(UPDATE Dec. 2012: With a new update to the GoRun now out, the original Skechers GoRun can be purchased for as little as $36 at Amazon.com. The GoRun 2 will be reviewed soon here on Runblogger)
This post is going to come as a bit of a shock to a lot of people who read this blog. The first shock is that I agreed to try out a Skechers running shoe. The second shock is that I think I might actually like it.
My first interaction with Skechers was not a good one. Earlier this year I was contacted by a representative from a PR firm representing Skechers, and they wanted to know if I would be willing to try out and review the Skechers Resistance Runner shoe. However, the catch was that they asked for either a “positive or neutral” review. Though I probably would have declined anyway on account of the fact that I could tell it was a shoe that I would probably not like to run in, the requirement to post a “neutral or positive review” was unacceptable, and borderline unethical. I should emphasize that the email came not from a Skechers employee, but a PR person from a company representing them, so I don’t know if this was a screw-up by an individual or if it was a directive coming from the company itself (based on my more recent interactions, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt and assume the former rather than the latter).
My other problem with Skechers is that I’m not a big fan of their marketing. The whole Shape-Ups campaign was a really egregious example of using “Skechy-Science” to sell a product to people who generally don’t take the time to evaluate the science themselves. Then came the ads for the Resistance Runner shoe (see example at left) – they were humorous to say the least for a shoe that was supposedly designed with “mid-foot strike technology.” The model in that ad may just slide the heel back and land on his midfoot prior to contact, but methinks that is rather unlikely with the amount of ankle dorsiflexion and knee extension he exhibits that late in his stride.
Given all of this, you can imagine my initial reaction when I was contacted a few weeks back by Skechers (directly this time) to see if I wanted to try out and review a pair of the soon-to-be released Skechers Go Run shoe. I had seen some early images of the Go Run, and they looked to be a bit of a positive departure from previous running offerings from the company, so I was at least curious (particularly since Meb Keflezghi apparently plans to use this as his racing shoe). But, the bad taste left in my mouth from my previous interaction with Skechers caused me to hesitate. Did I really want to support a company with a marketing approach like that which Skechers has employed? I wanted to be sure that if I agreed, and honest review is what they wanted. So, here is the text of my email response to their initial inquiry:
Can you tell me the height differential between heel and forefoot in this shoe, as well as the weight? I’m pretty picky about what I run in since I have to put a decent number of miles on shoes to do a review.
Also, just to be completely open with you, I had a negative experience with a previous contact from a Skechers PR rep. Was offered a trial pair of shoes in return for a “neutral or positive” review, and this is the only time anyone has ever specified something like this when asking for a review. I assume that you would be looking for a completely honest review of this shoe – I generally am very detailed and honest in my reviews, either positive or negative.
I was assured that an honest review was what they wanted, and I was content with the response that I was given. However, I still wasn’t to sure I wanted to review a Skechers shoe given my feelings about the company – iffy marketing, and cheap, gimmicky, mass-produced shoes were all that came to mind when I thought about Skechers. However, I sometimes need to remind myself that my feelings about individual companies perhaps should not dissuade me from reviewing a shoe that might actually work for some people, especially if that shoe is one that I’d at least consider wearing myself based on the product specs. I’m reminded in these situations by comments made by Stonyfield Farms CEO Gary Hirshberg in the movie Food Inc. – he basically said that if you believe in organic products, want them to gain a broader market share, and want prices to come down, you need to get these products out to the masses. If that means working with the Wal-Marts of the world, so be it – you can be stubborn and refuse to work with mega-companies, but this ultimately might hurt the consumer who could potentially benefit from the product. I believe in light-weight footwear with a reduced heel-toe offset, and this shoe looked to be a step in the right direction from a large shoe manufacturer with a lot of market reach.
