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February 18, 2010

New Balance Barefoot Statement; Vivo Barefoot Evo Video

When my 6-year-old daughter is short on sleep, she tends to get a bit whiny, and begins reporting a progressive inventory of physical maladies: My legs ache. My stomach’s upset. I have a little headache. That sort of thing.

99% of the time, the answer she gets from her parents is, “You’re just tired … Go to sleep, and you’ll feel better in the morning.” So I was initially dismissive one evening last summer when she told us she had a neck ache. We had all done a long hike in the park that day, and I figured this was just another end-of-day bonk from a tired 6-year-old who merely needed a good night’s rest to stop bothering me with her problems.

She continued to complain of neck pain the next day, and I figured that she hadn’t quite caught up on the rest she needed to stop being so cranky. It wasn’t until I was drying her hair after a shower that night that I discovered the actual source of her discomfort: a big fat tick had buried itself waist-deep in her hairline, engorged with a full day and a half-long meal at my little girl’s expense.

Thankfully, everything worked out fine; I plucked the tick out of her scalp, we monitored her for a few days looking for any ominous signs, and the neck pain quickly resolved. The larger lesson I learned was this: sometimes, complaining isn’t just complaining – it’s a sign that something is legitimately wrong. And part of being a (supposedly) mature, responsible adult is knowing how to distinguish serious feedback from just so much whining.

I bring all of this up because of two noteworthy developments in the world of barefoot running – one of which involves a major shoe company who is actually listening in a somewhat discerning manner to the criticism coming from barefoot runners. The other development is a teaser announcement of sorts for a shoe I’m planning to review later this spring.

Earlier this month, New Balance posted an official position statement on barefoot running to its company website, and it’s refreshingly thoughtful in its overall tone (especially in the comments section, with direct company responses to individual reactions). Whereas some shoe companies and vendors have reflexively taken the “You’re just cranky – go to bed!” stance on barefoot running, NB is demonstrating some nice maturity and responsibility in recognizing that maybe all this clamoring from barefoot runners is something that should be looked at more closely.

They balance their interest as a shoe company and their recognition of the barefoot movement quite deftly with this excerpt:

At New Balance, we’re committed to developing shoes with various levels of cushioning and support—from very little to plenty. And we’re continually exploring the human foot and the best way to accommodate it. We do this by working with renowned bio-mechanical engineers, podiatrists, and top-ranked ultra-marathoners—even barefoot ones. In this way, we’re able to offer footwear options for all kinds of needs—from the most minimal support on upwards. Unless of course you’re going barefoot. Then we’ll just cheer you on and offer another kind of support—the emotional kind.

The overall website statement isn’t completely infallible – there’s still a hint of wariness about pure barefoot running in a paragraph prior to the one above – but they’ve definitely expressed their willingness to consider minimalist runners seriously from this point forward. New Balance has already made one of the most minimal trail runners on the market – the MT100 – and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if they became the first major running company to make a purely minimalist shoe.

When that time comes, however, they’ll have some pretty impressive company. Terra Plana has approached the barefoot running movement from the opposite direction: they spent several years perfecting the design and construction of their Vivo Barefoot line, then transferred that knowledge base to the creation of a running-specific model. The Evo is scheduled for release this March, and the video that follows offers an advance glimpse of what it will look like.

A couple more things worth pointing out about the video: first, there’s no sound to it for some reason, so don’t bother reaching for the volume dial on your computer. Second, when I posted a preview picture of the Evo in a post earlier this winter, the yellow color and honeycomb pattern made me (and many others) immediately think of a beehive, which, um … isn’t the first image I want in my mind when sticking my foot into something. But the video that follows shows two other color schemes with a much more subtle black/white/red combination that I anticipate will be more highly sought.

Unlike most traditional running shoe companies, Vivo Barefoot has always taken the concerns of barefoot runners very seriously, and they pride themselves on making high quality footwear that supports natural motion. Based on my experience with three of their other models, I’m confident that the Evo is going to be quite impressive, and I’m looking forward to getting my feet in a pair to try at some point later in the year. In the meantime, the video below will give you a sense of what you’ll be seeing and hearing more of down the road.

“The Evo”, by TerraPlana TV (click to play):


Dave 2/19/10, 3:33 AM  

NB is my current shoe of choice. It's good to see them listen...anxious to see what comes of them.

Jeff 2/19/10, 4:48 AM  

What about the Nike Free? Are they considered minimalist? I thought they're ultra-flexible sole was designed to mimic barefoot running.

Notleh,  2/19/10, 7:46 AM  

Jeff, 2 things on the Free. First, there are 5 different versions (with a huge range in cushion and flexibility). Second, while the free does have a flexible sole, it still has a very high heel, which violates one of the prime "rules" of minimalist running. And to be honest, it's not even a new idea. They stole the process from a very successful local running store who has been slicing shoes for athletes for many years.

If you are interested in natural, or minimalist, running then the Nike Free rates very low on the list because it forces your foot into an unnatural position. Look at some of the other shoes Donald has reviewed here for comparison.

As far as the Evo, I am very interested in this shoe. It could be the first running shoe specifically designed for barefoot runners. I know this seems like a contridiction in terms, but there are times when barefoot isn't practical (too hot/cold, or hostile terrain) and having an option is exciting.

Donald 2/19/10, 8:29 AM  

Thanks Notleh. Jeff - Notleh beat me to it, but true minimalist footwear means no heel or cushioning of any sort. Look on my right sidebar for some other reviews - you'll find the Free there, but the Feelmax, Vibram, kigo and Jinga are the true minimalist shoes on the market right now.

mariko 2/19/10, 10:46 AM  

Nice post! I never used to like NB shoes until I got into the minimal-ish footwear thing and discovered the NB 790s and WT100s. As for Vivo Barefoot, I have two pairs (ballet flats and boots) and LOVE them. I'm excited about the Evos, but I still have a lot of work to do to strengthen my feet & legs.

shel 2/19/10, 4:40 PM  

ooooh. the evo's look SUH-WEET!!! thanks for th vid, and for the updates on NB. smart people. this is not a white elephant you want to ignore. in a few years, the companies that did are going to look like a bunch of clowns!

Anonymous,  2/22/10, 8:07 AM  

I actually got my EVO's last week and did my first run in them. Very nice. Plenty of room in the toe box. Lace up nice and snug. They aren't going to win any beauty contests, but I have to say I'm really liking them so far.


Anonymous,  2/23/10, 11:49 AM  

Just placed my order for the Evo. I was on a "first chance to buy" email list that just opened up for exclusie orders. They go on sale to the public on March 15, but I understand they may sell out by then, but have another reorder in Late April. I cant wait to get them this week. I have read great stuff about them and they are the coolest looking minimal shoe I have seen. I got the black with red details.

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