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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Terra Plana Evo - The Field Test and Review

How to field test a pair of shoes? Dunk it in water, boil it over fire? Bashed it repeatedly to see how soon it tear? Obviously I couldn’t do that. So the only thing to do is to wear it and see how it goes.

In normal conventional review, the focus will be on the cushioning, the grip, the flexibility, the weight, sizing and the design. For minimalist shoes, there is no cushioning to speak of, so the primary areas I will look at were be the sizing(fit), the grip, the flexibility and to a lesser extent, the design and of course the most important ground feel.

Design – This one is pretty straightforward. Unlike other minimalist shoes, this one look very normal. When I put it on, there was no ‘yee’, ‘yuck’ or ‘cool’. It does not elicit any response just an ordinary pair of shoes which is good. The inside of the shoe is supposed to be seamless thus reducing the chances of getting blisters. However, there is still a fold above the arch but because I worn a pair of socks, I didn’t feel it or get any blister. On my second run, I went sockless. Unfortunately, either my skin is really thin or flawed or the shoe is too small, I ended up with blisters on the outside of the 2 toes and both the heel. Oh well, I suppose I have to go with socks. Overall, I will rate the design a 8 out of 10.

Sizing – Like in any conventional shoes, correct sizing is of primary importance. Too wide or too narrow and there will be a lot of problems. At the shop, I first tried on a pair of US size 12, my usual size and to my utmost surprise it was way too big. In the end, I settled for a US size 10 or UK 44. However, as the shop had no treadmill, I couldn’t really test out the fit. When I put it on for the first run, and after walking a few steps, I realized the right was a tad too small. I have Morton’s toe so I need a little bit more headroom in the toe area. Funny thing is when I press down, I can feel some space yet my toe was scrunching up. Actually, the web site recommended getting 1 size bigger for the shoe than usual. Maybe I should have followed that advice. Or could it be the laces? As I had planned to replace the laces with the lazy bum laces, I had not bother to do any adjustment to the laces. But the left foot was fine. In term of width, it felt just right. There was adequate room in the toe box for the toes to splay and during running, there was no tight feeling or rubbing against the side wall. On the 2nd run when I went without sock, the size fits well and there was no feeling of the toes being squashed. 7/10

Grip – What I read on the net was that it was good as an all weather shoe. I wasn’t so sure looking at the hexagonal design on the sole. And what better way than to try it out on a wet ground which was the condition when I did my run on Thursday evening. Poor clean shoe soon became a not so clean shoe. And immediately I discovered that it doesn’t grip well at all on the smooth tiled sidewalk that is prevalent all over the CBD area. I had to run gingerly as I felt that I could slip anytime on the wet sidewalk. However, once on to proper tarmac and even unpolished tile, the shoe holds up well. I could say that it is like almost all shoes, not suitable for wet polished surface but excellent for normal ground. 7/10

Waterproofing - Talking about wet ground, it was raining and there were puddles of water everywhere. I had read that the Evo’s waterproofing wasn’t that good or rather they had improved the waterproofing on the EVo 2 (mine was just the Evo). The hexagon design on the body of the shoes were made of nylon and one can see through it to the inside leaving me to conclude that water will get in. But surprisingly, for the 10km in the rain and through the puddles of water, the socks stayed dried. Maybe the rain wasn’t heavy enough but if it was, I couldn’t be running so no issue there. And oh, about the blisters - this was the outcome. The blood can clearly be seen. So that means if water had got in, it will drain out easily too right? 8/10

Flexibility – The whole concept behind barefoot running is that there is no shoeL thus allowing the foot to bend naturally at all the correct area. A conventional pair of running shoe with say arch support will force the runner to land according to the 'designology' of the shoe. So any minimalist shoes that claims to be for barefoot running should logically allow for as much flex as possible. Like the Nike Free which can bend forward, backward, sideway. The Evo has an insole and I feel that to a certain extent, the insole reduces the flex although push hard enough, the shoe can be bended almost head to toe. But once running, there was no resistance and I was able to bend and flex according to my gait. Still it was no match for my Tyr booties which literally is just a thin piece of cover. 5/10

Ground Feel - The Evo sole at 4mm thin or thick depending on which way you look at it sounds great compared to the thick cushioned sole of conventional shoes. But it is not the same as running shodless. Add on the insole and there isn't really much of a ground feel. My first run was mainly on pavement, sidewalk and road. Really nothing much underneath to 'feel'. Second run in the park offered more varied terrain. Asphalt, concrete, wooden board and some slate type tiles and grass and soil. I feel that ground feel was minimal though. Maybe I got too use to the thin sole of the Tyr booties. Maybe I should test it out at MacRitchie? But having read the review of the other local field tester, I don't think the Evo can stand up to the rigor of the trail. 7/10

Conclusion - Having done 16km in it without any side effect (other than the blisters) I can safely said it is suitable for long distance running or at least up to half marathon. However, I would recommend it only for those who have already mastered forefoot running and is transiting from forefoot to barefoot. With its almost non existent heel drop, it is not so suitable for those currently wearing conventional shoes and switching to minimalist and still doing occasional heel striking. For these people, I think they should switch first to a pair of low heel shoes like the Saucony Kinvara or the Fastwitch  or Nike Free. The Evo would be a good shoe for racing with its light weight and I think I will wear it for the next half marathon. Don't try it on trail though unless you want the upper body to be ripped to pieces. This is not a trail shoe. And if you are like me and don't have a thick skin, wear socks.

And for the million dollar question. Is it a suitable replacement and serious competitior for the Vibram Five Fingers? Sorry the verdict is still out since I have yet to try on a pair of VFF. It would be nice to do a comparo of these 2 shoes though.

This review is made possible by the people at Terra Plana. The Terra Plana Evo retails at SGD229.00 and is available at the Terra Plana Shop at Mandarin Gallery and Barefoot Shop at Ion Orchard.

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