Review: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X minimalist sandals. That’s been a treat – they’re very good sandals indeed, with a couple of features that set them apart from others that I’ve worn.

Overview

That’s not to say that the Alpha Xs stray very far from the basic huarache-like minimalist sandal concept. The soles are cut to size and shaped to the foot, there’s a strap/lace system to hold them on, and they allow your feet to stay open, flexible, and to breathe. All good.

But they’re different. You can see a couple of the “set apart” features in the photo below.

Earth Runner Alpha X sandals

First, the straps… They’re leather, rather than the usual nylon – a lovely, soft, treated leather with the Earth Runner logo showcased nicely. They’re incredibly comfortable. And they’re complemented by a suede leather footbed that adds some moisture-wicking capabilities to the footbed, and has – even over a couple of weeks – already helped the sandals shape to my footprint.

The Alpha X strap pattern is different from that on the Bedrock and Xero Shoes sandals I own. From the toe, it comes back and across the foot to the outside, crosses in front of the ankle, goes around the heel, then back to fit into a locking buckle. It’s a design that works very well for my high instep feet. (If you’re uncomfortable with a strap between your toes, I’m afraid you’re out of luck.)

Alpha X strap

The photo below shows the bottoms of the Alpha Xs.

Alpha X soles

The Alpha X soles are from Vibram, which is no surprise, as almost all minimalist running sandals do that. But the tread pattern on the Alpha Xs is something called “Woodstock.” It’s not a very aggressive tread, but sturdy enough to hold its own on most surfaces except the most technical. (I find that good running form usually trumps extreme tread patterns anyway.) The Alpha X soles are 11mm thick, but surprisingly light, each sandal weighing only 141 gm (5 oz.). For all that, they’re reasonably flexible. Not the “once ’round the circle” flexibility you get with 6mm or 8mm soles, but still pretty good.

Alpha X flex

Testing, testing…

As I said, I’ve been testing the Alpha Xs for a couple of weeks. That means running in them – on neighbourhood roads and sidewalks – and walking in them as well. They’re good to run in, and even better as an everyday sandal. The leather straps are easy to adjust, which is a good thing, since they stretch a little at first. Not a big deal at all, just something to be mindful of.

It’s the combination of the leather straps, the lightweight/light-density sole, and the tread pattern that makes the Alpha Xs into a sort of “do everything” minimalist sandal. That was a bit of a surprise – I’d expected to wear them for running, but was completely unprepared for the other. The simple fact is that these are an extremely well-designed and well-constructed sandal. Given the attractive price point of the Alpha X (US$72 , not including shipping), they’re a good choice in the increasingly busy minimalist sandal market place.

A couple of caveats… As noted above, the toe strap thing might not be for everybody. And the strap pattern may not work for everyone’s foot shape. Leather straps? Great for comfort, good for security, but I’m not sure they’d be ideal for a lengthy trail ultra. And I worry a little bit that the bit of leather that goes under each side of the sole (see photo of the Alpha X bottoms) may wear out over time. As for the “general purpose” tread – you may want a more aggressive tread pattern for very technical trails.

Bonus!

I have to add that Michael Dally, the man behind Earth Runners, was kind enough to send, along with my pair of Alpha Xs, a pair of Smartwool tabi socks.

Tabi socks

These, to use a phrase from a much younger generation, are The Bomb! Here in southern Ontario in mid-November, my morning runs happen in temperatures at about 0C to 5C (32F to 41F). That’s certainly doable without socks, but the tabis make cool temperature running just that much more comfortable. I’ve never worn tabis before, but am now a convert!

Conclusions

The Earth Runners Alpha X is a great sandal. I recommend it highly.

The thicker sole means that there’s not as much groundfeel as with my Bedrock Synclines. That’s to be expected. But Earth Runners also offers the Circadian (6mm sole) and Circadian X (8mm) models for that. They’re similar strap design, but with less sole and are available with nylon laces.