Another reality about my desire to see greater market acceptance of lightweight, less-structured footwear became clear to me after I started teaching again a few weeks back. When I look at college students on my campus, Nike is by far the most popular brand of athletic shoe on their feet, and the Nike Free Run seems to be a big hit among the 18-22 year old crowd. None of them are wearing Saucony Hattoris or Merrell Trail Gloves. I was very skeptical about the Nike Free Run when it first came out, but after trying it I found that despite the deceptive marketing about it being a “barefoot” shoe, I actually liked running in them. Whereas Nike is already top dog in the athletic shoe market, Skechers is going to have a really tough time breaking into the serious running market. However, their shoes will wind up on shelves of stores where a lot more consumers shop, and could be an impetus for further innovation in the lightweight/flexible shoe niche. If they can use their production scale to put them out at a low price, it might also lead to price reductions from competitors – I think a lot of the so called “minimalist” shoes out there right now are vastly overpriced.
Anyway, I decided to put aside my reservations, and agreed to have them send me out a pair of the Go Run shoes. I was pretty certain that I wouldn’t like them given their unusual midsole design – the sole is thickest under the midfoot – but I was determined to keep an open mind. When they arrived and I opened the box I was greeted by yet another unfortunate image:
In fairness, the box was turned inside out, and the shoe in the image above is not the Go Run, so this may just be a generic box used for preproduction samples, but I can assure you that the guy in the image is not landing on his midfoot!
Here’s where things get interesting. After the initial contact about trying out these shoes, I received an email from Kurt, the technical lead involved with their design. Turns out that he was a long-time Nike employee, and was involved in the Nike Free project (though I don’t run much in the Frees these days, the Free 3.0 was my first “minimal” shoe and a longtime personal favorite). This was a nice change from my usually interaction with shoe companies (where I mostly talk to PR folks), and it’s the first time I’ve actually been directly in touch with someone involved with the design and construction of a running shoe for a large shoe company. Kurt has been surprisingly open and honest about the challenges that Skechers faces in the performance running niche, and it seems that he and a few others were only fairly recently brought in from places like Nike to build Skechers offerings and reputation in this area.
My initial impressions when I first put the shoe on were mixed – the uppers are really, really nice, but I wasn’t crazy about the feel of the rockered sole. The best analogy I can provide is that it feels like a pair of Newtons with the forefoot lugs transplanted to the midfoot – there is a distinct sense of upward pressure just in front of the heel. This can be attributed to the fact that the midsole thickness is 14mm in the heel, 19mm in the midfoot, and 10mm in the forefoot. They feel quite strange, and a bit uncomfortable, to stand or walk in (same goes for Newtons – I can only run in them).
After collecting some initial thoughts, I sent the following email off to Kurt to share my first-wear feelings:
They just arrived today, just opened up the box and tried them on. Here are some initial thoughts just from putting them on and walking around the house:
-Upper is excellent, love that there is very little structure to it, and the nearly seamless internal lining is fantastic. Definitely seems like a shoe that could be used sockless (my preference). Very reminiscent of the Nike Free
-The built in sockliner is nice, very similar to the sockliner in the Saucony Hattori.
-I like the design of the tongue, and the fact that it is stitched to the upper
-Toebox is plenty roomy for me (wearing the size 10’s, which give me about a thumb’s width of space in front of my big toe), though some of the more minimalist runners may prefer more width up front. That being said, most hardcore minimalists probably won’t run in a shoe like this, so it may not matter much. I suspect that’s not your target market anyway.
The sole is definitely unlike anything I have worn before. Only shoe I’ve ever put on where I can rock backward off the heel, and it feels a bit awkward to walk in them. Best analogy I can come up with would be taking the forefoot lugs on a pair of Newton’s and sticking them under the midfoot. I’ll have to withhold judgment until I run in them, but definitely a different feel.
In general, I’ll admit that my view of a midfoot strike differs a bit from that promoted by the rocker concept. I define a midfoot strike as simultaneous contact of the heel and the pad under the fifth metatarsal. If you look at a pressure tracing for a midfoot strike, it starts right about where you have the midfoot pods on your shoe, but I think that’s because those tracings average out the pressure distributed simultaneously at the heel and under the fifth met. As such, I’m a bit skeptical of building up a shoe under the midfoot since it’s not so much that this is the spot at which you want to contact, but that it’s the midpoint between the actual contact points under the heel and forefoot. I think the phrase “midfoot strike” is actually a bit of a misnomer, and that “full-foot” might be a better descriptor of landing along that entire lateral margin simultaneously.
