I was sent a pair of Saucony Virratas by Saucony (via Fitfluential) for review purposes free of charge. I was not compensated in any other way, or asked to give a positive review; all opinions are honest and my own.
The idea behind barefoot/minimalist running is that the stride we’ve developed through having running shoes with all their cushioning and stabilizing technology has given us an unnatural stride that is actually what is behind most running injuries. Running more like our evolutionary ancestors would enable us to run more efficiently and safely, and the way to promote that kind of running is to wear as little as possible on your feet. I can remember seeing people do marathons and half-marathons completely barefoot (except occasionally a little duct-tape) as far back as 2005, but the movement (and subsequent product development and marketing machine) really grew over the last few years.
I did like the theory, and I was willing to give the practice a bit of a try, though I didn’t want to send my entire running technique back to square one. A few years ago I bought a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves to play around with a little; I took them on a soft trail that I thought would be ideal for the experience - I wouldn’t need the extra cushioning I’d come to expect from my road running shoes. Unfortunately that trail was also very hilly - I ended up really aggravating my Achilles tendons (both of them!) and I got blisters to boot. Since then, I only used those shoes under controlled circumstances on the treadmill, or for other activities (playground with the kids, weights, spinning). I understand and like the theory of minimalist running, but I have severe reservations about its practicality when it comes to my goals and lifestyle.
The Virrata is “remains is a feather-light, ultra flexible shoe with advanced cushioning that promotes a powerful stride and allows your foot to move the way it was meant to.”* (quoted from the Saucony website). It’s what the call a zero drop shoe, but with cushioning. The zero drop means there’s no modification to your foot’s natural profile - your heel isn’t any higher off the ground than the ball of your foot. And for people like me, the cushioning could help deal with the realities of hitting the hard ground.
Image courtesy of Saucony.com
When I took the Virratas out of the box, I didn’t notice anything terribly different about them... because they were still stuffed with paper. Once I took that out I nearly threw them in the air because they were so much lighter than I expected. Obviously they wanted as little weight as possible for that natural feel - they’ve chosen lightweight materials, but also created a very open mesh for the top of the shoe; they’re highly breathable and intended to dry quickly. I noticed the sole right away also. It was thick enough to be noticed, and make me believe it would provide some cushioning, but I could also tell the flexibility would give it a very responsive feel. I couldn’t wait to run in them!
Image courtesy of Saucony.com
Let's go to the video!(This was made using Coach's Eye for the iPad and WeVideo)
Virrata Outdoor Run
Due to the *Chilly Half Marathon*, and the taper that preceded it, I hadn’t taken the Virratas out on a run; running a race in brand new shoes is no-no, especially if it’s a long distance (for you), though apparently *Fitness Cheerleader* did it. Once I had a few days to recover, I decided to take them out for a quick run on the sidewalks (Kovas, of Midwest Multisport Life says the Virratas are *not so good on the snow*, so I skipped the trails).
I hadn’t noticed any more soreness in my larger, more major leg muscle groups, but upon starting my run, I did feel it in my ankles. While the Virratas have great cushioning for a zero-drop/minimalist shoe, that’s still not as much as I might be used to. The good news is that they are also very responsive, I found myself making the slightest adjustment and the ankles didn’t hurt as much (they joints may have simply needed to get warmed up).
Running in them felt very natural; there was no ‘whoa this is new/different’ sensation in them, and what I love is that my pace was in keeping with with my race pace from the weekend: 5:48, 5:42, etc. At first I took that to be a good indicator of how natural the shoe and I fit together, but upon further reflection, I think I would have been slower in my old shoes, since I was still in recovery and trying to take it easy. I think the light weight of the Virratas might have turned what should have been a slow, easy (and short) run into one with a more respectable pace!
Still when I think of the lightweight materials, I have doubts as to how they’ll stand up to my average runs, which typically include gravelly trails and mud, roots, rocks in addition to pavement and the cement of sidewalks. The Virratas will probably occupy more of a novelty slot in my shoe rotation, but I’ll certainly enjoy running in them more than I thought I could considering they’re a minimalist shoe. If I can integrate them into my training, it will help my running technique and strength in my feet and some of the other, smaller stabilizing muscles needed for running. Like they say: Find Your Strong.