I think the Alpha Xs will really come into their own when I’ve run and walked long enough in them that the footbeds have become even more shaped to my feet. When that happens, they’re going to be close to slipper-like comfortable, while keeping to their minimalist sandal roots. I’m looking forward to that!

For comfort, looks, and general goodness, I don’t think there’s a sandal on the market that can beat the Alpha X.

Earthing

I have to say something about the concept of earthing. It’s controversial, so bear with me.

Earthing is central to what Earth Runners are all about. In a nutshell, the theory behind earthing is that one’s health and well-being can be improved/enhanced by “grounding” oneself to the earth. The idea is that “earthing can help normalize your circadian cycle and avoid the harmful effects of high-frequency-man-made EMF” (from the Earth Runners website).

I’ve looked at it from all sides, and read and watched testimonials froma number of sources, including this video from Earth Runners’ own Michael Dally:

I’m willing to entertain the idea that there are benefits to earthing oneself. I’m not entirely convinced. I know how much better I feel when I run barefoot, but have always ascribed that to improved form, the joy of contact with the ground, and optimized groundfeel. But perhaps there’s more to it than that.

As it is, my Alpha Xs are only marginally conductive. You’ll see in the photo of the underside of the Alpha Xs that there’s a copper plug at the bottom of the toe plug. If the leather straps are moistened (by rain, sweat, or pre-soaking), they will, according to Michael Dally, become minimally conductive. For earthing to be fully effective, though, Earth Runner sandals with the full range of conductive copper inserts are needed. (The good news is that Alpha X sandals are available with conductive nylon straps instead of the leather straps I have.)

As I said, I’m reserving judgement. I will say, though, that I like the design and quality of my Alpha Xs enough that I can see myself ordering a pair of Earth Runner Circadians sometime in the future.

Note: Product for this review was provided by Earth Runners.

Earth Runners

Spoiled for Choice

I have a very good life. Sometimes I think I’ve got it all.

Right now, part of “got it all” is that I’m testing two great minimalist sandals – the Earth Runners Alpha X and the Bedrock Gabbro 2.0. I’m truly spoiled for choice.

It’s a great opportunity, because, while the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros are similar, there are enough differences between them to make it interesting.

Upper comparison

A top view of the sandals shows some of those differences. Most obviously, the strap methods are different. So are the strap materials – the Alpha X features leather straps, while those on the Gabbro are nylon. The footbeds, too, are different – the Alpha X footbed is suede leather, while the Gabbro is ballistic nylon. They weigh about the same – each Gabbro sandal comes in at 119 gm (4.2 oz), while each Alpha X weighs 141 gm (5 oz.).

Sole comparison

Underneath, it’s again a story of “like but different.” The sole thicknesses are very close – the Alpha X sole is 11mm thick, while the Gabbro sole is 10mm. Both sandals are made with Vibram soles – but those on the Alpha X are a pattern called “Birkenstock,” while the Gabbro soles have a more aggressive technical tread pattern.

No wrong answers here, obviously. I’ve run (and walked) in both of them, and can confirm that they’re both high quality, performance-oriented products. I’ll soon post full reviews of both. Separate reviews, not a comparison – each one of them deserves its own treatment, and I don’t think there’s anything to be gained by putting them mano à mano (not quite the right phrase, but you know what I mean).

So stay tuned. I’ll post the reviews after I’ve put the Alpha Xs and the Gabbros through some serious testing.

Earth Runners

Bedrock Sandals

Earth Runners Affiliate

I’m pleased to announce that I’m now an affiliate for Earth Runners minimalist sandals.

That means that, if you follow a link on this blog and then buy an Earth Runners product – such as a pair of their sandals or socks – I’ll get a small commission.

I don’t often do this sort of thing, but I want to support Earth Runners, because I believe that their products are worth it.

So have a good look at the Earth Runners site – and feel free to ask me any questions you might have.

I’m currently testing a pair of Earth Runners Alpha X sandals, and will post a full review soon.