So, if I were to create a “midfoot strike shoe,” my approach would possibly be to put pods like you have under the lateral forefoot and under the lateral heel, or perhaps continuously under the entire lateral edge of the shoe. Having the pods under the middle puts pressure up under the front of the heel, back of the arch, and not sure how this will feel when I run in them (I’ll keep an open mind).
I tend to think we should encourage form like that adopted when barefoot or something close to that, and the sensation of rolling backward onto the heel doesn’t simulate what it’s like to be barefoot.
Without having run in it, I do suspect it will be hard to heel strike in this shoe, which accomplishes that goal, but I also wonder how well it will let the heel come down after initial contact is made further forward.
This shoe really feels to me like a cross between the Nike Free Run and the Saucony Hattori with a rockered bottom. If you took the upper of your shoe (one of the nicest I’ve worn), put it on a zero-drop sole (or even a 2-3mm drop) like that of the Hattori, and put pods for durability under the lateral margin of the shoe, you’d have a real winner that I think would gain a strong following. And, if you made that same shoe in kid’s sizes, I personally would be thrilled!
The last sentence of my email was one of my secondary reasons for pursuing this review – Skechers is a huge maker of children’s shoes, and since innovation in kid’s footwear seems to be lagging far behind that of adult footwear, they might be able to make some positive change in this area.
Anyway, Kurt and I have exchanged several additional emails about the design of the shoe, but I was quite honestly not initially anticipating that I would like running in them.
My first run in the shoes was a seven miler – in fact it was the run from which I obtained all of the data in my recent cadence vs. stride length post. As I ran down my street, I could definitely feel the thickened midfoot with each step, and I was concerned that it might irritate my plantar fascia. Certain – usually cushioned – shoes can trigger mild plantar fasciitis in my feet, which I think might be related to the fact that I’m constantly throwing vastly different types of shoes on them (a negative aspect of being a shoe reviewer!). However, as I continued the run, the sensation lessened to the point where I no longer really noticed it. I ran a variety of paces, from 10:00/mile all the way down to sub-5:00/mile for a bit, and the shoes felt surprisingly good – I was genuinely surprised.
Because the heel is cut away and is made of a very soft material, it’s very hard to land on it – Kurt indicated that heel striking in the shoe would likely lead to “bottoming out,” and I can attest that this is probably what would happen. The area under the midfoot feels a bit firmer than the rest, perhaps due to the outsole pods in that region. I found it rather easy to run on my midfoot and perhaps a bit on my forefoot in the shoes, and by the end of the seven miles I was pleasantly surprised by how they had performed. I was still a bit skeptical about the thickening in the midfoot, and I’m still not convinced that it’s a good thing for the long term, but it seems to aid in accomplishing the desired goal of promoting a midfoot strike.
My one major issue on the first run was that I got massive blisters along my instep on both feet (1.5-2 inches long!). I ran sockless because the upper is designed to be used this way (as I mentioned in my email to Kurt, the upper is very nicely made), but the Hattori-like, non-removable sockliner is stitched along its margins in a way that caused a lot of abrasion (interestingly, the Hattori gives me blister trouble as well). I think this problem is solvable perhaps by adopting a sockliner style where the upper extends further down under the foot like in the New Balance MT110 (the other shoe I’ve been running in lately).
So, the first run was a mix of good and bad – the shoe performed a lot better than I expected, but the blistering was a problem. Yesterday I went for a second run in the shoes, this time with socks and a bit of Skin Strong lubricant applied generously to the blistered regions of my foot. I can’t necessarily say it was the shoes (the Fall-like weather certainly didn’t hurt!), but my run yesterday was the best I’ve had in months. I did a fairly hilly 10.27 miles at an average pace of 7:10/mile. Here are my mile splits: 8:11-7:54-7:25-7:07-6:56-7:01-7:06-7:04-6:42-6:24-6:12 (final quarter mile). My right foot was a bit sore in the first mile – I had strained something on a wild, lost in the woods, 9+ mile trail run earlier in the week – and I was concerned that the thickened midfoot sole would aggravate it. Fortunately, things improved as I warmed up, and continued to get better as each mile passed, and the socks and lubricant seem to have resolved the blister issue. For me to run the final few miles at the pace that I did was a bit of a shock – 10 miles is about as along a run as I have done since the Boston Marathon back in April.
