Monday, August 19, 2013

Skora Running Overview

Lost Lake, found FORM
No one has ever approached me, for any reason, while I was running. This could be because I don't put in that many miles, because I don't run in flashy clothes or shoes or because I run where other people run and they just want to run and not check me out.

That all changed on this day.

I felt him before I saw him, so I instinctively moved toward the outer lanes of the track to let him pass. No luck. He was on my neck before I knew it. And he was talking. To me.

"Hey man, I see you run barefoot style."

Guilty.

"Are you looking for some new shoes?"

I don't know if you see the holes in mine, but yeah, I'm in the market.

"You should check out this company called Skora, we're new and based here in Portland and we make great zero-drop running shoes. We're also looking for ambassadors. All you'd have to do is write some blogs and take some pictures, no big deal."

OK, man, do you have a business card? I was about to start sprinting here. You caught me on a rest interval.

"Nope. Just remember Skora. We're the only one!"

OK, see ya.

What a kook. And those shoes looked wacky too. What was that, one x-shaped strap to keep the whole thing on? If Oakley made shoes, they'd look like that. Yeah right. That's a bummer, too, because I need some shoes. I wonder if they sell 'em locally. I could at least try 'em on. See what's up. One shop in town carries them? They really are new. Comfy, too. And that full-grain leather... slick. OK, I'm in.

And that's about all it took. I e-mailed Tyler (the not-so-kooky-after-all Skora brand evangelist) who hooked me up with some shoes and now I'm a brand ambassador, spreading the good word of SKORA (company policy is all-caps, makes me think of yelling the Nordic cheer 'SKOL,' but it's actually Polish for 'leather' or 'skin').

So let me tell you about them. The first shoe I got was the FORM. Fully leather inside and out. First thing I did was switch the laces (they come with a set of matching and a set of laces of the base color and one of the accent color) and bust out one of the eyelets because the aglet was a little snug and I was too aggro. Talk about not getting off on the right foot. After that, things went much more smoothly.

Because of the eyelet blowout, Tyler sent me a pair of another model, the PHASE. More on them later. I decided to keep the FORM anyway, rather than send them back. They are sooper comfy just walking in them.

That's all I did for the first day, just walk around and get used to the zero-drop feel. It's surprising how different a 4mm drop (my old shoes) is from zero. Going back and forth felt like going from sandals to KISS-style platform boots. I should have spent more time getting used to them, but I did a track workout on day two. They felt so good I decided for sure to keep them then. It was workout number three that put a blister on my baby toe. No surprise, I'd had the shoe for a week. It's hard to hold off, but necessary to give your feet time to adjust. Back to just walking in 'em for a while. Alternating with my old shoes. Eventually they broke in to the point where it seems like they're molded to my feet. Leather will do this, of course, like in a golf glove or batting glove, but I've never had it happen in a shoe.

The three big things that were hard to get used to on this shoe were the zero-drop build, the minimal cushioning and the rounded sole. I already mentioned the zero-drop setup, but the cushioning was dramatically different, too. My old shoes had about an inch (25.4mm) of material between my foot and the road. The FORM has 13mm. This is called the 'stack height' in running shoe parlance. That's about half as much cushioning as I'm used to. Among other things, this allows you to feel more of what you're running on. Whether you like this is a matter of preference. I think it's one of the things that makes SKORA great. They aren't too close to the ground, but you can still feel bigger rocks and cracks.

The rounded sole snuck up on me. It felt unstable at first. Like every step was on a balance beam. As I got used to it, it felt totally natural. Feet have rounded soles, after all. The rounded soles on SKORA make every stride link together that much better. It's like going from digital to analog walking. SKORA: Record players for your feet.

Maximal gnarwear, meet minimal footwear.
The PHASE was a whole different monster. A mesh upper, 11mm stack height and no midsole. Light and airy. I don't think I'd ever want to wear less shoe than the PHASE while running.

Unfortunately, my pair of PHASE started out with their own issues. The right heel dug mercilessly into my Achilles tendon. After asking around, I found this was a somewhat common problem. More breaking in, a little petroleum jelly and some massage (both the shoe and my heel) and they came around.

Now I love my PHASE. I wear them on runs up to four miles without socks or insoles - dropping the stack height to 8mm. The sole is adeptly flexible. They find their way to my feet for higher speed stuff and even weight lifting.

Mostly, both PHASE and FORM just get get out of your way and let you run how you run. SKORA calls this 'real running.' No motion control, minimal arch support, an asymmetrical lacing system to keep pressure off the nerves on top of your foot. Just enough of what you need and nothing you don't. Bruce Lee might say, "Your foot becomes the shoe." 

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