Minimalist running: A first impression on the Merrell True Glove

Merrell True Glove minimalist running shoes.

I thought about doing this as a gear test, but really, can you do a gear test for anything without putting it through its paces for an extended period of time? Not really. So what you’re going to get here are initial impressions of the product as well as the activity.

So here’s the deal. I enjoy running, but I’m not the super runner that many of you are. Nope, no marathons or ultras under my belt. My idea of a good time is cruising out for about 3 miles in the city, or maybe 5 or so on the trails. I’m interested in those longer races, and getting my mileage up for some bigger runs is a priority. I’d really love to put together some lengthy trail runs in the Rockies.

Unlike most runners, I never developed a heel strike habit. I’m a mid-foot striker, with a tendency to edge closer to the front. What does this mean? The knee and back issues that plague many runners don’t bother me. However, it means other problems pop up.

My calves get worked when I run, more than most. And that’s OK, because I have mondo calves. But my Achilles tendons are just like anyone else’s. They get aggravated, and the angle of a traditional running shoe puts more strain on mid-foot strikers. This will be a problem for me if I want to pile up more miles.

Enter minimalist running. I’ve been told that mid-foot striking is the way to go, and having shoes that match the technique are essential. The added benefits of barefoot and minimalist running are also major: Initial studies point toward minimalist running as a great way to build foot, leg and core strength. Yes, please, to all that!

So I broke down and found me a pair of minimalist shoes and took them for a spin.

The shoe

The shoes I bought are Merrell True Gloves (disclosure: I bought these with my own money; no prior arrangement with the manufacturer for a review was made). To me, they look like climbing shoes with a tread. Putting them on, they fit snug. The first thing I noticed, aside from how light they are, was how my foot was aligned. I’m so used to having my heel elevated a bit, and that’s not just from running shoes. Think of it – work shoes, basketball shoes, hiking boots, and just about anything else has the heel slightly elevated. It’s only when we’re barefoot that our feet are truly level.

I ran without any sort of socks (as close to barefoot as I could get without actually being barefoot). The lack of cushion is apparent, but not uncomfortable.

As for the shoes themselves, they are so light as to feel like they’re not even there. Their soles are stiff, but there’s enough movement to allow a natural flex of the foot.

My initial impression: As a shoe, the True Glove performed remarkably well. Time and mileage will tell the real tale.

The experience

I’ve been told that when you start the minimalist or barefoot thing, you need to take it slow. I initially thought about hitting a 5-mile trail run, but thought better of it. Instead, I chose a flat track at a local city park system’s trail I call the bridge loop – 2.4 miles where you run along the banks of the Arkansas River, cross a pedestrian bridge, run the other bank, and cross back over the river on another bridge. It’s a mellow, nice workout that seemed like a good test for the shoes and the experience.

What I discovered is that once I got going, my running form stayed fairly true and I noticed very little change from how I normally go. The lack of cushion forced me to try to tread a little lighter, but I didn’t notice too much different.

I finished the run in a pretty normal time for me, noticing a slight increase in leg muscle fatigue as my workout drew to a close. Once finished, I stopped, stretched and checked out my feet.

I did have some small blisters. I’ve been told this has something to do to my form, which is possible. But anytime you sweat, wet skin rubbing against fabric is likely to cause some sort of friction and hot spots. What’s more, warm, sweaty skin tends to inflame and become more prone to blistering or cuts.

For that reason alone, it was a good thing I didn’t opt for the longer trail run, and I’ll lay off that until my feet toughen up. That will take some time.

I also noticed more leg muscle fatigue. My thighs had to work a little harder, and my calves even more so. Without the cushion of traditional running shoes, the minimalist shoes also lacked the spring that comes with it. That meant my legs had to work harder to propel me forward.

This is a good thing because I got more bang for the buck in my workout. But it gets better.

Despite the lack of cushion, I had no back pain. What’s more: Even though my calves suffered the most – and tightened up pretty quick – I had no tightness in my Achilles tendons in the days that followed. I take comfort in the thought that there are people who log serious miles barefoot. Perhaps, as my feet get tougher and stronger, I’ll be able to do the same without worrying about an Achilles tear.

Conclusion

Minimalist runs will become a regular part of my training regimen. There are too many benefits to ignore. But I’m going to ease into it. Too much too fast might strain my feet to the point of injury, and then there’s the whole blister issue. Maybe I need to work on my gait or have it analyzed, but I also think a thin sock might help. I know this goes against the barefoot ethos, but I’m impatient to get this show going without blistering.

We’ll see how this experiment goes.

Until then, I’d love to hear your experiences on barefoot and minimalist running. How was your transition? Any tips? Success stories? Nightmares? Let me know.

