Wednesday, March 28, 2012

VivoBarefoot Breatho Trail Review - My Trail Running Glass Slipper

Take that title as a Cinderella reference, not a hazardous barefoot running warning!

VivoBarefoot Breatho Trail
On Saturday my parents and I took a trip to Natural Strides, a minimalist running store, in Marietta, GA. We went there in search of one thing: find Tyler some good shoes for the ultra.

Some history is involved before I start talking about these shoes. I purchased and returned a few pairs of minimalist shoes from other stores with limited minimalist selections. These shoes included the Merrell Trail Glove and New Balance Minimus(first generation). Both of these shoes were too skinny for my foot and gripped in places that caused bruising and rubbing.

After a long drive we finally arrived. I was blown away. The selection was huge. All the major minimalist shoes that I had read about were there!

Like a kid in a candy store I began trying on shoes. One thing lead to another and I stumbled on the VivoBarefoot Neo model. It was love at first step. They were so comfy.

Unfortunately, as life goes, they didn't have my size and the only size that was remotely close was a pink pair. No thanks!

The sales lady then suggested I try on the Breatho model. This zero-drop trail running minimalist shoe was an excellent second choice!

When asked what the difference was between the Neo and Breatho by the sales lady(she likes to get different opinions) I responded, "The Neo is like laying in a bed with a comforter on. It is soft, comfy, and encourages you to stay there all day. The Breatho on the other hand is like laying in bed with a sheet on. You can feel the air around you and you are more aware of what surrounds you." She liked my metaphor.

I figured the Breatho model was a better choice anyway since the Georgia Jewel will have river crossings.

Next was the sizing. I was somewhere between a men's 40 and 41. My toes barely touched the tip with the 40s, but the 41s felt a little looser. I called my ultra running buddy Willy "Natureboy" Ingram who told me to definitely go with the 41s if I plan on keeping my toenails. Sold!

I took the Breathos out for a run today and have a lot to say about them.

Fit & Comfort:
These are the second most comfortable minimalist shoes I have stepped foot in, the Neo being the first. I have a wider foot and don't like shoes that wrap my foot tight. I have tried the New Balance Minimus and Merrell Trail Glove. Both of these shoes don't give me enough room on the bottom of the shoe. Maybe it is a preference as I have been told the Trail Glove uses the inner part of the shoe as arch support. I think that is bogus. The inner part of these shoes is the way I envision the perfect shoe. It is big enough to let my foot do the work.

The toe box on these shoes is huge without looking silly. My toes can splay naturally and do what they are supposed to.

This ties into construction as well, but there are NO seams that I can feel while wearing these shoes. This is a lot to say from the guy who in elementary school refused to wear socks because he could feel the seam in them.(I have come a long way) :)

One downside to the added room is there is some movement of my foot when I am going down hills. I believe I have worked this out with a form change, but there seems to be no downsides to this movement anyway. My toenails are fine and I see no rub spots.

Another spot I had problems with my Vibram Five Fingers was the spot that grabs your Achilles. The Five Fingers would get tight and leave a bruise on my Achilles. Being more traditionally constructed, these don't grip your Achilles and leave room for movement. When fitting these my mom let me in a little hiker trick. She said to tap my foot so my toes were at the front of the shoe. She suggested the right shoe size leaves a finger's width between my Achilles and this spot. Perfect tip for a perfect fit!

This shoe is well built. As mentioned, the seams are phenomenal and not noticeable. The soles look like they are going to last a long time. I can see myself running in these shoes for at least 1000 miles.

Ground Feel:
This shoe feels like the Merrell Trail Glove or New Balance Minimus 2011 model when it comes to ground feel. They are a little thicker than the Vibram Five Finger KSO Trek. While running in them I had to remind myself to keep a fast cadence. For the most part this is the trade off when it comes to slightly thicker minimalist shoes. As Karl Meltzer wrote on Jason Robillards Facebook wall, "When it comes to ultras comfort is much more important than form." I disagree with this but agree with it the same time. While some may enjoy excessive ground feel during an ultra, I want to concentrate on finishing. For this I do not need a rock on mile 16 of 62 to ruin my day. I can remind myself to keep good form with less ground feel, but it is hard to forget the sharp pain from a rock I stepped on 20 minutes ago.

The shoe also has some great grip on the sole for trail running. I don't think this is really necessary. Typically when I run, wet or dry, my feet stay under me. I'm glad to have the extra assurance that after 50 miles I have less of a chance of busting my ass. This tread, while maybe not necessary, is not a disadvantage to the shoe.

I ran through a stream about 7 times today. Every time my shoe was drained within a tenth of a mile. This + Swiftwick socks are my new favorite combination. Five miles after running through my first stream I had no rubbing, no blisters, nothing. Freaking incredible. Swiftwick gets a review next!

I have never paid much attention to the weight of a shoe(unless it is ridiculously light or heavy). These weight 9.6 oz, which I find non-obtrusive to my running. That's about all I got to say about that.

As you may have guessed, these are my favorite minimalist trail running shoes. The non-restrictiveness and strong construction get my stamp of approval. I feel like I have finally found a shoe that fits my foot right. With my current set of tools I feel like I have everything I need to get across the finish line at the Georgia Jewel 100k. I just have to use myself correctly. 


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