If you have read “Born To Run” by Christopher McDougall you are probably familiar with Barefoot Ted. The book painted him as a somewhat eccentric adventurer who, along with several other western athletes, traveled to the remote Copper Canyons in Mexico and competed in a UltraMarathon against local tribesmen. The tribesmen are revealed to be super-athletes and often run hundreds of miles in their locally made huaraches.
Huarache sandals are traditional footwear crafted by the Tarahumara people from the Sierra Madre mountains. They are usually fashioned from an old tire tread and cord of some kind. Shortly after his trip to the Copper Canyons, Barefoot Ted started a company that made their own version of the huarache sandal called Luna Sandals. I was dying to try them out but, instead of buying a pair, I thought I’d try and make my own.
I must say, I’m pretty happy with the craftsmanship on my homemade sandals. I used some tire tread I found on the side of the road, vegetable tanned leather, rawhide lacing and Gorilla Glue. But sadly, the craftsmanship is all I am happy with. The fit never felt right and my toes would often slide forward on the foot bed and scrape the ground. They would also pivot on my foot and the more I tightened them down the more uncomfortable the rawhide straps became. I settled into a love affair with a pair of Vibram Five Fingers and forgot all about huaraches and Luna Sandals.
The Half Marathon couldn’t have fallen on a nicer day. The course is around 85% road running and the rest a mix of dirt and gravel trail. Much like when I first started running in Five Fingers I got some strange looks. Now VFF’s are commonplace and people hardly bat an eye. Not the Luna’s. I have a buddy that calls them “Air Jerusalem’s”. While passing people I heard a bunch of comments. Many of them were funny and I often joked back but one exchange that started out humorous made me realize some people just don’t get it. The exchange went something like this:
“Yo man, you forget yer shoes?!”
“Yeah, I accidentally left them at home.”
“Damn dude, THAT SUCKS! Yer gonna be hurtin’!”
Performance wise the Luna’s were great. Occasionally the sandal on my right foot would twist and my foot would lay across the shoe diagonally. That would cause me to stop and walk off the road to make the adjustment. During the entire 13.1 miles it probably happened only three times but it still was bothersome nonetheless. I doubt that it was caused by the straps being too loose since they were already nice and snug and that it has more to do with my running form. Gravel and debris would often slow me up as well. But, unlike having to remove a sneaker with a rock in it all I needed to do was run my finger between my foot and the sandal and that was that.
The remainder of the race was pure joy and once again, I beat my personal best, crushing last year’s time by 5 minutes!
Performance grade: a solid “A”.
I wanted to run more and more with my Luna Mono’s, testing them out on every surface I could find. A few weeks after the Half Marathon, Tough Mudder was having an event close by that I was already signed up for. I figured why not try them out there? I understand that Luna is developing a more “off-road” huarache called “Oso” with a more aggressive tread. Until that comes out I would have to go with my Mono’s.
The Tough Mudder event was held on a turkey farm with rolling hills that went on for miles. The heat index was just punishing and there were several drops due to heat exhaustion. In fact, one of the days they closed down part of the course because too many people were being taken out by the extreme temps.
Right out of the starting gate and about a quarter of a mile in was a mud puddle about 10 feet across. Happily I stomped through it hoping to see how my Luna’s held up. Immediately after exiting the puddle I started to worry. The silky mud seeped between my foot and the sandal and now the huarache was sliding around under my feet at all sorts of weird angles. I began to utterly dread the remaining 11 miles of the course.
Once again, I don’t think tightening them down would have changed much except make them more uncomfortable. What made everything worse is that there was hardly a level surface on the course so you were usually running on an angle which caused my feet to be hanging off the sandal much of the time. The steep downhill portions were also tricky. The course was sometimes crowded so I was forced to take it excruciatingly slow downhill which caused the thong portion of the straps to dig deep between my toes. I was concerned that after the race I would have a nice gash between my toes from all the tension but surprisingly, I survived without a scratch.
The rest of the course the sandals performed like a champ. Climbing the Berlin Walls and Everest was a breeze. Getting in and out of the water obstacles was great because after a short jog my feet were bone dry while other participants sloshed around in their wet Nike’s. The treads, which were built for causal wear and some trail running were fine. Occasionally they would get caked with mud but a quick scrape in the grass and they were ready to go. In fact, in order to combat the sandal slippage under my feet after muddy obstacles I simply removed the sandal and wiped it in the grass face-down and then did the same with my feet. That tended to help. Still, that started to become a pain and I found myself trying to avoid the mud. Not a fun thing to do when running a Tough “Mudder”.
Performance grade: a nervous “B”.
CONS: Sandal would tend to not stay in place under foot, especially under extremely muddy conditions. At $75 these are not cheap. But, they are made-to-order and if you click HERE you will see the craftsmanship that goes into making a pair and you’ll understand the price.
PROS: Comfort is unmatched and you hardly notice the thong between your toes. The tread is suitable for both road AND trail running. Quality product made by a small company, not a huge corporation (that means something to me).
SPECS: 12mm thick Vibram sole. All Terrain Strapping Laces made of 5/8″ climbing-grade tubular nylon and elasticized heel strap. Total weight around 4.6 oz.
SUMMARY: If you’ve ever made or worn homemade huaraches you will appreciate the R & D that went into the making of the Luna Sandal. The elastic heel strap alone makes the shoe worth every penny. If you have a pair of Vibram Five Finger’s you are certainly familiar with the legendary stench that permeates them after a few long runs. That alone should cause you to give the Luna’s some consideration. As for me, I am ditching my VFF’s and going to go exclusively with my Luna’s for the time being. In fact, I will be running in the 100 mile Viaduct Trail Ultramarathon in a few weeks and you can bet that I’ll be bringing my Luna “Mono’s” along for the ride.