I want to tell you that the reason I ultimately got a pair of these shoes was because I read Born To Run and was properly inspired by Eric Orton that I sought his business out and bought a pair of shoes right away.
But I'd be lying.
Yes, Born To Run led me to Christopher McDougall's blog, which eventually led me to the Born2Run shoes. But the deciding factor in my purchasing a pair was my lifelong desire to be a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. That's even why I picked the green(ish) color scheme over the red. But for the sake of this review we're going to pretend I'm a professional who is not motivated by childhood fantasies.
Read on for more.
I've run the gamut of minimalist shoes over the past year or so. I'll get into the wheres and whys in a future post. But for now I'll just say I've tried just about everything there is to try, which is a lot. So when I heard of Born2Run shoes my first reaction was, "Why?" I mean, do we really need another brand? Of course, my immediate follow up reaction was, "Why not?" Eric Orton has tremendous name recognition within minimalist circles, so this was a pretty natural extension of his expertise. Not to mention that the presence of competition has certainly not discouraged the fluffier athletic shoe makers from producing ever more styles and brands. Why should minimalist shoes be any different? The more variation and style, the better.
I've been running in these shoes for nearly a month, alternating with some of my regular running shoes for comparison's sake.
What you get
First up, the shoes themselves. They appear very similar to other lightweight sneakers at the outset, but with a longer look they get more interesting. The most unique feature is a cleft between the first and second toes of each foot, creating a ninja-toe look that allows for greater mobility and control.
The upper is light, thin, soft, and extremely breathable. The sole is flexible enough that combined with the minimal upper means the shoes can be rolled up.
You also get two pairs of split-toe socks. The inclusion of the socks is nice and rather necessary since B2R seems to be straddling the line between FiveFingers (which you can wear socks with, but probably won't) and traditional sneakers (which you'd almost always wear socks with). Some shoe specs from their site:
- Zero-drop (the difference in mid-sole/outsole height between the heel and the forefoot is approximately 0 mm)
- Low profile 13mm Stack Height: Midsole 6mm, Outsole 3.5mm, Footbed 3.5mm
- Removable Insole for customized comfort - 3mm
- Weight: 6.9 ounce for Men’s shoe size 9
- Designed to fit men and women (shoes run true to size)
They also mention a "FREE downloadable transition program with purchase," which is accessible via the "Run Training" section of the site. You get a coupon code in order to get the 6-week program for free. Initially I didn’t bother for three reasons: 1) I’ve already been transitioning to the forefoot/midfoot running style for some time and figured it wouldn’t be too valuable for me, 2) I had the B2R level 1 strength training kit to review and didn’t think an additional program would be particularly useful, and 3) I figured it’d just be some slapdash PDF with the same old tips. But for the sake of the review I eventually went and looked at it anyway. I was wrong on all counts. The program is very detailed and you load it into a calendar on the TrainingPeaks.com website to follow as a daily regimen for six weeks. You even pick the start date. I really wished I’d seen something like this way back when I’d started transitioning. I won’t be reviewing the transition program since that’s a bit beyond the scope of this review, but suffice to say that it seems much more impressive than I’d expected. I don't think I'm ruining anything by showing a screenshot of the abbreviated version of the first couple of days of the program. Every day is absolutely packed with activity:
The shoes have a removable insole for those who are trying to get maximum ground feel and the truest minimalist experience they can out of these shoes. Although I'd typically be one of those people to remove the insole, in this case I had to leave it in. Taking them out just made things a bit too wiggly. But take that with a grain of salt, because I have a strange foot. In regular sneakers I typically wear a size 14 US, but with FiveFingers I wear a EUR 45, which equates to about a size 11.5 or so US. Big range, that. Mostly it's due to my fairly broad forefoot -- of which FiveFingers tends to be more forgiving.
B2R only goes up to size 13, but that still seemed fine in my case considering that the split-toe design cries out for a slightly snugger fit than you'd typically want for a sneaker. I encountered some challenges with this, though. Lengthwise the B2R size 13 seemed a bit roomier than I typically get with a size 14 in Asics or Brooks, but widthwise felt narrower. After a couple of too-snug-width runs I ended up tying the laces in such a way as to open up the toe box and pull in the length a bit. Lacing experimentation is something I suggest for anyone with fit issues. It's also worth it to experiment with using or removing the insole.
Once I got everything right with the laces, my runs were much more pleasant. The ground feel was dampened slightly by the insole, of course, but the zero drop and flexibility of the sole was excellent. It felt like a good compromise between running barefoot or running in regular sneakers. Definitely a very solid "transition" shoe for those who are learning to run with better form.
B2R states that they run "true to size," but I reflexively disbelieve that from any shoe company because many of them say that and they still all fit different. It's tough to advise people on shoe fit if you can only get them online, but I'll try. Best advice I can give: B2Rs run from a half to a full size larger than an equivalent size in Inov-8s. But keep in mind this is just one guy and his weird feet providing a baseline.
