspondence such as “we are preparing your sandals for shipping”, but that is just a small quip and was pleased how quickly the order was fulfilled.  One note is I placed a wrong order that l had to cancel and customer service was quick and professional with no questions asked.

Unpacking

The packaging was simple, the sandals arrived in a padded envelope, neatly labeled, bound together with rubber bands.  We weren’t expecting a wasteful plastic vacuum sealed, or even a paper box, and considering these are each handmade, we appreciate the simplicity of the packaging, or lack thereof.  Paper instructions accompanied the sandals, the text was not particularly helpful but the illustrations were clear enough, and there are detailed instructions on the EarthRunners website here.

Initial Reactions

My wife was enthusiastically overjoyed.  She loved them at first sight.  Maybe had something to do with the red laces matching her newly painted nails… Maybe?  As for me, I wasn’t overly impressed, but then again what were my expectations?  After all the quality of the materials is good, craftsmanship of seeing is good, and they are minimalist, what you see on their website is what you get.  These are probably the best quality Huarache running sandals available, and I love that they are handmade.  I think to be honest paying $79/pair is a little expensive but rationalize it as paying for the time of the artisan, something sorely lacking in this machine-made era.

Once we adjusted the fitting, which takes a bit of effort because the lace is a single piece that wraps around the sandal every which way so requires a bit of feeding the lace around to adjust each component, but only have to do this once.  We put them on… and haven’t taken them off since.  They are really comfortable!

We were initially concerned with the durability of the laces that wrap around the bottom of the sandals but the strength of the material seems to hold up to the wear and tear; these are nylon but the hemp options will have a shorter life, easily replaced by the company.

I am a bit of a flip flop junkie as they are my go-to footwear but inevitably get rubbing around my big toe from the center thong, and if walking long distances which I am prone to do, my day will end with more rubbing on the top sides of my feet from the thong supports, which leaves me days without wearing flip flops until the skin heals or where bandages.  I have had no problems of rubbing, blisters, and in fact find them liberating.

Earthing

Earthing is the philosophy of barefoot walking on the Earth to re-balance the body to the Earth’s frequency and dispel free-radical electrons.  Normal shoes have a rubber sole that insulates us from the Earth.  EarthRunners attempts to circumvent this problem by cleverly making the end plate of the laces on the bottom sole of the sandal out of copper, a conductive material.  Copper wires embedded in the laces are designed to transfer the free-radical electrons from our feet through the copper plate to the ground.  Does this really work?  We have no idea, nor is it really something that can be easily verified.  But we wouldn’t recommend testing the conductivity by walking on any subway third rails either.  This extra feature is a nice idea and doesn’t detract from our overall positive experience with EarthRunners even if it may not work as imagined.

Final Impressions

We’re addicted!  We love them!

EarthRunners won us over!  We love how they feel, and we love how they look,  There are other brands that make nice Huarache sandals but for us, there is a certain rugged aesthetic that the EarthRunners match.  Which ever brand you end up with, I’m sure you will not be disappointed.  We are recommending EarthRunners because we love them.  

An interesting side note, we have both had people come up to us and ask us where we got our sandals, I’ve never experienced this before and the fact it has happened more than once just shows how good these sandals are.  

Sources

Runners World Click Here

Men’s Health Click Here

Harvard Study Click Here

 

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