We here at the OGRE HQ ( otherwise known as the Swamp ), have a strong bias towards shopping local, shopping small, and shopping made in USA. It is hard to do all of the above these days, but with care, you can usually hit 1 or 2 out of the 3. In addition, we like to add a 4th category, and that is shop with quality people.
Shop Small: Yes — Shop Local: No — Shop Made in USA: Sorta
This time we are profiling a small shoe vendor from the Seattle, Washington. They are not really local and they do not currently have any retail dealers in the Atlanta area. Unfortunately, they are not using US manufacturing either, but that is not unusual in the shoe industry. Even New Balance only builds a limited number of shoes and products in the US at a significant price premium.
Because of the limited retail presence, Skora has put together an excellent process for returns that works with their “Love Your Run” Guarantee. Shopping for shoes online is still a bit of a stretch for some, but it might be worth a shot for you.
Before we discuss the vendor itself, it is probably a good idea to explain what led us to consider Skora in the first place.
When I started running, I was ‘fit’ into a structured shoe, lots of padding, lots of correction. I was a heel striker with a slow cadence. I ran like that for about 8 months, but eventually, things started to hurt (knees, hips, hip flexors, etc). That tends to happen to a lot of runners, particular later in life, new to running, runners. Like many of those runners I decided to fix the stride. In the process I went through a small boatload of shoes trying to find something. You name it, I tried it.
What I finally decided was that less, is more. A lot more. It was an educational process. I learned more about shoes, shoe construction, foot dynamics, and a lot of theories about running. There is a lot of science, mixed with a lot of assumption when it comes to shoes, stride and feet. There are not many hard and fast conclusions that you can take away from all of this information.
What I ended up with from all of my research and testing was not a specific shoe but a set of fit concepts.
- It all starts with the toe box. Lots of shoes advertise a wide toe box, but this circles back to the individual foot, and too wide leaves a lot of room to slide around in.
- The arch isn’t what it’s cracked up to be. Found out the hard way that too much arch support weakens the foot, and actually makes mid-sole striking harder to do and support. Arches in my ideal shoes have more to do providing shape and keeping that wide toe box from sliding around than supporting the foot.
- Heel cups suck. Just because I want a wide toe box doesn’t mean I have ankles, and need a huge heel opening that cannot be kept tight on the foot.
- The sole shape in the heel of the shoe influences the entire stride, from foot to lower back. If you have ANY pronation or supination in your stride, the shape of the heel by definition alters the shape of the stride.
- Padding is not evil, but can interfere with the shoe comfort.
Notice, I don’t note ‘minimalist’ or ‘zero drop’. Those are not criteria, they are results.
What I ultimately found was that to meet the criteria I had to kiss a lot of frogs. Along the way, I learned a lot about shoes.
At the end of the day though, I did almost 3 full years running in a minimalist trail shoe that met the criteria. Wide toes, shape, but not arch support, enough padding to prevent tears when I stepped on something rough or sharp, a heel that didn’t slip and slide, and a heel sole that was rounded that let my stride flow smoothly from my natural landing position into the push off, all while protecting my very very damaged knees.
In the last year, that shoe was discontinued, so I had to find a suitable replacement.
That led me back to the list of shoes and vendors I had tested initially. During that initial cycle of research I had tried a shoe from Skora Running that I really liked but it had one little problem. A design tidbit that caused some blistering on the back of the heel at the cuff around the shoe opening. I had been using that shoe as an every day walking shoe for the last year or so. Based upon that, and the addition of some new products to the line, I thought I would give Skora another chance.
You see Skora have a couple of things that you can’t find in other offerings. The design of the heel’s sole is unique in that it mimics the shape of your heel itself and provides no “wedge”.
It meets all of my criteria and adds a seamless inner that makes is suitable for wear without socks. It is a zero drop shoe, but has a 16mm stack. That stack makes the shoe itself and exceptional candidate to wear on all terrains. So it was, early this year, I picked up a pair of Fit’s to give a shot at replacing the shoe that had been my staple for the last couple of years.
That is the background, so let us talk about the shopping experience.
First thing, since they lack a retail presence, all of the ordering process is handled through their website. Fortunately, for small web retailers, the web site is very well designed and the ordering process is painless. In addition, they have a nice little tool that will compare the fit of your chosen Skora to most of the established shoes on the market, including the more obscure shoes that I was wearing at the time. Shipping was also remarkably prompt considering Skora is in the northwestern corner of the US, while I am in the southeastern corner. That’s 3000 miles for those counting it.
Looking back at my notes on the first run in the Fit on TrainingPeaks, I see that I loved them right away, but didn’t like the laces. Not the lacing, but the actual laces, or more specifically, the need to tie them. I had already switched to the Nathan Lock-laces on my other shoes, and missed them. However, the shoe itself was an instant hit, and required very little transition time going from a 4mm drop 8mm heel stack to a 0 drop, 16mm heel stack. My only reservation at the time were a dimple pattern on the inner that I worried would make the shoe uncomfortable for long runs, or sickles runs.
I need not have worried. The first longer runs proved that the textures in the inners improved comfort. Shortly thereafter, the Fit got promoted to be the shoe for this season. I ran a pair of sprint triathlons, and an Olympic distance race before I made the decision to run the Chattanooga 70.3 in those Fits. I was concerned about moisture retention. The early races proved that not to be an issue, so it was that I found myself running the 70.3 in those very same Skora Fits.
That was in May. Fast forward to the end of August. Those Fits now have 450 miles on them. I have two more pairs waiting in the wings, and have yet to put a mile on one of them, while the other has been being used to fill in. At 450 miles, my running shoes are usually very worn, and ready to be retired. These on the other hand have at least 4 more weeks and a full marathon left in them I think, as they are going to carry me through the end of the training and race day for the Chattanooga 144.6 (yes the bike course is 4 miles longer).
To say that I think the Fit is a great shoe is an understatement. It strikes a near perfect balance between the minimalist/barefoot and cushioned running trends while making few sacrifices associated with either.
Along the way though, Skora tossed a curve ball. Middle of July, they teased a new version of the Phase.
I loved the look, and there were some subtle changes in the shoe that I had to grab a pair to try out. The arrived in early August, and I rotated them into my running. The issue that held me back from the original Phase was gone, and this is the best minimal shoe on the market, bar none. I did 13.5 miles in my first run in them, I did a sanctioned 13.1 in them 2 weeks later. What I know is that they are the best shoe I have ever run in.
That was not what I expected, and after the 144.6, I expect the Phase to become my primary run shoe, but I am unwilling to change the plan from the Fit 6 weeks prior to my first 140.6 long course triathlon.
What you can take away from this though, is simply this. I believe that running shoes are even more of an individual comfort choice than wetsuits are for triathletes, and that every runner may need to try many shoe options before they find what suits them best. I believe that anyone that is serious about their running shoes needs to give the little guys at Skora a real shot. The product matrix is simple, with 5 products, at 3 targets. I am sitting on two of those products as the 1 & 2 in my personal favorite shoe list, and the Tempo, the max cushion shoe they offer would be my go to over other max cushion offerings. The Core and Form both look like they are excellent products as well, I simply haven’t had the opportunity to log miles in them.
In closing, I want to also give special mention to the excellent customer service from the company. In each instance that I have had a question or concern, I have had an answer within a day at most. Knowing the size of the company, and that they are doing it all in house, that is impressive in this day and age when customer service is a lost art.