The thing that most impressed in my case was related to the heel. I'm a big guy, so years of heel striking led to bad knees, which is what led me to improving my form. But even with forefoot running, the light "tap" of the heel that I tend to do can still be a little too much in terms of pressure. I often end long runs with sore heels, despite not actually landing on the heel. The thinner the shoe, or when running in no shoes at all, the greater the soreness in the heel. I'm just not graceful enough yet to avoid "tapping" the heel a little too hard just yet. With B2Rs, though, I found myself finishing my runs with no heel soreness. Which again makes a case for them as a solid transition shoe.
A big part of this might be due to the fact that the sole extends further back than, say, Merrell Trail Gloves. In the side view you can really see the way it angles outward rather sharply. Greater sole area to disperse the heel taps? No idea -- but I dig it.
The sole of the shoe is great. It's flexible, not too soft or hard, and perhaps most appreciated by this humble reviewer: it's simple. I don't know why, but those overly elaborate sole patterns always bother me. I want to know what to expect from every possible angle that my foot could hit the ground, and with B2Rs you'll definitely know. My years working as a footwear associate tell me that the grooves form a simple and classic running + light cross training pattern.
The removable insole is impressive in that it doesn't shift or bunch in the slightest. When removed, the footbed beneath is still solid and doesn't look or feel like anything is missing.
Runs are smooth and these shoes definitely invite forefoot running. Other zero-drop sneaker styles often don't feel like they push me to switch my style except as a result of the pain that comes from getting lazy and heel-striking in them. B2Rs manage to nudge me to keep better form without having to think about it as much. This in particular speaks to the careful design.
The socks. Oh god, the socks. I kind of hate myself for mentioning this. I've always been critical of girls who put on makeup before going for runs, or guys who insist on doing all their lifts at the gym in front of a mirror in their tight and shiny Under Armour shirts. You're exercising -- who cares what you look like? But seriously, the style of the socks are just... bleh. Too high for my tastes, too plain, and too far off from the shoe styling. I'll still wear them, of course -- but I may only do so during the winter when I've got long pants to cover them. Otherwise I think I'll wear one of my more matching pairs of black toe socks so I don't look (as) ridiculous.
See what I mean?
As mentioned above, things did feel a little snug for me in terms of width in the forefoot. Specifically I'd get hot spots on the outside area of my pinkie toe knuckles. Once I re-laced differently it mostly cleared up the problem, but figured I should mention it. Again, maintain some healthy doubts about my assessment in that area since I have a fairly wide forefoot.
One minor quibble I had with the split-toe design was how sharp it was. What I mean is that I feel like it should be rounded slightly near the top of the split. After all, the big toe and the second toe aren't shaped like a shark's fins. With some minor rounding it would clear up the empty space inside the toe box and give the split a little more integrity against those two biggest toes.
These shoes are built for running, so perhaps it's unfair to evaluate them in a cross training environment in too much detail. But I felt like B2Rs cry out for crossfit. Specifically that spread heel along with the simple and flat sole with just enough traction. And of course the zero drop aspect makes them excellent for traditional lifts.
Turns out my assumptions were correct. I've worn these quite often for lifting and have been continually impressed. Even with the insole, there's considerably less "squish" to the shoes than regular sneakers -- which is great because of course you want as sturdy of a base as you can get. There's still not quite as much ground feel as a pair of FiveFingers or going barefoot -- even without the insole -- but B2Rs make up for this with that solid base feeling. It really does make everything feel sturdier than I was even expecting.
Olympic lifts all felt solid, box jumps landed well, and of course running days were excellent. It was only during burpees that I noticed the “sharpness” of the split toe area and first came to think of it as a “shark’s fin.” Not detrimental to the workout, but just something to note.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always nervous about spending money on a product from a new company. Doubly so when it’s something as important as what’ll be protecting my feet during 5-10 mile runs several times a week. It’s easy to get lulled into a false sense of security with the “trusted” brand that you always buy. Add in the anxieties that come with trying an entirely new running style (if you’re just starting out), and doing so in shoes with less padding. And lastly, that you’re ordering these online and won’t know what they’re like until they get to you. With all that stacked up, B2R has some challenges in reaching consumers.
But despite all those challenges, I really hope they do reach more people. This is a great shoe. B2Rs are lightweight, durable, and comfortable. You can tell that a lot of thought went into them because they’re extremely well-engineered – especially for a first generation shoe. They clearly care about every little detail. Perhaps the best compliment I can offer is that they are definitely a sincere company, and that shines through in their product.
If you’ve been injured by regular running and need to make changes, or have just been curious about improving your form, B2Rs are an excellent place to start. And quite possibly even where you’ll stay.