Gear junkie: Sandals touted for distance running

2013-05-09T00:00:00Z Gear junkie: Sandals touted for distance runningSTEPHEN REGENOLD For The Gazette The Billings Gazette
May 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Would you run a mile in sandals? How about a marathon, or 50 miles even?

Crazy as it sounds, a subset of runners and ultra athletes now tackle great distances in shoes most people wear to the beach.

Luna Sandals, a Seattle brand founded in 2010, is a leader in the sandal-running movement. Indeed, its founder, Ted McDonald, is something of a cult figure, a man known as "Barefoot Ted" who was featured in the bestselling book "Born to Run."

In 2006, McDonald traveled to Mexico to run with the Tarahumara, a tribe known for its distance-running prowess. Some members of the tribe made footwear out of the rubber from discarded car tires.

The sandals made by Luna today are more refined. But with just a thin slab of rubber and simple straps they remain among the more basic shoes you can buy.

I got a pair of the company's Venado sandals to test. They cost $65 and consist of narrow nylon straps, a single buckle, and a flexible piece of foot-shape rubber for the sole.

The company touts the Venado as "great for running or walking on paved surfaces and moderate trails."

On my first test trail run a rock wedged under my heel. I stopped to remove it then squinted ahead. The route was rocky and included puddles and mud.

But the soft rubber sole gripped well on stones and dirt. The laces, made of 5/8-inch webbing, were more comfortable than they look.

On hard surfaces, the sandals slap loudly. They are not comfortable on pavement.

To be sure, I run light on my feet and am used to minimal and barefoot-style shoes. But the Lunas are less a shoe, more a thin covering that straps over your sole.

And that's the whole point: The company has a reverence for barefoot running, which is seen by McDonald as the most natural and best way to move over land. Its sandals are one step away, a buffer for the thinner skin and non-calloused feet of the modern man.

The Venados are handmade in Seattle. They are tough and should last a lot of miles, walking or on the run.

If nothing else, the minimal sandals are interesting and fun. I like wearing them around casually. Just don't expect to see me in Mexico (or anywhere else) running 50 miles in them at any time soon.

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