I purchased the Merrell Trail Gloves for my first minimalist running shoes after spending some time trying out a few different models from a small list I narrowed the choices down to based on the criteria of what I was looking for in a new shoe.
I wanted to start running in minimalist shoes because of the benefit I believe they’ll help with arch strengthening and correcting some faulty mechanics in my running form. Basically minimalist shoes are footwear with either a zero or close to zero heel-to-toe height difference, a wide toe box, and very little support. The heel height is important because using an elevated heel (the kind in most running shoes) can create ankle mobility problems that in turn lead to overpronation. The lack of support and wide toe box allows the small muscles inside the foot to function normally without the constraints of a typical shoe.
Initially, I was concerned because Merrell doesn’t make a 12.5 in this model and that’s my usual size for running shoes. At the store I tried on a 13 which had way too much room in front of the toe (about a finger and a half’s width) and the 12 had my toes hitting the front of the shoe. I did a little experimenting with the Brannock device though and discovered when I stand on it in a relaxed position my toes just cross over the 12 mark. However, if I raise my arch into the short foot position my foot effectively shortens and goes below the 11.5 line. If my arch continues to increase it makes since that my foot length would decrease so I thought maybe getting the 12 wouldn’t be a bad idea. They were available online for a good price so I ordered a 12 figuring if they felt way too small wearing them around inside I would return them.
When they arrived I was shocked to find that the pair I got fit perfectly, with plenty of room in front of the toes. So much so that I double checked to make sure they weren’t 13’s. Maybe there is some variability in the way they are manufactured, or maybe my pair was just special. Either way, I felt lucky because these were my top choice and I was almost ready to give up on them because of the sizing.
I like the overall look and color scheme of these shoes and could see myself wearing them casually. I know some people really go for flashy running shoes but I’ve always preferred more muted styles.
I’ve only run in these shoes twice so I can’t speak for their durability but they seem well made. These shoes have over 100 five star reviews on Amazon so I feel that says something about their quality. When I first took them out of the box I looked them over thoroughly for any uneven stictchwork or protruding nails. The lining inside completely covers all seams and the whole shoe seems held together well. I placed them on a flat surface and noticed that one of the shoes seemed to rock back and forth while the other one sat flush. I was a little puzzled by this and wondered if it had to do with a defect in the sole of that shoe. I picked the wobbly one up and gave it a small twist (these shoe’s have a lot of flexibility) and that straightened things out. I can’t tell if that’s a good or bad sign but I think the ability to bend and be molded is a part of the minimalist quality of the shoe.
The sole is made by Vibram. It has a decent tread especially up by the toes which makes since as this is a trail shoe. The bottom is shaped so that the middle arch area is narrow, even more so than the Minimus. In the past I’ve avoided shoes with these really slim soles believing that my arch would spill right over the side. Really, this is exactly the type of shoe I should have been wearing all along to strengthen my arch. There is a part in the medial arch area that raises up but this doesn’t really function as arch support because it flattens out easily with any pressure on it. The sole is thin but because its a trail shoe is designed to offer more protection than some other minimalist road shoes. .
As I mentioned earlier the pair I received was a perfect length. The toe box is plenty wide enough to allow the toes to spread out. One problem that always seem to happen for me with new running shoes is that the heel on the right foot for some reason will slip up and down until I’ve worn them for awhile. These shoes didn’t have that problem and in fact, on my first run with them, the left heel initially felt almost too snug in the back, but that feeling went away after a few minutes.
Putting on the shoes on prior to the first run I noticed something felt like it was pushing up on the arch of my right foot. More likely, since my right foot over pronates a good amount, my arch was actually pushing down on that strip of rubber sole along the inside of the shoe that I mentioned earlier. That sensation went away when I started running. I’ll go so far as to say whatever caused that had a positive effect because it made me more aware of what my arch was doing and giving me some feedback about how much my foot was pronating, allowing me to self-correct.
Starting off on my run the shoes felt really light making strides somewhat effortless. There seemed to be a more pronounced sound hitting the pavement, a sort of clop clop clop noise that I’ve never noticed before with other shoes. This may be just because I was really focused on what the shoes were doing or possibly due to the tread. Either why I stopped noticing or paying attention to the sounds after a few minutes.
Because I had previously done a few barefoot runs I didn’t think the zero drop heel would be much of an issue. Shoes without the raised heel typically found in running shoes can put additional stress on the calf and achilles. I felt some strain mostly in the front of my ankle probably related to a my limted dorsifleion range (that I’m working on and hopeully these shoes help with that) . With the zero heel to toe differential the joint is forced into more dorsiflexion which will be noticeable to anyone with stiff ankles or a tight Achilles. Since this was my first time running in a true minimalist shoe I took this as a sign to slow down my pace for the second half of the 3.5 mile run. The effects of the increased range of motion and eccentric loading were certainly evident the next day in the form muscle soreness in both calves.
The shoes that didn’t make the cut
- One of the shoes on the list, the Altra Samson, I was excited to try but could not find a retailer in my area that carried them. The look like a great shoe but I didn’t want to bother trying to figure out the sizing online without being able to try them on first.
- I really like the Nike Free 3.0’s in terms of comfort and may still buy a pair in the future but the what dissuaded me from getting them was their narrow toe box. I believe its really important for the toes to be able to splay inside the shoe in order to get the intrinsic foot muscles working, particularly the big toe abductor. In the Nike’s my toes felt bound together with very little room for movement. They’re not a shoe I would want to do a lot of training in because I’d feel like I’d be missing out in terms of arch strengthening.
- The Vibram Five Fingers are still too out there for me. If I want a true barefoot experience I will go barefoot, and would rather have shoes that are acceptable to wear other places than the gym or trails. I tried on a pair just to be sure I wasn’t being to biased. I really wasn’t blown away from the experience and in fact it was somewhat annoying the time it took to get them on as you have to line the toes up exactly. I still admire the concept and would give them consideration again in the future.
- The New Balance Minimus Road Zero I really liked and were the runner up to the Trail Gloves. I tried on a pair in 12.5 which is usually my size for running shoes and they fit very well, not just in length but the shape of the entire shoe seemed to conform well on my foot. Ultimately though it was the color choices or lack thereof (they only come in neon green and red) that kept me from getting a pair. The Merrell’s are marketed as more of a trail shoe even though I plan on doing road running with them, whereas these are strictly for the road. I’ll likely head back to the store in another few weeks to have another look at the minimus.
The Merrell website has some good information about transitioning to minimalist footwear. The New Balance site also has lots of good information on running form and making the adjustment. New Balance recommends limiting the use of minimalist shoes to 10% of your training initially and gradually building up from there. After my first run the calf soreness took a couple of days to resolve. I did a shorter second run once the soreness was gone and although I still felt muscle fatigue in both calves during the run there was hardly any soreness the day after. I plan on progressing with distance slowly in these shoes to avoid injuring myself. Hopefully in a few months I’ll have better ankle range of motion and some hefty calf muscles, but until then I’ll go slow and try and make this transition as painless as possible.