On Saturday, not only did I get to go to the Boulder Running Company to get my birthday present, I got to go try them out! After realizing that they only in fact had two trail minimalist shoes – the New Balance Minimus and the Merrill Pace Glove – I tried both on and liked the fit of the Pace Glove better. So Pace Glove it was!
Can’t say I was impressed with the service at Boulder Running Company, even though their selection is fantastic. The store was crammed with people, and the person helping me had a please-shoot-me-now look the whole time she was with me. When I was putting shoes on, on fact, she was staring out into space away from me with a dejected look like we’d just had a big argument and I felt awful asking her if I could try on the New Balance Minimus in half a size larger than I had. She gave me the same warnings I’ve already read about regarding minimalist shoes, and I tried making small talk by saying I think I’ve already trained some of those muscles because I do plyometrics bare-foot. I felt like I said something wrong. She asked sullenly if I intended to run in these shoes, and I said yes, and she continued with asking whether I was a heel or a forefoot striker, and she lit up a little when I said forefoot. But that’s as much as I got out of her and I wasn’t about to try conversation again. I sure hope she just had a big argument with someone important in her life so that she couldn’t focus. Thinking about it again, I feel like I did something horribly wrong by walking into her store so that she had to help me!
So the Pace Glove has a very thick rubber heel on the sole, which I like, and the upper is a few layers of different fabrics, all relatively thin. I can see this shoe being very cool in summer, simply because any shoe that’s got fabric thin enough to let light through has got to be very breathable. It’s similar to a simple canvas shoe like the ones you do tai chi in, except for that the sides are fitted to your foot and there’s an instep support. I really like wearing the Pace Gloves, they fit my feet very snugly and comfortably.
Making your first run in minimalist shoes a long run is flying in the face of all minimalist shoe advice. I’ll admit I was just dying to try them and since it was a weekend, a long run was on the schedule, and I didn’t want to wait for Monday’s 30-minute easy run to try them. However, other than that I’ve always done Plyometrics and Insanity barefoot, there was another mitigating circumstance: my “long” run actually ended up being the shortest run of the week. This sounds crazy, but it’s just a consequence of how my training program is specifying the runs. The week-day tempo repeats are specified distance, but the “long” run is specified time. I run the repeats on pavement (at least for now), but I run the long run on trails because, well, that’s what I like and so that’s also what I race. The difference in absolute speed between tempo workouts on pavement and easy run on trail is nearly 5 minutes a mile, so, 60 minutes of easy trail running covers less distance than three mile repeats at tempo pace. But since endurance on trails is what I’m trying to build with the long run, I’m not so worried about that. It will flip eventually, making the long run actually the longest run of the week again.
The weather had been unusually cold, so when we got back from the shopping trip I figured since it wasn’t snowing, now was a great time to go. It had been raining a little and clouds were enveloping the mountains. It’s sunny 300+ days of the year in Colorado, so this overcast weather and fog is a little unusual. The gray light made the mountains, even the foothills and ridges that were almost the only thing visible, seem more austere. Having learned from last time about road vs trail paces, even on fairly flat trails that aren’t that technical, I didn’t set a pace target and just ran easy for an hour.
It was a little cold initially, and I was glad I got my Blue Sky Smartwool hat (fabulous, thin, and non-scratchy!) and both my fleece pullover and pants covered by my windbreaker jacket and pants. The shoes felt very close to the ground in just the way I had hoped. (Although the ability of rocks to hurt my feet through the fairly thick rubber soles surprised me!) They felt light but significantly protected my feet from (most) rocks. They stuck with my feet wonderfully, in the way dress flats never do. (If I run in my new Steve Madden flats, my feet start cramping from whatever it is that my feet have to do to keep the shoes on my feet.) It was nothing earth-shattering. It just was.
After a while, I started kind of liking feeling the rocks from time to time. Made me think of those rock beds in some Chinese parks and apartment building commons, for walking over for foot health. I don’t remember what exactly the health benefit is supposed to be, if it ever was explained to me. But in a way, it was nice to feel something under my feet. It made me think of running down dirt roads around my grandfather’s house as a kid. And of running across the lawn full of soft moss at our summer house, and of barefoot walking the rocky doubletrack trail between our summer house and the nearby public beach, which had better sand than our private beach. And that made me think of feeling the lacquer-like layers of linseed oil on the inside of our wooden rowboat as I rowed across the sparkling lake, oars slowly creating calluses on my hands. The feeling of the old, weather-beaten wood planks of our little pier, floating on painted oil drums.
Other summer foot memories are wading rocky creeks, trying to scope out which rocks are slippery from all the algae and which are good for stepping on. Warm, hot, even burning sand on a beach. Cold water, wet sand. Salt spray in my mouth. I guess at least for me, feeling the environment I am relaxing in in a tactile way – not always in a positive way – has become important. So it makes sense that I just like the minimalist idea because of the low-to-the-ground feel. The Pace Gloves feel a lot like gloves – they are very responsive, hugging and protecting my feet, yet letting me feel the rocks I’m stepping on. I can feel the difference between harder and softer portions of the trail. The mud spots feel squishy rather than just slippery or like I’m pushing the mud away with a rock or a plank. I like it.
And then I see them, alongside a softer section of the trail – the first wildflowers I’ve spotted this year. Bright yellow in the gray light. Several clusters of them! I had to stop and enjoy them, pace data be damned. I wish I knew what they were, simply because I like knowing what I’m running among. I don’t stop for long, just long enough to stop and really see. I didn’t think this run would have any special beauty moments because of the weather – but I didn’t count on flowers. I run home, feeling at home in my shoes and on my trail.