Oesh (shoe spelled sideways and backwards) had gotten some good press lately. I've read a handful of Casey Kerrigan's papers on gait and movement – so my interest was piqued when I learned that she and her husband had created a company to manufacture and sell shoes with a scientific basis – rather than a marketing/sales basis.
They started selling shoes about six months ago – but only in womens' sizes. So I e-mailed them to ask when they would carry men's sizes, and Bob (Oesh CEO/husband) suggested that I could wear a women's size 11 since I am a dainty men's 9.5. Yes – I am no sasquatch.
So I ordered them up and have done four runs with them in the past week. Two short ~ 2 mile runs on pavement just to get the feel for them – then a long 15 miler – mostly on a dirt bike path over the weekend – and then about 6 miles on pavement and concrete sidewalk yesterday.
I did one 3 mile run in my Saucony Kinvara 2's two days ago.
These are not racing flats – or super light – or "minimalist" in any way. The upper is 60% leather and about 40% regular-shoe-upper-stuff (whatever that is .. nylon/dacron etc.) over padding. The women's 11 weighs in at abuout 16 ounces dry – and much more when wet (one day was raining). Leather loves water – as does padding – so this is not the shoe you want to wear in the rain (so I learned). These shoes will last a very long time – and I don't doubt the company's claim that they could last 2000 miles. There is no foam to wear out – so the only life-limiting factor will be the upper and the sole – both of which seem quite durable.
If we compare them to the Saucony Kinvara 2's – you can see that the Oesh is a more substantive shoe:
They feel good on the foot. Soft inside – and – yes – the carbon fiber cantilever supports a very natural running or walking gait. I won't repeat all the theory behind the shoes here. Go take a look at the website and get a quick overview of the rationale for these shoes. Basic concepts:
- Impact is good. Don't cushion the impact that happens when the foot hits the ground.
- Injuries happen at the point/time of maximal force – when the foot is bearing the most weight. Traditional running shoes try to reduce the force of impact with foam – so as the foor hits the ground – there is a softer landing, but a few fractions of a second later – when all of the body's weight is on this foot – the foam is now compressed – allowing rather little force to be absorbed by the shoe.
The goal is therefore to have a shoe that preserves impact forces (which theoretically build bone and muscle strength) and reduces maximal force – when the foot is bearing the most weight. Minimalist runners will of course ask why we need to reduce ANY of this force – and I think there may be merit to such a question. Casey Kerrigan has done a lot of research on where/when these forces occur, and what will maximize them – but I haven't seen research that demonstrates that it's better to absorb some of this force in a shoe. Just as we need to critically questions some of the theories behind traditional shoes – it's appropriate for us to critically question some of the assumptions here as well – yes?
The method OESH uses is to put a cantilever made of carbon fiber into the sole of each shoe. The cantilever is basically a v-shaped wedge – laid on its side – so the closed end is on the lateral (outside) edge of the shoe and the wider open end is on the medial (inner) side of the shoe. This makes the medial edge of the sole entirely open – and I could see/feel (especially when walking) as the wedge compresses under my foot and then releases. I didn't percieve a "spring" release – so I don't know that there is a claim that these return energy as newton does.
Here's a view of the open medial edge of the shoe. I can put my fingers all the way in!
My first run – a slow ~ 2 mile test drive – was quite comfortable. I've been wrestling with some left foot pain for the past 15 months on and off – and I was pleased to find that the run in these shoes didn't hurt at all. Forefoot strike is easy – as they have no "drop" from heel to toe – and I found the impact noise to be a bit of a surprise. I wonder if the neighbors thought that the Clydesdales were coming! Clap/clap/clap/clap. These are not the shoes to wear when you don't want anyone to know you're coming!
As my foot makes impact with the ground – I found that the lateral inch or two of my foot was where most of the impact was felt. Especially at the end of my 6 mile run (all on pavement and concrete) – the soles of both feet were a bit numb. Not in a bad way – but imagine you've beel clapping your hands at a Red Sox game for a few hours – hard. It's that sort of sensation – which isn't bad or even painful – but it's new – and likely due to the fact that the impact of footfall is preserved with these shoes. It takes some getting used to and I found myself occasionally trying to "tiptoe" on occasion as one would do walking in the woods – trying not to make any noise – as if that would reduce the clap/clap/clap of impact with every stride. But I kept reminding myself that impact is good – and to go with the flow – and as I stopped thinking about it – my stride got back to normal.
On my long (wet) run – the weight of these things was certainly noticeable – and when I put on my Kinvaras for a short run two days after the long run with Oesh – it was like I was running on air. Bob (Oesh CEO/husband) suggested to me that I need to think of these things as trainers – certainly not to be worn to achieve my PR in some race – and he's spot on there.
Like the heavier bat that little Dustin Pedroia swings in the "on deck" circle – these shoes will get you ready for walking up to the plate – and after four runs – I can say without hesitation that my nagging left foot injury is no worse – and perhaps a bit better – than it would have been had I been wearing the Kinvara 2's every day for the past week. Last summer – I had a metatarsal fracture in my left foot – and in the context of these conversations - I think that it's entirely possible that my rotten running form had as much to do with the injury as anything else. It's hard to get the hang of Forefoot running – especially if you've been running with a heel-strike for so long. I went to a "chi running clinic" last Fall – and recall that even after the clinc – the teacher watched me run and said told be to stop running "on my toes." This is a common mistake that new forefoot runners make – and it takes some practice to LIFT the foot – rather than PUSH OFF with the toes. Since my left leg is about 3/8" shorter than my right leg (1974 injury) – I think that I am pushing off MORE with my left than my right in a subconscious effort to keep my pelvis even. This puts too much force on the left metatarsals – and could have resulted in the fracture. It hasn't felt quite right ever since.
The injury kept me sidelined for the 2010 marathon – but I am (so far) on track for this year's event – and I think that including the Oesh in my shoe rotation – especially on my long runs – will help me avoid injury.