Leah Sakellarides is a runner, blogger (outside of BirthdayShoes), and photographer based out of Southern California.
Below is an interview with Leah that talks about her ideal minimalist shoe (and her dislike of the color pink), transitioning to natural running, and her multifarious endeavors and outdoor adventures!
Why did you switch to minimalist shoes?
I wasn’t sold on minimalist footwear at first. I’ve been a runner my whole life so I was skeptical about all the new kicks that were coming out. I first found out about VFFs when Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Workweek, started wearing and talking about all the great things about them. So with an open mind I tried the FiveFingers Sprints on at the sporting goods store when they first came out. I couldn’t imagine that they would perform well at all, but I decided to give them a shot anyway. It took a while for me to get used to them and once I did there was no going back! I felt lighter and more nimble than ever in them. Also, my regular running shoes would cause IT band pain in my knee, but all that disappeared with VFFs. Now every time I put a regular running shoe on, it just feels like I’m wearing a platform and my ankle feels like it’s going to roll. It’s just not natural.
What is the most important aspect of minimalist footwear for you?
It’s hard to choose only one. I think that an awesome shoe has to have a number of things for it to be great. Comfort, performance, and aesthetics are the biggies for me. Comfort - there can’t be any issues with irritating seams or pressure points after breaking them in or they’re out. Performance - the tread has to perform well and provide the right amount of traction for the activity. Aesthetics - it could be the best performing product in the world, but I won’t spend money on it if it’s ugly. Plain and simple.
How many pairs of FiveFingers do you have? What other minimalist shoes do you have?
I have 9 pairs of VFFs and 9 pairs of other minimalist shoes mostly from New Balance, VivoBarefoot, and Altra.
What's your current go-to shoe? All-time favorite?
I have two current favorites. I’m mainly a trail runner so the Spyridon LS is my favorite VFF since they’re robust yet surprisingly flexible. The grippy tread allows me to bomb down big hills without slipping. My favorite non-VFF are my yellow New Balance Roads (Zeros). I wear them everywhere and I like to take them with me when I travel. They look great on plus they’re super flexible and lightweight so they’re easy to pack. It’s funny because every single time I wear them, people stop and ask me where I got them!
What is one activity you enjoy doing that has nothing to do with FiveFingers?
I love mountain biking! There’s a big network of trails near where I live so I like to just hop on my bike and go.
What is the most you feel comfortable paying for a shoe?
It depends on the shoe. For an average minimalist running shoe I think anywhere from $80 - $120 is reasonable. I’d expect a little bit of a higher price for a hiking boot or something that’s made with more expensive materials.
What is your least favorite shoe that you have ever tried?
If you could name your own brand of shoes what would it be called?
Well, I don’t know what I would name my own brand of shoes, but I can tell you this...I wouldn’t sell a single pair shoes that are the color pink! I'm not a pink fan and it irks me how companies often slap pink on many products just because it’s women’s specific. (I wrote a whole blog post about the color pink - you can find it here.)
If you could only wear one style of shoe for the rest of your life what would it be?
The New Balance Minimus Roads! They’re the perfect example of form and function.
How long did it take you to transition to minimalist shoes?
Almost a year. It was a slow transition for me. I bought my VFFs when they were a brand new thing. I’ve been a runner my whole life so it was hard to switch at first. What really sold me on them was when I went trekking in Peru. I went on a 9-day expedition through the Andes in Peru while wearing my Sprints. (It was early 2010 so none of the other robust VFFs existed then.) I had hiked mountains previously (like Mt. Whitney and San Jacinto) in my heavyweight Asolo boots and they ALWAYS felt like a drag. They made me walk slower and caused blisters and knee pain. But I didn’t experience this on the Peru trek...I felt fast and nimble in my VFFs and I was virtually blister free! So after a tough trek like that, I’ve been hooked ever since.
Do you prefer Socks or No Socks?
Definitely no socks. I don’t like the feel, the heat, or the look of them.
Have you ever ran in to someone you could not convince to switch to minimalist? If so why did they not want to switch?
Yes, many times. It’s hard to convince someone who is completely opposed to VFFs. Someone said to me once that we have shoes for a reason and that it’s not natural to run on a surface that isn’t natural - like concrete - without the proper shoes. I also find that it boils down to looks. Lots of people I talk to think VFFs look completely ridiculous and some still don’t even know what they are. And the number question I always get is, “Don’t you need arch support?”
If you could design your ideal shoe what would it be?
It would have the ultimate combination of form and function for both on and off the trails. I’d include all of the following: a low profile style with a low cut around the ankle, a soft interior with no irritating seams or pressure points, a robust Vibram tread, simple laces that aren’t too long, and it would be lightweight with an upper tough enough to protect your toes from debris. As far the aesthetics goes...well I don’t want to give all my secrets away!
Did you like to be barefoot as a kid?
Now that I think about it, yeah I did! I grew up on the west coast of Florida and I spent a lot of time in or by the water (no shoes necessary). You could always find me swimming in the pool, at the beach, on a boat, or fishing off my grandparent’s dock.
What perspective do you bring to your reviews at BirthdayShoes?
I’m open-minded and honest so I’m willing to give any product a shot and tell you exactly how I feel about it - good or bad. I think the negative reviews are just as important as the positive ones. Without them, no one benefits (the brand or the consumer). Also, I’m the female of the group so I offer the women’s perspective on things.
I write a women’s lifestyle blog about exploration, adventure, and travel called Velokova. I’m always on the lookout for products where form meets function. I don’t think performance wear has to lack good design just because it’s functional. You can have the best of both worlds and I always take that in account when I review a product.
I’m always up for an adventure and love outdoor activities: running the trails, standup paddle surfing, mountain biking, hiking, trekking, etc. As far as running specific activities go ... I try to get out and run on the dirt trails at least four times a week. I ran the San Diego Rock n Roll Marathon a few years ago which was an incredible experience. I also randomly ran the whole Las Vegas strip early one morning in my VFF Sprints while stopping and playing blackjack at ten different casinos just for fun. I ended up a winner - you should try it sometime!
Thank you, Leah, for the perspective and experience you bring that helps BirthdayShoes a success!
If you want to catch up with what Leah has been writing for the site, see a full list of her articles and reviews here.