Saturday, November 23, 2013

Shoe review - Merrell Bare Access 2 Barefoot shoes - 1st review

Okay, most of you who have been reading my stuff for any length of time know that I have written about politics, religion, faith, family, sports and such. What you might not know is that nearly 3 years ago I decided to start running. What started out as a kind of joke between my wife and I, since I had turned 40 and she laughed that I was no longer a spring chicken, has since become an absolute joy for me. Simply put, I love to run and I run a lot.

With that said, I have gone through a fair amount of shoes in the last 3 years and have determined not only my own personal running style and shoe style, but have also become fairly adept at understanding the shoe world, the brands that do a good job and the costs associated. It is important to note, right here and now, that every runner out there has a different opinion regarding shoes. So, for this post and any subsequent post about shoes, please understand that I am writing from my perspective. What works for me may very well not work for you and that is something you will probably not get from your local shoe store. If you are serious about running, you MUST try on shoes and actually take a short trot in them before buying them if they are a brand you have never worn prior. The risks involved are serious and can ruin your joy for running with injuries that are preventable. So, buyer beware, my reviews are going to be based on my perspective and opinion only, please bear that in mind.

For my first ever review, I would like to start with a pair I bought last night from REI. I like to check them out occasionally because they will sometimes have very good prices on a few things and this was one of those times. I was actually shopping for a new pair of trail shoes and first tried on the Merrell Barefoot Trail Glove. I loved them but alas, they were not on sale and I'm kind of hard core about buying shoes on sale, so I put them back. I did notice, however, that they currently have the Merrell Bare Access 2 Barefoot shoes on special for $64.93 and available in 2 colors; carbon or charcoal/orange. I went with the carbon pair in size 8.5, which is small for me but they seemed to fit very well. With a group run planned for in the morning, I definitely left excited about breaking them in.

First, here are the specs:
0 mm drop. This is a big deal for me and for all those who do not want a heel in their shoes.
7 oz weight per shoe. Super light weight.
13.5 mm stack height.This is the thickness of the sole. The smaller the number, the less between your feet and the road. These shoes are uniform front to back.

Given the specs, the number one thing I noticed when I put them on the first time was the width of the toe box. I happen to have wider feet than the average guy so narrow shoes are tough to wear because they rub. These are amazingly comfortable for the space that the ball of my foot takes up. They remind me of my Keen shoes in how the front of my foot fits in the shoe.

The next major thing I noticed was the arch, which is longer than in any shoe I have ever worn. The arch extends from the center of the ball to the center of the heel in these shoes and provides for added comfort when running. Where I noticed it most was as my foot came forward to make contact, the shoe supported my foot in a way I have not experienced before. Part of that may be the fact I went with a half size smaller than usual. Either way, this particular arch support was not expected for a minimalist shoe and while it surprised me, it was a welcome benefit.

Lastly, the weight, or lack thereof is especially nice. The shoes fit like slippers in that they are extremely light weight and comfortable. They happen to wrap my feet nicely without any added toe or heel weight. Ultimately, they are extremely well balanced.

Typical for most good running shoes, these give you two options for the final lace hole for tying the laces. This is critical for a tight fit so there isn't any slop in the shoe while running. If you like your shoes to fit just a little loose towards the top, you can tie them in the second to last lace hole. I like a slightly tighter feel overall and so I usually use the very last lace hole and skip the second to last one. If this seems like more information than necessary, again consider how different we all are. For me, this is an important feature because I expect my shoes to take a ton of abuse.

The initial run was a success, although there was a moment in there where as I ran downhill, the choice of size became an issue. By the end of the run, the shoes seemed to stretch out a little and my toes felt great, but during that down hill, my toes on my right foot were screaming at me because of the tight fit. My plan at this point is that most likely I will end up getting the next size up.

As a runner who lands exclusively fore foot (I land on the ball of my foot and my heel never touches the ground), my foot splays as it makes contact, so a slightly tight fitting shoe can be uncomfortable. Be careful to take this into consideration for any shoe, but this really comes down to determining how you run, how your foot makes contact, whether you are pronate or supinate (how your foot rolls as it comes forward to land) and how many miles a week you plan to run.

These shoes are definitely a pair I would buy again based on how I run. I am curious to see if I can find the Merrell Trail Glove shoes on sale given the comfort of this pair, but at the moment I am loving my initial foray into the Merrell brand (pro Brooks/Vivo guy here).

In the coming weeks, I will post a follow-up once I get a hundred miles on these or so. It's important to break a pair of shoes in and determine if they are worthy. The other important thing will be the total mileage I get out of these shoes. For that, I will do my best to make note of that and mention it in the future.

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