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Entries in shoes (4)


Buying nothing still

I thought I'd write a brief progress report on my Buy Nothing Challenge, what I've noticed etc. 

Buying nothing has not been going smoothly. It's having an impact, but I'm not sure it's quite what I'd expected the impact to be. I don't browse Amazon much any more. I'm still massively irritated by ads. But I still occassionally trip and buy things. Some (most?) of them I justify. The small neoprene pouch I bought that houses my iPod and earbuds I justify by saying it will increase the life of both, and I certainly use it a lot. The scraps of leather I bought were definitely not for a new project, but for putting soles on my homemade slippers and has increased the life of them for sure (they'd both have holes in otherwise). Only trouble is I then came up with other projects for the leather (hello watchstrap) which meant I ended up buying tools. But the tools are reusable, and mean I can make myself new watchstraps instead of buying them - not to mention adding extra belt holes that mean I can carry on using one of my belts. 

The tights, well, yeah. I probably could have done without them. But the cold dragged on and on and on, and I wanted to wear my skirts and without tights that would have been impractical. If the cold weather had broken just a couple of weeks earlier I probably could have resisted, but it's just a pair of tights! 

And that's been one of the unintentional side-effects. I feel guilty about buying things. The joy I might get from a small purchase has been horribly tainted by the guilt, which in fairness has stopped me making a lot of small purchases. The Stuffa jacket I bought is definitely tinged with guilt. I didn't need it, but it was half price, the concept and packing it makes me smile, it seems to suit me, and yet I still feel a little... silly actually, as well as guilty about it. 

The big purchases too, the ones I've waited for, ummmed and ahhhed over, researched out of all sense of proportion, when I finally plump for something I am worrying that it won't be what I really want or need, because I really don't want to have to go and re-buy. The golf shoes I've just bought are a bit like that, even though the shoes I've been playing in are slightly too small and not waterproof in the slightest and that's pretty miserable. (All the rest of my new golf gear is only new to me, and I didn't really pay for it - it's other people's cast-offs.)

Plus what about rewards? I had a major milestone in my PhD in May, and at the end of reaching it I was exhausted. I wanted a reward, but felt that I couldn't buy anything. I felt I had no time for rewarding myself with a trip somewhere, or even a day off (although in hind-sight I probably should have taken time off to recover). I just ended up feeling a bit flat, like I had no recognition of this big achievement. It was very strange. I probably shouldn't associate stuff with achievement, but I wanted something. 

I can also feel a really big splurge coming on. The problem with researching is that you eventually find what you want. And when you do you can justify it in all sorts of ways. I want these boots from Conker. I need some winter boots to go with smart skirts/be less noticeable under trousers, because I'm rather assuming that I'll be needing to go to interviews again at some point (I'm thinking about the black ones - although I'd love the red it's not practical). I've checked, and they make them on a natural last and can make them totally flat. As luck would have it, we have an appointment in Exeter in October, which would be a good time to go and try them on. But boots are well outside my rules, and I do have a pair of smart shoes that would be ok. But if they fit and I like them, challenge and price be damned they are coming home with me! 

And that bag I was looking for? Meet Matthew. There may be one of these in grey-blue on order for me right at this moment. Just maybe. It's for my birthday. It's just a little early. 

So overall this has been an interesting way to examine my relationship to buying things, even more than my relationship to stuff. Actually, not buying stuff is easier for me when I am not earning much than I suspect it would be when I'm back to gainful employment. But this added layer of guilt is not something I was expecting. I will continue to try and mostly stick to the rules until the end of the year (splurges aside), but I recognise that there are limits to my dedication, and that actually feels pretty healthy. 


Freet Footwear Review

I like shoes. I really do. Which, given that I now only like minimalist shoes, gives me something of a conundrum. (Ignoring the no-buying thing, which is even more of a conundrum for a shoe-lover!)

For me, a minimalist shoe needs to be zero-drop, wide in the toe box, preferably no toe spring, and a thin, flexible sole. Ideally, the shape should mimic the shape of my foot, which is actually pretty straight up to the end of the big toe. 

