images_Zac Dubasik & Sara Accettura
I have been receiving information about different obstacle course races in my inbox for a while now, and I finally took the plunge and registered for my first one – The Warrior Dash. I even convinced my husband to do it with me, which was pretty brave of him as this was his first race . . . ever. It quickly became clear that to make it through this race, the right kind of shoes would be an absolute asset. Running through water and mud only weigh down shoes, so I knew I needed something that was both breathable and would dry quickly. I was more than a little excited when I was introduced to the Vivobarefoot line as I’ve been enjoying running in minimalist shoes for a while now.
What got me so excited was the fact that the VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra shoe offers possibilities. You can insert the plug-in mesh tongue and go for a really open experience, which would be good for road or light trail running. Or, you can insert a sock for a more snug fit and insurance that you will keep things out of your shoe, or at least keep things from rubbing against your foot. I tried running in the shoe with both the sock and tongue, and both were extremely comfortable with no hot spots.
The Ultra is a fully molded running shoe made out of non-toxic, dual-density, high-abrasion EVA, which means it is extremely light, weighing in at a mere 4.2 ounces. In fact, there really isn’t anything to this shoe since the upper has a honeycomb-like structure with areas cut out. You can squish it or bend it in any direction, so your foot has the ultimate flexibility as well as the ultimate breathability. The shoe stays in place thanks to an elastic cord and lace-locking system that offers a very secure fit. What you have control over is whether or not you want more.
Training in this shoe was easy. This shoe was easy to get on, easy to get off. The inserts were super simple to pop into place, and they stayed in place well. I had no trouble at all during any of my training runs, regardless of surface. I preferred running with the sockliner in if I knew there would be any type of debris on my path, just for the added protection. While I did run over rocks and didn’t suffer any punctures in the shoes, it’s a good idea to keep in mind that since these are minimalist shoes, you will still feel the rocks on the bottom of your feet. While the sharpness is dulled, it does hurt if it hits in the right spot. Since these shoes only come in whole sizes, and I typically wear a 9.5, I decided to go down a half size to a size 9, and that turned out to be the perfect choice. The shoes fit perfectly around my foot. I have wider feet and need more in width than length, but these shoes were very accommodating. Even in the sockliner, I felt like I had lots of room to move around in.
Since the shoe is so minimal, I kept thinking I would wear through them or end up with a hole, but nothing of the sort happened. They held up well during my road runs and treadmill runs. Overall, these were extremely comfortable shoes that fit perfectly and stayed in place, making for a fantastic experience.
I had done enough training in these shoes to feel confident that race day would be all about the obstacles and not worrying about the shoes, and I turned out to be right. On race day, as my husband and I anxiously awaited the start of our wave, I stared down at the shoes of the other runners and noticed mainly traditional running shoes on their feet with a few minimalist shoes speckled in there. When the gun sounded announcing the beginning of the race, it started out on a path similar to traditional races – dry. But, that wouldn’t last for long. Up first was running over beat-up cars and through tires, and then we had to make our way through water, climbing over logs along the way. I heard a racer next to me comment something to the effect of, “Well, that’s an additional 3 pounds,” referring to the water his shoes and clothes were soaking up. This was the first, but not the last, time I would be thankful to have my VIVOBAREFOOT shoes. After an obstacle where you hurdle over walls and bend under barbed wire, we had to scale a wall and crawl over a horizontal tangle of nets. Then we ran on about 8-inch wide planks and crawled through a creepy tent of plastic, which left us back on a plain trail for a while. At this point my husband was over his nerves and had committed to running the whole thing, which impressed me immensely since he had never run a 5k, let alone one so intense. After a short distance we came upon a net of elastic rope, dangerous because of how springy it was. I was able to crawl through it, but got smacked quite a few times after the racer in front of me lifted up a foot. Right afterwards we came to the mud pit. My husband took the less muddy side, but due to an injury that left it hard for me to lift up my legs too high, I took a more middle path, and ended up falling into mud up to my chest. Stinking, gross, squishy mud that was so thick, I could barely pick up my legs. I heard yells of, “I lost a shoe” as I continued through and made it out with both of my shoes intact (all thanks to the Ultras). After running up muddy hills, we were nearing the final stretch. As the music got louder, we scaled a net wall and jumped over fire. Yes, fire. At that point I thought we were done, but I was wrong. We still had to crawl through muddy water under barbed wire. We crossed the finish line yelling like warriors and holding hands. It was a great end to the race. While my shoes were still a little muddy, and have since taken days to get the mud out, they were intact and still comfortable to wear. I look forward to wearing my VIVOBAREFOOT shoes for many runs to come. Even if you don’t come prepared with such awesome sneakers, you can choose to donate your shoes to be recycled, which is an honorable choice in itself.
If you are a barefoot runner, or interested in trying it out, I would definitely suggest the VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra. In fact, I would suggest this shoe for anyone who is involved in water sports as well, as this shoe was comfortable when wet and still maintained decent traction. if you are not familiar with barefoot running, but would like to start, check out more information in the Athlete Resource Center.
Before the race, wearing my warrior helmet.
Cleaning up after the race.