My interest in building sandals came from 2 different places: minimalist running and the pissy anger that only an older person can get from buying something that wears out in 5 months, like my name brand – made in China – sandals.

I had been a fairly serious runner for a number of years. I counted myself among the fortunate few who discovered the endorphin rush that came with running long distances.

I first discovered it after running a fire road high up in the Sierra Nevada one summer after coming in off a 3 hour run and discovering that after sprinting the last 30 minutes that I finished the run feeling like a monster; all strong and powerful. From there on I was hooked, nothing made me feel as good a running.

I ran with some guys who gave me excellent coaching and as a result the running shoes I wore were the result of real time experience. I ran in these shoes: same brand, same model for 10 years on, and replaced them faithfully every 400 miles or 4 months; whichever came first. I had weeks where I was able to run a lot then there were weeks that business travel impacted my running schedule and I had neither the energy nor the access to run.

I liked to run trails, I liked running on dirt or gravel and was fortunate to live close to some beautiful long trails in the Sierra’s Nevada’s. Running on concrete or asphalt like marathon races tore up my legs, or so I thought. My running data was spotty because it was inconsistent. I wasn’t able to run the same schedule every day let alone every week so it was impossible to tie pain or soreness to specific cause and effect.

And then I injured my left foot big time; a soreness in the heel that was both chronic and persistent. So after months of trying to work through it finally in due course I gave up running. I was in my late ‘40s at that point and I convinced myself that I was too old to run anyway.

I tried all different kinds of shoes and cushiony orthotic devices but the pain in left heel would not go away. My foot did some rather sneaky negotiations with my subconscious mind and as much as I tried I couldn’t un-force my left foot from favoring the injured spot and as a result my left foot strike changed to where I was somehow walking on the outside of foot. This unnatural foot strike created problems that moved up my leg until there was pain in my knee and then in my hip. I kept looking for solutions. I became mindfully paranoid of the different wear in tread between my left and right shoes. The right shoe had a normal wear pattern but the left gave evidence of the fact that the foot was pulling un-naturally to the outside. It was pain and suffering and for someone who loved to both walk and run it just seemed unfair.

And I didn’t go to the orthopedist because I have been ever mindful of ‘never ask the barber if you need a haircut’ knowing that I would end up in endless therapy, wearing even more protective orthotics, and be told to walk less.

As a fix it yourself kind of guy, this was not a solution. An example, when I almost cut off the end of my right index finger in a table saw accident, I didn’t call an ambulance or go running straight to the emergency room; I called mom instead. She thankfully dropped her knitting and packed up some bandages and that finger of mine was in an open splint inside of 30 minutes.

Her cool head and natural doctoring abilities saw to it that the finger, while an open wound for 30 days, never got infected and healed perfectly.

So a couple of years later I am surfing Amazon looking at footwear, running related stuff, books, and all of the other usual things when I stumble across ‘Born to Run’. The title immediately caught my eye, not for the possible Bruce Springsteen reference, because I am not a fan, but because I wanted to know who exactly was ‘born to run’.

Reading ‘Born to Run’ turned out to be a life changer for me. I had read about the Tarahumara Indians before in another piece of non-fiction called ‘The Devil’s Middle Finger’, a travel story about northern Mexico. I knew that they were awesome runners who thought nothing of running 100 plus miles; running was part of their culture. And while ‘Born to Run’ was loosely wrapped around the Tarahumara it was also written by a man with his own set of problems who like me was trying to overcome his own injuries and find his way back to injury free running.

But unlike me, he saw specialists. And as I would have expected they gave him all of  the usual run around: namely he was too big (6’3”) and too heavy (220 pounds) to be a runner. Their expert consensus was if he was bound and determined to run then their advice was to wear those same big-brand cushiony running shoes with additional orthotics and to not run very much or very far.

I felt like this book was written for me. I wasn’t too big or too heavy, just maybe too old and too injured. The author wasn’t satisfied with the answers that he was given so he set out to do his own research and what fell out from all of it (other than just the most inspiring running book of the past 20 years) were facts and conclusions that have been artfully hidden by the present day running establishment to bolster the $20B/year running shoe industry. So in short, the reason for my foot pain was that those comfy expensive shoes that I had been running in had over time weakened my feet. And that stuffing more orthotics in my shoes like I had been doing to my office shoes weren’t just making my feet weaker but quite literally to add insult to injury – the $150 that I was paying for a pair of inserts didn’t even help with the pain.

