Performance Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra

Performance Review: VIVOBAREFOOT Ultra


words_Sara Accettura

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.

Clean feet before the race.

After the race . . .

We are officially warriors!

Cleaning up after the race.

This is how warriors celebrate a victory.

Fellow warriors; some awesome costumes!

Performance Review: Nike Free Run +

Performance Review: Nike Free Run +

Nike Free Run + words // Sara Accettura

images // Zac Dubasik

If you are interested in barefoot running or the lightest, most minimal shoe you can find, then the line might be right up your alley. With a one-piece collar, a heavy focus on mesh on the upper and a segmented outsole, the women’s Nike Free Run + is a great combination of light, flexible and breathable, which is a prescription for not just a good minimalist running shoe, but a good cross-training shoe as well. So, if you are looking to hit the gym for a fitness class or to work on some weight training on your cross training days, you might want to consider this shoe as well.Nike Free Run + When I first took the shoe out of the box and saw the one-piece opening, I was worried. I have wide feet, and all I could think of was that part in Cinderella where the step-sisters try and shove their feet into the tiny glass slipper. But, it turns out the opening is much more elastic than a glass slipper. Thank goodness. After subsequent wearings, I don’t even have to think about it; my foot slides right in. I loved the look and feel of the glove-like opening of the shoe mainly because I was able to slide my foot in and out of the shoe without having to lace it each time. And like I said, overall this is a great shoe for many different purposes, not just running. For instance, I was able to maintain form very easily while doing strength training moves in the Free during my cross training days, and stretching was oh so very easy in this flexible shoe. Wearing this shoe around the house is also a great way to strengthen your foot, plus wearing such a light shoe during speedwork or working on your stride is also helpful. I did switch it up between this shoe and other, more padded running shoes, but this was a great way to switch up my workout and get some speed training in while wearing a lightweight shoe. I also loved to wear this shoe when running my more hilly path.Nike Free Run + TECHNOLOGY: The most important elements on a barefoot-simulating shoe is being light and flexible, and the Nike Free Run + delivers on both accounts. The outsole is segmented to increases the flexibility of the shoe, so no matter how or where your foot bends during your activity, the shoe bends with you. It’s almost like a grid or waffle pattern of foam that does not hinder foot movement. The abundance of breathable mesh on the upper surely contributes to the light weight of 7.6 ounces.

While this is a minimalist shoe, mild cushioning and support can still be found in the sculpted midsole geometry as well as thePhylite™ outsole with Waffle® piston geometry. An update to the previous iteration in the line, the Free 5.0, is the slightly offset lacing pattern, with the goal of offering a more snug fit. The shoe is almost like a glove, where the collar is one piece with no separate tongue piece, which is all part of the stitchless construction, another weight-saving decision. The shoe is also Nike + ready, hence the name, and also boasts environmentally preferred rubber in high-wear areas.

Nike Free Run +FINAL THOUGHTS: While there are a lot of amazing things about this shoe, such as it’s extreme flexibility and breathability, there were a few areas that were not so amazing. For instance, the grip was not the best. I started wearing this shoe when it was still wet and sometimes muddy outside, and the comparison to barefoot running holds true here – you’ve got about as much traction in these shoes as you would if you were taking on those muddy patches barefoot. Also, the outsole seemed to wear a lot faster than a more traditional running shoe. The waffle pattern, while amazing for flexibility, holds onto small pebbles, and I found myself sometimes having to clear those out of my shoes after a run sometimes. The offset lacing did provide a snug, glove-like fit, but there isn’t a whole lot of support in this shoe, which makes sense for a minimalist shoe. If you’re looking for the barefoot running type of experience, then you want to be in control of your stride and footstrike. But, if you’re looking for a super supportive upper on your shoe, the offset lacing might not be enough. Another important point to keep in mind is the fact that barefoot running is typically a learned experience. I don’t recommend putting on a pair of these shoes and heading out for your normal run. Starting off slow is a good idea to minimize soreness and injury.

Even with everything I said above, this is still a wonderful running shoe . In fact, it’s one of my favorite shoes to run in right now. I wore this shoe with and without socks, and due to the minimal stitching, there were no areas of rubbing or chafing that I noticed. All in all, if you want the barefoot running experience without the fear of stepping in something gross or tearing up your feet, the Nike Free Run + is a great minimalist shoe that delivers everything you would expect from a minimalist shoe, and then some. For the cross training days, this shoe is more than suitable as well. And as I’m training for the Warrior Dash, I have a feeling this might be my shoe of choice on race day.

Nike Free Running +

Nike Free Run +