My current running shoes have 400+ miles on now, but do (if I'm being really picky) fall down in a couple of those areas: they don't really have the same shape as my feet, and the thicker, 5mm trail sole is really a little too thick for me. A third issue is that really, I ought to face up to the fact that even after beating them on a broom handle they are too small. This has kind of shown up in some pain in the joint in the big toe on my slightly-larger left foot.

I need to find a pair to both train and run in for the WDW marathon next January. While I love the look of the Soft Star Moc3s, the shipping and import duty really bumps the price up. So when I saw the Freet Footwear 4+1 Barefoot shoe advertised (at a very reasonable price, I might add), I couldn't wait to try them. 

Freet Footwear 4+1

I was dead excited when they arrived. They are a really nicely made shoe, light, good strong-feeling upper. The velcro makes them easy to get on and off, and only having a separate big toe makes them significantly faster to get on than Five-fingers.

Freet Footwear 4+1

And look! They do mimic the shape of my foot pretty well. I mean, other than that big old gap between my big toe and the rest.

Freet Footwear 4+1

A lovely, grippy sole that would make your footprints look like a gorilla. What's not to love?

I really wanted to love these shoes. I really did. But there were, for me, a couple of things that meant these went back into the box and got sent back to Yorkshire.

They clearly do have a slight issue with size. I consider myself to be a UK size 5, which would be a European 38. I am questioning that slightly, as I've had to order a 39 in a few shoes now, but still, I have never been larger than a 39. So I ordered a 39. Before they shipped, I got a lovely email confirming the size that I'd ordered, and telling me they run a size small. I said thank you, and that I had already added a size. Sadly, it seems I should have ordered 2 sizes higher. The big toe fitted pretty well. A little snug width-wise, but I have pretty wide big toes and the material would have given a little with time. The problem was the second toe, which was wedged up against the end of the shoe. 

How could that be? My second toe is no longer than my big toe, and the 4 toe pocket starts out no shorter than the big toe pocket! I think it's that big old gap. My second toe sits further to the outside of the shoe than expected, and comes up against the end where the third toe ought to be.

That's not a deal-breaker. I'm not a size 40 shoe in any other make I have ever found, but it's just a number so I could have been. But the deal-breaker for me was the toe spring.

Freet Footwear 4 1

(Forgive the fuzziness - it's surprisingly hard to take a photo of a gap.)

When I'm standing around barefoot, my toes do not curl slightly upwards. I don't think yours will either. I'm not quite sure why shoe manufacturers like to include this little bit of upward curl in their shoes - I'm sure there's a reason, I just don't know it. For me, it means I will spend the vast proportion of the time I spend in these shoes when I'm not running pushing my toes against that spring. I will drive myself loopy trying to get my foot flat. As I was rather hoping that the next pair of shoes I bought could also be worn with jeans before or after a run, this meant these were a no-go. 

I had fabulous customer service from them, and as I said, I really really wanted to like the shoes. Sadly, they just weren't for me. If you are less picky about the toe spring, and like Fivefingers other than putting them on, these are definitely worth a look. Just heed the warning about the size!

For me, I've gone back to Vivobarefoot. "The One" apparently. In a 39, because that's what size my Evos were.

"The one"

Guess what? They are slightly too big...


Learning from shoes

Last night I tried to run in my huaraches for the first time. I've been wearing a pair of Xero Shoes for the last couple of summers, and they are supposed to be running sandals, but I've never felt up to running in them.

I lasted about 1.3 miles. My left foot was totally fine, but my right foot was having some issues with the string cutting in on my second toe. I would stop every 0.2 miles or so, straighten the shoe out, start running again and it would shift. I've been thinking about it, and I think that means I'm landing on my foot with it pointing out slightly. Not a lot, but enough that I then twist it back in when I pick it up and that tightens the string to make it uncomfortable.

Would it be a problem barefoot? I'm not sure. But it seems like that it is a fixable thing, so I'll experiment a bit more and see where I get. I don't anticipate running a really long way in these, but I'd like to be able to do 3, 4 miles comfortably.

It seems like every time I've reduced my shoe I've learnt something and tweaked it. Initially it was calf strength. Starting with the Vibrams and then the 500 miles in Vivo Barefoot Evos, I thought I'd got it cracked. Then I switched to my Soft Star Shoes Runamocs, and learnt that I was still pushing off. Now I'm down to the sandals, and it seems like my alignment isn't quite there.