Bob Doucette

On Twitter @RMHigh7088

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13 thoughts on “Minimalist running: A first impression on the Merrell True Glove

  1. I’ve been doing some runs in Newtons which aren”t quite minimalist, but are designed to develop the same form.

    The jury is still out. I am a crazy pronator, so I need to improve my form a lot. Right now, minimalist running just doesn’t provide the support I need. And truthfully I haven’t found the evidence convincing enough switch over completely.

    • I’ve been told a gait analysis is helpful. Good running shops have treadmills with cameras that help the pros evaluate your stride and form.

      I know it will take some getting used to for me, and strengthening my feet will be critical to make it work. I may yet come to the same conclusion as you. Just will have to wait and see. As for you: Listen to your body. You will know more than anyone how to move forward. Stay healthy!

    • I’m anxious to get back into them soon. My problem was I got some blisters that needed to heal first. So they’re about healed, meaning I can probably give them a shot again some time this weekend.

      I’m hoping that they do some good in terms of my Achilles tendons. They’re kinda tight this morning following my run, and that’s been a recurring issue for several months now. I think minimalist running could help alleviate those issues. But we shall see. Thanks for reading, and I hope all is well with you!

      • My husband has the Vibrams and he loves them! Funny enough, what really is stopping me is the idea of running without socks. It gives me the the willies! I’m not sure if I can do it! lol! I hope your blisters heal and you are back out enjoying your new shoes! It will be interesting to see if it alleviates that Achilles problem, I hope it does! Have a great day Bob!

  2. Thanks for the review. I heard running in Vibrams is great. But I don’t really want to wear a pair of those. So looking at a minimalist shoe was next on my list. Glad to find your review. I guess I worry about the lack of cushion… look forward to reading further experiences you have with them.

    • You’ll feel the lack of cushion, and you will feel how much harder your legs will work. But I think that is ultimately a good thing because your legs and feet will get stronger, which in the long run will mean fewer injuries. I definitely think it’s worth checking out. It may not end up being for you, but it might also pay off nicely. If you try them, I’d love to know what you think!

  3. This is a great review! I have been wanting to go minimalist for quite some time, but I fear spending money on shoes I may not like. So I keep reading and reading what others are saying about their favorite minimalist shoes…I do realize I need to take the plunge sooner or later. One question though: Do you wear the same shoes for trail and road? I love my Montrails for trail and am thinking of replacing my road Asics with minimalist shoes….Thoughts?

    • It depends on the trail. There’s a park with some trails I sometimes go to that is pretty flat and mellow, with no ‘road hazards’ like exposed roots or rocks to speak of. I’ll wear my Asics out there.

      But if I go to Turkey Mountain, I’m really nervous about bringing anything that does not have a sturdy sole. It’s very rugged. So that’s where the Merrell Moabs come in. I’m even considering trying out the minimalist shoes there, mostly because I know the sole (it’s made by Vibram, like a lot of their shoes) is pretty robust, even for a minimalist product.

      If my feet can get strong/tough enough on the minimalists, and the achilles soreness goes away (I have high hopes for that; I think the design of traditional running shoes has a lot to do with the Achilles thing) then I will likely retire my regular road shoes over time. Gotta take this one gradually.

  4. I have a pair of Brooks Pure Cadence and while they aren’t 0 drop, they are 4mm drop so significantly less than normal. I am in LOVE with them because they are so light and still offer a bit of support for my crazy pronating. I have a pair of Merrell Pace Gloves too, but my poor calves are weak and can’t take them yet 🙂 I save those for dog walks and weight lifting! I am definitely a believer though– minimalist shoes has practically eliminated all of my PF issues!

    • That’s awesome to hear! Yes, the 0 drop shoe blasts the calves. If anything, mine are overdeveloped and they still get trashed. I’ll be writing more about that later today and then next week. I’ve heard really good things about the Pure Cadence. Might be something for me to consider for paved runs.

  5. I have a pair of Vibram Five Fingers KSO’s and love them for the versatility and grip on practically any terrain. And they are super light. I have never had a shoe grip rock and boulders the way these KSO’s do. One down side, however, is on man-made trails where there an abundance of rocks, you can really feel the sharp edges and they can hurt.
    I have just started breaking in my Merrell True Glove and they have a completely different feel to them. Actually, more like a traditional running shoe with a better wrap around my feet but less sensitivity to sharp and pointy surfaces than the KSO’s.
    The right foot fit perfectly and seemed unaffected by the breaking in process, but the left foot felt some friction on the achilles. It’s going to take some time to break these in. I love the look and the fit is actually quite nice. But with some patience, I think these combined with my KSO’s will keep me equipped to handle multi-terrains.
    Can’t beat the KSO’s though for comfort, lightness, and natural running. I agree that working the calves is a great thing and the soreness I get from the shoes are in all of the right places.
    It will be interesting to see how the True Gloves work out after day 1. One thing I must say….it is a great looking shoe!

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