A: The Runamoc Dash.
If you asked partner a few months ago, I had more than enough running shoes: the Altra Instincts, the Inov8 155s, Vibram Bikalas, and my Invisible Shoes. And I would have agreed with her, as even if my inner-gear fetishist is always happy to have more running stuff I do ascribe to a belief in minimalist that goes beyond just footwear. Part of me would gladly gather more shoes, but part of me would like to have even less. Either way, it seemed like I had everything I needed for running.
The trouble was, running isn’t the only thing I need shoes for — I obviously need to wear them when I teach, and none of my running shoes would fit with the tie-and-vest look I sport at school. I have dress shoes, which I’ve worn in previous years, but over the last three months I’d de-acclimated to raised heels. Since the end of the last school, I have literally only worn zero-drop minimal shoes, and although M rolls her eyes at me whenever I mention it, shoes with elevated heels now make my legs hurt. Twice this summer I tried wearing my Brooks just to walk around in, but both times it took just about a half an hour for my knees to hurt and my calves to feel tight.
So I needed a zero-drop shoe that could pass as a work shoe or, at least, not be obviously freakish. I considered something by Vivo, as their Ra or Miles look like, well, a normal shoe. However, both are around $150, which seemed pretty steep to replace oxfords I’d either picked up at Good Will or inherited from my grandfather.
My other thought was the Softstar Dash. Most Softstar shoes are mocassin-like footwear that look as if they should be worn by whimsical gnomes, but the Dash are different. They have an oxford/saddle-shoe design. They have a shaped heel and a tongue. They even have laces! They also have a picture of a man wearing them while working, and they look sort of like actual shoes:
They are also actually designed and sold as a minimalist running shoe, so it was sort like a 2-for-1 deal, or a transformer shoe. What could be more perfect than a shoe I could run to work in, then actually work in?
The title of the post has already killed any mystery — I went with the Dash. The quick summary of my review: they’re fantastic. They are the most comfortable shoe I own, and pretty much all I wear, ever. But before I get to WHY I love them, I should get the one draw-back out of the way.
The dash just barely pass as a “normal shoe,” and only if the person you are talking to is distracted, drunk, or both. While they don’t cause pedestrians to stop in their tracks to stare, like Vibrams, they certainly don’t look like a dress shoe: they look like a leather sack tied up with laces. They are wide and somewhat shapeless, and the upper lacks any structure at all, so the leather forms itself to the shape of your toes. All of this makes them fanstasically comfortable, but also means they are NOT a real substitute for an oxford. All this is fine, since I’m a teacher — I could teach in sneakers or dress shoes if I chose to, and they go with my slacks and tie well enough — but you couldn’t try this in any sort of even semi-formal setting. (In retrospect, the photo above shows a man who is obviously working from home, not in an office setting, so he doesn’t give a damn about looking formal. Hell, since he could be working in boxers and a Homestar Runner T-Shirt and get a way with it, I’m not even sure why he’s wearing shoes at all.)
But then, I’m someone who has no problem with the stares I get on the subway when I’m wearing my Bikalas, or talking to complete strangers about my weird sandals tied to my feet (minimalist footwear is not for the introverted), so the fact that the Dash is somewhat ugly isn’t a problem for me. So lets move past the “bad” and onto the “completely fantastic.”
These are the most comfortable shoes I own, and are equally comfortable with or without socks. Their construction is as simple as they appear — a 5mm Vibram sole (I went with the trail version, as I felt I wanted a bit more support for standing all day — there is also a 2mm road version), a thin inner-sole of EVA padding, and a leather upper that ties with laces. There’s some reinforcing in the heel to provide some shape, and that’s the shoe.
The toe-box is very wide — something that contributes to the “ugly-leather-sack” look, but means they are as liberating as a pair of sandals, and you can wiggle your toes to your heart’s content. The laces, however, mean you can tie the top of the foot pretty tightly and lock your foot nicely into the shoe, so you don’t slip around in all that extra room, even when you’re running. And as a minimalist running shoe, they are great. They have a bit more shape and form than a haurache, but like my Invisible shoes they move with your foot so nicely that they don’t interfere with form at all.
As I said, I wear them everyday for work, and other being a bit unsightly and attracting about one “Yo Mista, where’d you get those shoes?” a day, they are perfect. The other night I had to wear a “real” pair of shoes to a formal dinner, and my legs were killing me before we even got there. I could feel my feet sigh in relief when I got back to work today and slipped on my Dash.
There’s also the corporate selling point. Softstar is a nearly utopian business: a small, American owned business that hand-makes shoes in Oregon using environmentally friendly techniques while paying their employees a living wage. In many ways, that’s one of the things that pushed me to Softstar over Vivo — I don’t usually get to support a company I actually approve of when it comes to buying shoes, so I sort of felt morally obligated to give them my business.
And I’m glad I did. They have rediculously fast and friendly customer service, and as a small company they honestly care about each purchase and the buyers satisfaction. And, of course, I have a new favorite shoe — you just need to not mind looking a bit like an elf.