Saturday, June 9, 2012

Follow-up on the quest for zero-drop

A couple months ago, I decided to scrap my shoes and replace with options that are as close to zero-drop barefoot shoes as possible, in hopes that building up my foot strength would help me kick this plantar fasciitis habit I have developed. The catch is, though, that just low/zero drop is not enough. My criteria included:
  • Low/zero-drop
  • Wide toe box to allow foot to splay while walking
  • Flexible sole to allow for 3-D foot movement
  • Thin sole to allow foot to feel the ground 
  • Black/brown/blue, non-athletic looking - appropriate for business casual work setting
Let me tell you, these are not easy to find in one shoe. Even for someone like me with low aesthetic standards! While I came close, I didn't find all these things in one shoe. Thankfully, I had a 20% coupon to a local business,, that I had received from Tall Mom Mel before last year's Seattle Rock & Roll race.This company provides for easy returns, so it was perfect for me to order a bunch of shoes, return the ones I didn't want. Saved me hours from having to go to multiple stores to find rare shoes.

I ordered about 10 pairs of shoes, hoping to find something that would be good for work. In the end, I kept 5 pairs that are working for me. It's a bit tricky determining if a shoe is "zero drop" and outside of running shoes, there didn't seem to be much selection. Fortunately, Seattle is more casual than other parts of the country and my office/field takes liberty with the term "business casual." Despite that, I didn't want to just wear running shoes every day.

One brand that I thought would work for me because their shoes are wide (roomy), flat, and fun, is Keen. But NO. They were a huge fail in the flexibility department. I haven't given up on them yet but of the ones I ordered, my feet felt like the were in coffins. Stiff and heavy. Bummer because I have a pair of their snow boots that I love.

I was happy to find that Merrell has a great casual barefoot shoe collection and I was able to pick up these black slippers that have been working out great at work:
Delight Glove
There's not a whole lot to them, which is the point, but they're quite comfortable and really are like going barefoot (only more socially acceptable for an office setting, especially when you have nasty runner toes). The colors are limited but maybe in time they will have more to offer. Their Glove runners do come in many colors and I have been tempted to get a pair to wear as casual shoes.

Another brand that advertises as zero-drop is Ahnu but these shoes really are low drop, and maybe a bit marginal at that. I picked up these super-cute "Karma" sandals that have a fairly low heel-to-toe drop and are quite comfortable. In addition, I got the "Crissy." The Crissy has a little less room in the toe box but is fine for wearing at work. My feet feel a bit cramped if I wear them all day though. I ended up with a brown pair of Ahnu mary-janes that I'm still a bit mixed on. The shell of the shoe is complete flat - no drop. BUT, the insert has a nice, thick, comfortable cushion in the heel that adds quite a bit of height. For most people this would be fantastic, but for me it's less than ideal. So, I'm wearing it for work but trying not to wear it to walk around in a ton (it's really cute too). It's difficult to tell what kind of drop a shoe will have until you actually see it. Also, these are much more of a solid shoe than the Merrells or barefoot runners. So, when you're walking you don't have as much tactile sensation of the ground. This also means they have slightly less flexibility in the footbed.


Funny thing, even though I said I didn't want to wear running shoes every day, the shoe I've actually been wearing the most often (besides the Merrell Glove), is my Altra Intuitions - a running shoe! They are so flipping comfortable, I can't help it (plus I can bike commute in them & not have to change shoes). They are low-drop, flexible, and have a wide toe box so that my toes can actually spread out and breathe a bit. Plus, they are all gray and pretty non-obtrusive under my slacks (wait. old people wear slacks.) work pants. 
Intuition - mine are gray instead of blue.
I also have been wearing my Brooks PureFlow shoes, which are all black with some turquoise. Again, fit most criteria and blend well with my black work pants.
I still think these are the sexiest shoes in my closet and am dying to run again so I can wear these all over my 'hood.
Other brands with non-running barefoot shoes that may work for others but that I didn't like/try:
Maybe Converse All-Stars (cute but narrow for me)

Ummm. I think that's it folks.

