You may have seen my earlier post about the trouble I have been having trying to deal with shin splint pain. The comments that I received from that post were fantastic and I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to respond with advice on ways to deal with my pain.
I was particularly intrigued by several comments regarding my overall choice of shoes and running style, specifically that I was using the standard heel strike method of running with overly padded running shoes (Asics gel Nimbus 12). I was directed to some really informative online articles regarding the main causes of shin splint pain, barefoot running, and minimalistic footwear.
To cut a long story short, I read dozens of articles and watched numerous videos about the benefits of switching to a natural or barefoot running style and, thanks largely to Damien at ToeSalad.com, I was convinced that I should give it a try for myself. Nothing else that I had tried seemed to be reducing the pain of my shin splints so I figured what the heck. Here's the comment on ToeSalad.com that sealed the deal for me:
"..the key is reducing loading rate and impact transient... it is not about the shoe, but about how you land. Barefoot running teaches the soft landing... then you can put the shoes on." - Mark Cucuzzella MD.
With my mind made up, I ordered several popular styles of barefoot running shoes from Zappos.com, including the Vivobarefoot Neo Airmesh, Merrell True Gloves, and Merrell Trail Glove. I'm a Zappos VIP member so I was able to take advantage of free next day shipping.
The Vivobarefoot Neo Airmesh just didn't fit my foot right at all. It was too narrow and the arch section was terribly uncomfortable. The Merrell True Gloves were also a very narrow fitting shoe, but the arch support was minimal and so I wore these around a little to get more used to them. After 30 minutes of casual wear my feet were complaining from the narrow fit. I decided to try the Merrell Trail Gloves the next day to allow my feet some time to recover.
The Merrell Trail Gloves seemed to be the shoe for me, at least out of the three styles I had tried. They were a much wider fit and a softer overall shoe than both the Vivos and the True Gloves.
The Trail Gloves have a very broad (wide) toe box section unlike the other two shoes. Remember, I'm almost entirely flat footed so my feet tend to need a wider shoe as they flatten out under pressure. There is a small amount of arch support in the Trail gloves, but not enough to cause pain or discomfort which a lot of shoe do for me. The arch support is more like a different density than true support, but it's noticeable.
The mesh uppers breathe extremely well. The material used appears fragile but I was pleasantly surprised by how tough it was during a short run through some low brush. I haven't experienced any "sweaty feet" issue so far with the Trail Gloves.
There is a good amount of toe protection rubber on the Trail gloves compared to the other two shoes. I bought these with the intent of road or flat surface running, but after wearing them for a few weeks it's good to know that if I wanted to I could actually wear them on the trail without dmaging my toes or feet - good job on that Merrell.
You'll see in the photo below that there is an impressive amount of traction and tread on the bottom of the Trail Gloves. The genuine Vibram rubber sole is incredibly flexible yet it has some pretty aggressive tread that reminds me of Pirelli sports car tires. One advantage of the thinner, more flexible rubber sole is that you are much more aware of the surface of the ground that you are on. You don't feel every little bump, but you certainly do feel a lot more than regular x-runners.
The lacing system on the Trail Gloves is very clever. I often have issues with trying to tighten up laces because of the width of my feet. This was particularly difficult in the Merrell True Gloves despite them having a similar lacing system to the Trail Glove version. It seems Merrell got it right (for my feet at least) with the Trail Gloves. The laces are looped through a series of tabs that draw the shoe upper together in a very comfortable fit around the upper foot. The Trail Gloves were one of the first shoes I have work in a long time to not aggravate my instep.
Overall I am very pleased with my move to a zero drop running shoe. Since switching shoes and retraining my running style to a natural (barefoot) running technique using a forefoot strike, I have resolved my shin splint issue. If there were no other benefits of this change than the reduction in shin splint pain I would be extremely happy. However, I've seen an marked improvement in my pace and endurance, some of which I can attribute to the shoes but a lot of which is from the change in running technique - forefoot vs heel strike.
I have not experienced any issues with hot spots or blisters with the Trail Gloves which is normally par for the course with new shoes for me. I didn't have to go through any breaking in period. I did notice that the shoes that fitted me best were a half size larger than my normal shoe size. I don't know if that is a trait of these particular shoes, I know a lot of shoes can run small or large - Inov-8 seem to always be much smaller than stated - but being able to order several pairs at different sizes via Zappos really made it easy for me.
My transition to a natural running form and switch to barefoot shoes is ongoing. I'm impressed with the difference it has made with my running issues in just a few short weeks. I'll write some updates as time goes on and my experience continues, but so far I'm a total convert to the barefoot style. Next I'd like to try a pair of Vibram 5Fingers - we'll see.
Have you transitioned to a barefoot shoe or thought about doing it?
Disclosure: The author owns this product and paid for it using their own funds.