Coming Up: Earth Runner Alpha X Sandals

Earth Runner Alpha X

I’ll soon be testing – and reviewing – a pair of Alpha X minimalist sandals (shown above), which are coming from the good folks at Earth Runners. The “X” stands for an “extreme” version of their existing models; you won’t see this one yet on the Earth Runners website.

Earth Runners does things a little bit differently, both with its products and in its philosophy.

The company’s website says that Earth Runners’ goal is “to create affordable USA-made earthing sandals that allow your feet to function closest to how they’re naturally designed – and that’s barefoot. We’re passionate about promoting a more grounded way of living that’s possible when we’re connect to the electrical energy of the Earth.” “Earthing” is a new concept to me, so I’ll explore that a bit in my review.

Earth Runners is also doing its bit for a larger community. For every ten sandals it sells, it donates a pair to Seva Sandals, a non-profit organization which provides protective footwear to children in India. I like that a lot.

After the AlphaX’s arrive, I’ll do some serious testing, then write and post a full review. Stay tuned!

Transcendent Reflection

Transcendence

It’s been a week since I ran the Ottawa Self Transcendence 12 Hour (see my race report in the post below). It was a remarkable experience, and one that I’ve been thinking about a lot.

Though some specific learnings come to mind (train better, walk better, be more gutsy), it’s the “softer” lessons that have more meaning. In some ways, I feel like I’m a different person since running the 12 Hour. Still not quite sure what the difference is, but I’ve begun to get a sense of it.

First, I’m surprised that it’s not a sense of accomplishment that stands out above all else. Sure, running for 12 hours and 71K is a big deal – I’ve never done either of those before. But what’s significant is that I feel more complete than I did before.

Second, I’m happier. Not that I didn’t feel happy before last Saturday. I have a very good life, with little stress and lots of joy in it. But, since running the 12 Hour, I’ve been generally more at peace, more optimistic, and more calm. Something changed because of last Saturday, that’s for sure.

Third, I feel stronger. Not only physically (I’ve been running well all week), but psychologically and emotionally. I’m facing the world differently, and am a better person for that.

The outcome? Well, you may not be surprised to hear that I’m considering running the Self Transcendent 24 Hour next year. Something’s going on here, and I want more of it.

Race Report: Self-Transcendence 12 Hour

Self Transcendence 12 Hour

Writing this report is a bit of a daunting task. Not because it was a bad race – on the contrary, it was a very good race – but because it was my very first 12 Hour and because, a few days later, I’m still processing information, emotions, and lessons learned.

It’ll take a while, I think, for me to sort everything out. In the meantime, here’s a first take. (There may be followups. Just sayin’.)


Louis Riel Dome track

Photo by me

An indoor track, 400 meters per lap. Covered by a huge white translucent bubble, with big fans going all the time. A track surface made of a thin layer of rubber laid over concrete. Warm, still air. There were 16 other people running the 12 Hour, 10 people running the 6 Hour, and 44 running the 24 Hour. And there were a whole bunch of volunteers on hand to make sure our needs were met.

It was a pretty impressive setting, a pretty impressive event, and there were some very impressive people there.

Ottawa 12 Hour runners

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Above is a photo of some of those people. This is the 12 Hour group. The third woman from the left in the front row, in the dark blue shirt, finished first, racking up 112.8K in 12 hours.The tall fellow in the back, in the yellow shirt, completed 102.2K. My friend Pierre D., standing to my right, completed 82.2K. I managed a paltry 75.15K. (I don’t do well with getting my picture taken, which may explain why my eyes are closed.)


Here’s a photo of me waving to my counter as I went past her, probably somewhere around the four hour mark. At the beginning of the race, every runner was assigned a counter, a real, live human being who, at the completion of every lap, made eye contact and called out the runner’s name. It was a wonderfully human way to make data collection happen. My counter was a young woman named Eugenie.

Saying hello

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

And this is me, at somewhere around the seven or eight hour mark. Still hanging in, but differently focused, and a bit slower.