So after 8+ weeks, can I tell a difference?
Well, I still have plantar fasciitis so it's not the magic, silver bullet that will cure all. However, I have noticed that when I've tried to wear my "old" running shoes (Brooks Adrenaline, Ghost, others), they feel uncomfortable. I haven't kept other casual shoes with a heel so I can't compare to those. With my old runners, I can feel my achilles and calves shortening up more and I miss that feeling of being closer to the ground.

I don't feel it's a bad thing to try to go low profile with all my footwear and am not regretting ditching all my Dansko, Ecco, other work shoes. I'm going to keep at this thing and maybe I'll find more "cute" options that will also make my feet stronger?

In the meantime, I'm doing what I can to beat this shit:
  • ice/heat
  • scrunch the towel
  • toe raises
  • graston
  • cold laser therapy
  • vibration plate stretching
  • anti-inflammatories
  • stretching
  • next up: the night boot 


  1. Interesting. I thought your comment about your achilles shortening up with your old running shoes made sense. I have PF and achilles issues too and I wonder if low drop shoes would make a difference. I am still too chicken to try them though since I have had IT band issues too. Argh! So many issues:0

  2. I seem to just wear running shoes. I have some slippers that are great but they don't work in public.

  3. I have never had PF issues, but this shoe search sounds very familiar to my wide feet! Finding shoes that are comfortable for walking AND look decent with nice-ish clothes is such a challenge. I've been wanting to the try Merrell's Barefoot Run Glove now that they have it in wide, but I'm not quite ready to shell out the $. Maybe after the field season...

    I've never had luck with Keen's either even though they run wide. A stiff shoe isn't comfy for me.

  4. I think you and I have all the same shoes :).

    It took me about 4-5 months to fully rid myself of the PF after going low heel drop so don't be discouraged.

    Did you ever go to a PT about this? Plantar Fasciitis is not a problem with the foot but more so a problem with hip abductors and glutes. When I finally found someone who knew something about the cause of my issues (and not slap a bandaid to "fix" it), he had me doing hip strengthening exercises 3x/day. Wow, it was crazy how weak I was on that side. Still am, and always will be weaker on that side, but I am way stronger than I was. I also just read an article on PF and how it stated that it's as much a hip abduction than as everything else.

  5. Very interesting post! Thanks for sharing all those different shoes. It might be interesting to switch my high heels for some healthy shoes :)

  6. What Jill said. My physio blamed my PF on a bent spine and wonky hip. However, I must admit I haven't been brave enough to go down the barefoot route yet. I find that converse and other thin-soeld shoes give me heel pain after one day of wearing them, and I wear trainers every day to protect my heels.

    By they way, that picture of a race on my blog that you commented on - no it's not usual to see barefoot runners at races here, but one of those guys with no shoes won the race! Pretty impressive on very rough and rugged terrain.

  7. I think the exercises will help more than the shoes (although I am definitely not against zero drop shoes). You might also consider some easy trail running as well.

  8. Sorry this is taking so long to kick! Hopefully you will be running again soon!

  9. Hey there, I thought I might try and lend a helping hand with the Plantar Fasciitis as I have dealt with treating it for over 15 years now. Check out this article I wrote couple of years ago:

    I'm glad you're liking the Intuitions (& yes they are 100% Zero Drop while still being cushioned), and I think you'll find our other models to be just as great! Check out the delilah if you want a less cushioned version of The Intuition. Thanks for the Intuition mention in your post and best of luck in kicking the PF!

    Founder, Altra Zero Drop Footwear

    1. Thanks for the link to the article. I checked it out & picked up some myoflex. I'm doing ok on the rest but should wear my soft arch supports more often. LOVE your shoes. They feel so natural. I'm thinking when I start running again that I will just end up living in these shoes - at work & while training!