Thanks to Kentucky's version of November weather, (sometimes below freezing, sometimes above 70F) I've been able to put some miles on my new Xero Shoes huarache running sandals. It was a rather different shoe buying experience. Like most shoes there are colors to choose from, but with the Xero Shoes you also have the option of sending them a tracing of your foot and letting them finish your sandals or getting the kit and doing it yourself. I chose to do it myself. The final decision I had to make was whether to get the 6mm contact sole or the 4mm connect sole. I chose 6mm and am glad I did. Even at 6mm these huaraches have better groundfeel than my VFF Bikilas, VFF Treksports, or my SoftStar Runamoc Dash with 5mm sole. In short, these are the most barefoot soles of any of my running shoes.
The kit came in a flat little package, it included the soles, two strings, a hole punch tool, and a pamphlet with the basics of how to put them together. I had been all over the videos on the Xero Shoes website so I was pretty confident on putting the shoes together myself, it took me about 15 minutes to complete them.
Tying and Running
I'm putting tying and running together because I feel that they are pretty inseperable with this type of shoe. There are lots of options on how one could tie huaraches. There are several video tutorials at the Xero Shoes website, some by the makers, some by users. I reccomend trying several different methods out to see what you like best. Each method has its strengths and weaknesses and every foot is different.
Running in huaraches is different. Modern running shoes are often designed to cushion, protect, and coddle the feet. Huaraches are not. They are designed to put a piece of material between your foot and the ground to protect the foot from abrasion and pointy things. Modern running shoes will protect your foot from bad running form with padding, cushioning, and other features, huaraches will tattle on your running form like a 3 year old at preschool. This to me is the number one reason to run in them.
If you push off (toe off) too much, the string around your ankle will tighten and let you know what you are doing, if on footstrike your foot is skidding into place instead of setting down, the string between the toes will press in and tell on you. If you have an odd twist to your foot like I do (did?) The strings around the sides of the feet will tell on you.
This next sentence is why I really love my Xero Shoes.
When I wear my Xeroes, I don't make as many running form mistakes because I get instant feedback from my shoes when I do.
My Xero Shoes are becoming a coaching tool, and I believe that my running form is improving and becoming more efficient from running in them. It isn't automatic, they don't magically fix the problems with running form, they just let me know there is a problem. I have to listen. I don't care if your coach is Alberto Salazar, if you don't listen to what he is saying, you won't benefit. This is a mistake some "barefoot runners" have made. They throw on a minimal shoe, call themselves barefoot, and keep running as they always have. It is vitally important when going minimal or barefoot to listen to your body's feedback.
I have to mention the customer service from Xero Shoes. No other shoe that I've ever had did I get free advice about my blog from the CEO of the shoe company, and only one other shoe company has been as hands on with recommendations and advice about their shoes. Steven Sashen has made all sorts of resources available on the Xero Shoes website, on the user forums, on his blog, through emails, and even over the phone. Absolute above and beyond customer service.
Even the thicker 6mm version has better ground feel than the VFF Bikila.
Has the most breathable upper of any running shoe I've ever seen. (The upper is a string so. . .)
When my form is good, and the laces are dialed in correctly, I almost forget I have shoes on.
When my form is bad, I hear about it immediately.
Even if you are not a minimal, or barefoot running person, I recommend getting a pair and doing occasional short form training sessions in them. They are a lot more affordable than a high speed camera and professional coach.