I had done a fair bit of research myself mainly because I just wanted to find a solution to make the pain go away. I could give up running if I had to but I couldn’t give up walking. But unlike Christopher McDougall, I didn’t look deep enough. He interviewed ultra-marathon runners, talked to trainers, and even went so far as to study the history of modern running and he came up with a couple of startling conclusions. First, man was truly born to run and that a man ‘didn’t quit running because he got old’ but ‘he got old because he quit running.’

Secondly, post 1970’s running shoes were, plainly put, all wrong. Elevating the heel to extend the runner’s stride also resulted in creating an unnatural heel strike. And adding cushiony and orthotic type elements to shoes were creating solutions to problems that didn’t exist. Why does an arch need arch support? Arches are supports; foot arches work just like architectural arches, they support. Adding arch supports to shoes over time weaken the arch just like adding other cushiony elements and orthotics also weaken the foot and make the wearer more prone to injury.

The solution to the whole running shoe conundrum was to strip away all of the unnecessary detritus and roll back to the early ‘70s running shoe model which were no more than light running flats that had no inbuilt orthotic structures, cushions, or heel differential.

And it was that kind of thinking that spawned the minimalist/barefoot running movement. All of which is totally counter-intuitive. Running on hard surfaces like asphalt or concrete, especially distances, require cushions or something to absorb the impact of the foot striking the concrete. It sounds so right but turns out to be so totally wrong. How can a quarter inch thick of anything absorb the impact of a foot strike landing with the force of upwards 12X that person’s body weight? It is absolutely impossible. What does happen is the foot relays false info to the brain vis a vis the signal translation done by the cushion which had falsely transponded the signals. The brain incorrectly reads that the feet are happy when in fact the feet are landing wrong and are landing with too much force which in turn transmits the shocks up to the knees, hips, and back.

Minimalist running works the other way. There is no more than a quarter of an inch of hard vulcanized rubber between the runner’s foot and the ground. The foot consequently feels every pebble and ever nuance in the terrain and adjusts every footfall accordingly. The foot is forced to comply with correct landings or the immediate feedback from the brain is ‘that hurts’. The runner is forced to to find the correct running style that incorporates more natural running attributes like landing on the front part of the foot and like bending slightly at the knees to allow the calves to do their job of absorbing the impact; this style also allows the Achilles tendon to do their job to compress and release energy. The result is a lighter running style.

And I can personally attest to the fact that this is true. Over time this minimalist soft running style has strengthened both feet and my left foot is now 95% normal. I no longer feel soreness of any kind in my legs or in my knees after a long run like I did when I ran in conventional running shoes. I’ve found that I don’t need rest and recovery days between runs like I used to. I discovered that by wearing the minimalist shoes and adapting to the newer and lighter running style that I could effectively turn my runs into a 7 day/week proposition and do it pain free.

My daughter introduced me to the pleasure of wearing flip flops a few years ago and my feet took to them like a duck to water in spite of my weak and troubled left foot. After long walks the left foot would periodically get tangled up trying to walk on the outside of itself but it seemed to get more readily confused in other footwear and I knew that my problems might have started as a shoe thing but was now a foot thing.

I like leather footwear and the nicer the better. While sandal shopping I found that my taste in footwear didn’t align with popular culture; what I wanted no one sold. I was forced to settle for a brand called ‘Reef’ which had a leather upper that was glued to a synthetic lower. I would buy a pair in the early spring, like April, and almost like clockwork the heel had worn through by October. I ignored this for the first couple of years but gradually this dependence and this cycle of planned obsolescence at my expense got me angrily rethinking about this new and troubled relationship that I was having with Reef. So I decided to make my own. And then somewhere along the way I got tired of spending a hundred bucks for my minimalist running shoes. I thought why spend that kind of dough for a few ounces of nylon and vibram rubber? So I decided to have a go at making some sandals that I could run in. It took a move to Mexico to make it all happen; but happen it did.

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