The lovely folks at Merrell were kind enough to send me a shiny pair of the new Bare Access Arc 2 running shoes for review. My eyes were full of joy and exclamation points at first because NEW SHOES! They quickly dimmed into more diminutive punctuation marks when I realized they were zero-drop. Read: a level profile that has little or no "drop" from where the heel sits in a shoe and where the forefoot sits in a shoe. Also: minimal. Or, for those who like numbers and big words: traditional training shoes have been built with a 12- to 15-mm heel-toe differential. But in the shoe revolution we're in now, moderate minimalist shoes typically have a 4- to 10-mm heel-toe drop and zero-drop shoes are generally those that fall in the 0- to 4-mm range.
I've been running in a 4-mm shoe for some time (the Brooks PureFlow, if you must know), and have transitioned well into a lower-drop shoe. But the Bare Access Arc 2 would take minimal to a whole other level. Let's take a look at what Merrell says about their shoe:
You want the feel of barefoot, but also some cushioning? Enter our Bare Access Arc 2, which adds uniform toe to heel cushioning that buffers impacts while still letting your foot land flat. Lightweight and low cut, this is perfect for transitioning to barefoot, and features a synthetic leather and breathable mesh upper with rear heel stability. Vibram® pods on the Bare Access Shape sole stick and spring off of any surface:
- Cement construction
- 51% textile upper
- Low cut upper
- Bellows tongue keeps debris out
- Lining treated with Aegis® antimicrobial solution
- 0mm Drop / 8mm Cush / 8mm Stack Height
- Lightweight EVA Midsole
- Merrell Bare Access 2 Sole / Vibram® Pods
Women’s Weight: 5.5oz (1/2 pair)
Now, I might be a zero-drop newbie, but I'm smart enough to know to ease slowly into a shoe like this, so on my maiden voyage I ran two miles. My initial reaction: WOW. Incredibly light. Like barefoot, but not. I felt like a whole new person on my feet that night. I've since put several more miles on them, and have a better idea of the shoe and where they fit into my training routine.
I'm not one to care what my running shoes look like, but for those who do: I approve. I have the pair pictured above, and as you can see: PRETTY. I bummed around in them while visiting St.Louis a few weeks ago and didn't feel like the person bumming around in a pair of running shoes (not that I, at all, object to this). I felt like the person bumming around in a sleek pair of fashionable sneaks. It just so happened that I could break into a run at any point, if necessary. (It was never necessary).
I happen to love the way they fit. I've got a long, narrow foot, and I think they hug my foot very nicely. They have a pretty wide toe-box, despite the snug fit, but I like it because it lets my toes splay out on landing, and nothing feels overcrowded. I've got some long (ugly) toes. They appreciate the room. The first thing I noticed when I put them on was the prominent feel of the arch. I love feeling the arch in a shoe. They feel like little hugs.
Well, naturally there isn't a lot of it. In comparison to my usual PureFlows, it basically feels barefoot. However, there is enough. I've run in Vibram FiveFingers before, and have always described the experience as being barefoot, but with protection on the soles of your feet. These are a step up from that. There is a comfort on foot landing, and although they're so minimal, they seemed to have a springy feel to them. I'm very aware I've got a shoe on my foot (though barely) while running in them, and am thankful for that. I don't aspire to be a barefoot runner, and while I love a light shoe, I'm a huge fan of some cushion. These feel like a pretty solid combination.
All of the above.
Nothing too bad to say about them other than this: the laces don't stay tied very well.
I've not run more than 3 miles at a time in these for a few reasons. I sort of consider myself a "heavier" runner. I don't bounce around, light on my feet. When my feet hit the ground, it's known and felt. I'm truthfully not comfortable logging long miles on a shoe this minimal. However, I've been loving them on the shorter runs. They make me feel light on my feet, even if I'm not. I was sore in my calves the first few times I wore them, but that's since gone away, and I can comfortably log the shorter miles without trouble. Every time I put them on it takes a second to get over how light they are.
Also, I'm still working on my own running form. I'm very prone to heel striking, so I'm taking very baby steps with a shoe like this one. So while I likely won't head out for a 10-miler (hell, maybe not even a 6- or 7-miler) in these any time soon, if at all, they're perfect for the short, snappy days.