I never thought or expected that I would say this, but I think I might really like these shoes (gasp!). The upper is stretchy, without any structural elements, and very soft internally – it’s very much like a cross between the uppers on the Nike Free Run and the Saucony Hattori. The sockliner is a thin, comfortable layer of open-cell polyurethane foam, again very reminiscent of the Hattori. The midsole is extremely flexible and fairly soft, and it has oustole pods under the midfoot and extending up the edges toward the forefoot on each side (this should help with durability). I generally like either a softish midsole (like the Saucony Kinvara, Brooks Green Silence, or Frees) or little to no midsole at all (think Vibram Fivefingers, Vivobarefoot, Merrell Barefoot), so this works for me, but will not appeal to those who prefer a firmer ride. The shoe is also nice and light, weighing in at 7.3 oz in size 10 on my scale (probably with a bit of residual sweat soaked in…). And, though I can’t quantify this in any way, I feel like the shoes give me a bit of additional spring – I’m wondering if the bit of additional upward pressure under the midfoot interacts with the plantar fascia in some way to help propel the foot off of the ground.
It’s worth mentioning that the rockered bottom of this shoe does not act the same way as a rockered bottom in a firmer soled shoe. In the latter case, you typically land on the heel and then roll forward off the rocker (as I would suspect happens in the Skechers Resistance Runner). Given that it’s hard to land on the heel in the Go Run, landing on the midfoot will compress the thickened midfoot region upward, and cause the heel and forefoot to lower to the ground after midfoot contact (at least that’s the idea and sensation you get – will need to get some video and see what actually happens). I’m still not so sure that the shoe wouldn’t work just as well, if not better, with a midsole of uniform thickness from heel to forefoot (perhaps retaining the undercut rear portion of the heel), but as I said above I found them a lot easier to run in than I expected. My hope is that Skechers will experiment a bit as I think they have a workable product to base future designs off of. As I told Kurt in my email to him, I think a shoe with a Go Run upper and a zero drop, Hattori-like sole would be pretty darned nice (and even better if they made that shoe for kids…).
In summary, the Skechers Go Run is not a shoe for hard-core minimalists. The toebox will feel too narrow (it’s average width, fine on my foot), and the shoe will be too soft underfoot for those who prefer a Merrell Barefoot or Vibram Fivefingers style shoe. However, I’ve been rather surprised by how much I have enjoyed running in this shoe, and unlike a few other shoes on my active review list, I’m actually looking forward to putting more miles on these. Time will tell as to how much I wind up liking the unusual midsole design, but I at least have to give the folks at Skechers credit for a bit of innovation – this shoe has a feel unlike that of any other shoe I have worn. Though it’s clearly not a barefoot-style shoe in terms of how it functions, it does seem to accomplish the goal of encouraging a midfoot strike. Is this a good or bad thing? Could be either I suppose depending on the person, and I hope they take a wiser marketing approach with this shoe and recognize the lack of certainty in the scientific literature about what is best for runners. Let’s not have another Shape-Ups mess. And let’s get some models who actually properly demonstrate what a shoe is supposed to do!
Skechers has a huge challenge ahead in trying to break into the performance running market, and the Go Run appears to be their first big step – it will be more than interesting to see how it is received. This shoe reminded me that keeping an open mind is a good thing, and sometimes trying something that you don’t think you will like can result in a pleasant surprise (boy do I sound like a parent). Oh, and my butt is more toned than ever (sorry, couldn’t resist, and needed to head off the inevitable commentary)!
UPDATE: With a new update to the GoRun now out, the original Skechers GoRun can be purchased for as little as $36 at Amazon.com.
The Skechers Go Run can be purchased in a variety of color combinations at Skechers.com – use code ENT15 at checkout for 15% off!
The Skechers GoRun is also available for sale at Zappos.