Unless you live next to the beach, barefoot runners are an uncommon sight. Maybe you’ve spotted one in the wild — he’s “that guy”, the overtanned specimen with long gray stringy hair waiting in the corrals at the marathon start.
Vibram’s famous FiveFingers, the closest you can get to bare soles without ditching your kicks entirely, gave birth to a new generation of “that guys” when they made barefoot running a hit a few years ago. The barefoot craze has also led to the popularity of extremely lightweight and minimal running shoes, which are best for those not quite ready to go fully naked.
If you want to take the shoeless plunge, but you don’t want to risk the injuries common to barefoot newbies, where do you start?
That’s where Merrell’s Barefoot Pace Glove shoes slot in — they’re designed to strengthen your feet, arches and calves, training you to reshape your form with the end goal of running barefoot. The shoes even come with a free companion app for the iPhone and iPod called, appropriately enough, Go Barefoot. By following the regimen outlined in the app, Merrell’s shoes are supposed to take you from a regular runner to a barefoot Brahmin in about 40 days.
The key to adopting a barefoot running technique is training yourself to land on your forefoot instead of your heel. This improves your stride, and it prevents painful injury; especially with the slim 1-mm shock-absorption plate and a zero-drop from heel to toe these Merrell shoes provide, landing on your heel is not an option.
The app reinforces this by having you run at a cadence of 180 foot-strikes per minute. This fast cadence forces you to shorten your stride, which helps eliminate the tendency to land on your heel instead of the ball of your foot. You can use a metronome or a song with a tempo of 180 beats per minute. Merrell happens to have its own eclectic playlist of 180-bpm songs available on iTunes for the steep price of $66.51 — I used the metronome.
When I first put the shoe on, I was pleasantly surprised at how snugly it could be laced so that my narrow heel and foot weren’t sliding around. The shoe has a wide toe box, but it still fit like a glove. The weight (for the women’s version) is 4.7 ounces per shoe, which is so light that they don’t have any discernible heaviness when you slip into them. Rubber lugs project out of the sole at the tip of the toe. While this is useful in maintaining traction on the trails — and bear in mind this is a trail shoe — when I ran with them on concrete, there was a dragging sensation. It was especially noticeable when I was jumping over curbs.
The Go Barefoot app slowly guides you towards your goal. You start by walking in the shoe for 30 minutes a day, then move to running short distances. The Pace Gloves are very comfortable to wear when walking around, but less so when running. Since that sole is only 4 mm thick, you’ll feel every rock and twig on the trail. You might also experience sore or tight calves at first, as well as feeling as though your foot is landing too heavily, given the lack of cushioning.
But if you want to experience the “closeness to nature” that comes with running the same way our ancestors did, such annoyances are the price you pay.
Photo by Jim Merithew/
- High-Tech Running Shoes Good for Heart, Sole
- Rapid Transit: River Shoes Tested & Rated
- First Look: Nike+ SportWatch GPS for Runners