Hot, sweaty, and a bit tired

Photo by Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

It was warm inside the dome. The big fans you could always hear were there to keep the dome inflated; they did nothing to make the air move around. And, as luck would have it, this late September day in Ottawa was a hot and sunny one. So the temperature inside the dome stayed at a more or less constant 25C or so all day. I was hot, I was sweaty, and I was tired. But I was still truckin’.

It all ended well, though, and I was ready, willing, and able to receive my certificate and group photo at the awards ceremony. (Upright and smiling, right?) Each entrant got a cotton (i.e., non-tech) t-shirt, while each finisher got a certificate, photo, and medal (the medal’s coming in the mail, as the supplier didn’t get them to the organizers in time).

At the awards ceremony

Photo by Chloe Duschene

I could care less about the medal and the certificate. And I usually pitch race t-shirts straight into the recycling bin as soon as I get home. But this t-shirt is different. I really earned this one!


So, a great event, wonderful people, and an excellent race. But what worked? What didn’t? What did I learn? And where do I go from here?

What Worked

Barefoot: This race was barefoot bliss, with a track surface that was absolutely made for skin-to-ground contact. At the end of 12 hours, my feet were a little dirty, but felt great. No blisters, not even any hot spots, and no swelling. And, since running barefoot means better form and improved running economy, my legs were surprisingly fresh at the end of the race. Sure, my quads were a bit sore, and lower back was a bit tight, but a hot Epsom salts soak back at the hotel quickly dealt with those minor issues.

I really don’t understand why more people don’t run barefoot.

Fuel: Low-carb, high fat all the way. I started the race fasted (had a tin of sardines, a couple of hard-boiled eggs, and an espresso at about 7:00 the previous evening), and mostly followed my LCHF regime throughout the race.

I had a bowl of mashed avocados at about the six hour mark, munched on macadamia nuts or biltong every couple of hours, ate some chocolate (the good stuff – raw, Ecuadorian, and 89% cocoa) later on in the race, and drank some home-brew espresso at the six hour mark and again at the nine hour mark.

(I say “mostly followed” because, in the last couple of hours of the race, I got into the watermelon slices that were on offer at the aid station. “Lots of electrolytes,” said my friend Pierre, and, let’s face it, all I needed at that point was an excuse…)

Morton Stretch: I don’t stretch except during ultra races. Then, I do something called the Morton Stretch. It refreshes the legs nicely, and is which is simple, and quick. Highly recommended! In this race, I did a Morton Stretch once every couple of hours. It only took a couple of minutes, and I was soon on my way again.

People: The Self Transcendence was full of good people. Ultra runners tend to be a friendly and upbeat lot anyway, but the Self Transcendence crew were above and beyond that. I’ve never felt so welcome and so supported at any race anywhere. I want to run with them again! The volunteers were incredibly kind and helpful, and the counters did an amazing job of keeping track of us all.

What Needs Work

Guts: I’m a wussy boy. I tend to run out of steam – both physically and mentally, but especially mentally – at the end of long races. I really lost both focus and pace in the last couple of hours of this race, and simply didn’t dig deep enough to tough it up. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if this is what “self transcendence” is all about – the ability to let go of the tiredness, the pain, and the negativity, and go beyond that. I need to work a whole lot more on that aspect of my running.

Walking: I started walking too late in the race, and therefore ended up walking too much towards the end of it. I need to discipline myself to start walking earlier, to power walk when I do it, and to keep my walk breaks to a reasonable time and distance. I watched other folks doing it, and was impressed at how they integrated their walking breaks into their patterns of strong and steady running.

What Next?

I’m going to run the Kingston Self Transcendence 12 Hour next year.

Part of me wants to say I’ll give the 24 Hour event a try. But, to be honest, the thought just scares me breathless. When I walked away from the 12 Hour on Saturday night, tired but happy, I looked back over my shoulder at the people who were still running round and round that track, and would continue doing so through the night and into the morning. I’m not sure if I have the gumption for that.

But I will run the 12 Hour, and I’ll run farther next year than I did this year. Maybe I’ll even transcend myself.