Has it been worth it? I've dropped so much off my pace without doing much speedwork at all, I can't quite believe that it's just practice. I know my form has changed as well, and some of that must be due to the change in shoes. Sometimes though I wonder if it would be easier to stick with more conventional shoes! I have 400 miles on the Soft Stars now, and need a pair to do the marathon in January in (oh, did I admit that? I'm doing Disney again). Conventional shoes are more widely stocked, and it would be easy enough to walk into one of the running stores in town, pick a pair and start running. Instead of which, I'm taking a wild punt on yet another quirky-looking shoe - meet the Freet Footwear 4+1 Barefoot Shoe.

(Side note on the name there. Yes, a barefoot shoe is an oxymoron. I prefer the term minimalist. But what are you going to do?)

On the other hand, who wants to be conventional anyway?! I'll write a review when I've worn them a bit. Let's see what they have to teach me!

(Speaking of unconventional, I've just bought a pair of Rainlegs... Hopefully it'll be a while before I can review them, but you never know!)


Soft Star runamoc DASH

I may have mentioned before, but all my running is done in minimalist shoes. In fact, these days I don't wear any 'proper' shoes at all. They feel so heavy, let alone the whole toe-squishing thing. (For what it's worth, I'm an over-pronator who suffered from plantar do-whatsit. Not been a problem since I switched.) I found out about Soft Star Shoes online, and being a sucker for the small company thing - and the fact that they were rather cheaper than the Vivo Barefoot shoes I was looking at - I went with a couple of pairs of their Runamoc DASH.
Softstar shoes Runamoc DASH lite
These are my running shoes. They were the standard model when I ordered them, complete with an offer which made them even better value. I went with the 5mm trail soles in these. I haven't taken a photo of the other pair. They look pretty similar, except in smooth brown leather with red semi-circles and the 2mm smooth sole. If you've seen me recently, chances are I've been wearing them, because they are my day-to-day shoe.

They are extremely soft leather, nicely made. Clarkie thinks they look a bit weird, but they don't get a second look when I'm out and about n them. But they have not been without their trials!

First up there was the sizing. Being from the UK I don't have a 'usual' US shoe size, so I kind of had to guess a bit. Turns out my shoe size is between US shoe sizes. A 6.5 U would be perfect, but Soft Star don't make 'em. I decided to go down a size, and fretted until they arrived. As it turns out, the solid ones did feel really a bit tight. They seemed long enough, but the leather had no toe space so they felt a bit cramped. I emailed the elves. The response I got surprised me. Try leaving them with a damp towel in overnight, then bashing them on a broom handle to provide some give. Yeah. Anyway, I did it. It worked, provided I don't wear thick socks.

The running shoes seemed a little bigger, and I can actually fit a thicker sock than I could (comfortably) in my Vivo Evos. My problem with them was much more surprising: they gave me blisters! Thing is, they gave me blisters on the ball of my foot. There was nothing in the shoe that would rub there, it was just my foot on the shoe liner. Now, I can be stubborn, and I wanted these shoes to work, so I gave it a bit of thought. Eventually I decided that clearly my foot must be sliding in the shoe, which would explain the blister. But, if I was running with 'good barefoot form' (which I kind of hoped after 500+ trauma free miles in my Evos I might be) that shouldn't be happening. A process of deduction meant that I wasn't running with good form, and actually my experience on the ice and snow over the winter sort of bears that out. If I really concentrated I could run without slipping, but it wasn't my normal running style.

So, I've worked on it. And I've got it! I was pushing off, not lifting up. I have now done around 60 miles in them, and the blisters are a thing of the past. Interestingly, some other long term patches of rough skin on the ends of my toes seem to be healing too. So yeah, liking them! The only thing I'd change is the sole which now feels rather thick, but I can definitely live with that. For what it's worth, I think the difference between these and the Evos is that the Runamocs are less tightly held on, so my foot could move more in them than the Evos, hence the blisters from my poor form.
That's me wearing them at Brighton & Hove parkrun a couple of weeks ago. Fingers crossed for many more happy miles in them!