Want to know what natural running feels like? Besides barefoot running, you may want to try Topo shoes.
You could run barefoot. But without a gradual intro, you could be in trouble.
You know...Achilles tendonitis, plantar fasciitis, knee pain. That's not what you want.
Casey McCombs is a self-described "shoe geek" and the top sales rep for Topo Athletic.
Over the last 15 years, he's talked to thousands of runners, shoe designers, and running store owners.
And he's burned through hundreds of pairs of running shoes as a runner, college athlete, and marathon finisher.
We caught up with Casey to learn more about his experience as a running shoe sales rep and Topo shoes.
Casey: I was in grade school. We were getting ready for a camping trip, and my dad took me to this outdoor boutique store in San Diego.
On the way, we passed the Runner's High, a specialty running shop that's been around for 40 years.
I looked in the window at all the running shoes, and my mind starting racing with all these questions about why you'd need running shoes instead of a regular pair of sneakers.
Casey: I started running in middle school, and I really wanted to get faster. My coach told me to try and finish first in the warm-up. But I really didn't know what that would look like.
I stepped up to the starting line to run around this grassy field and back. I started with an all-out sprint and blew out almost immediately while four kids passed me.
After that, the art of competition kind of took over. I was like, wow, I really suck.
But I really wanted to get better, and that kind of fueled me.
Casey: When I started running, my dad gave me a pair of hand-me-down Onitsuka Tiger running shoes. It was a hard-brick of a shoe.
But eventually, he said it was time to get some real running shoes. And he took me back to the Runner's High. It was the only store around that sold specialty running shoes.
I went home with an early version of the Nike Pegasus, which is still one of the most successful running shoes of all time. The Pegasus is now on it's 38th version.
Casey: I worked really hard. It was a huge challenge to jump in and start going for 5 to 8-mile training runs. But I was gritty, kind of scrappy, and wanted to do my best.
I ended up running a 17:20 5K PR my freshman year at Wilson High School. At the end of the season, my coach Jim Arquilla, we called him 'Arquie,' said:
That gave me a lot of confidence and the commitment for another year. I trained really hard all summer and opened my first race as a sophomore with a 16:01.
It was a huge improvement over my freshman year, and just lit a fire in my belly to keep going.
Casey: Right after high school, I went back to the Runner's High where I bought my first pair of running shoes, and asked for a job.
It was the perfect job as a collegiate runner.
I was running and training every day. I was talking to runners on a daily basis.
And I was learning a lot about running shoes, shoe design, and things the biggest brands like Nike and Adidas were doing.
It was a pretty cool full-circle moment to work at the running store I saw years ago as a kid.
Casey: After working at the Runner's High for quite some time, a friend and I started talking about opening our own running store.
We really didn't have the capital, any inventory, or a location.
But Adidas was sponsoring everyone and their mother at the time. And one day, they sent my friend who was a coach, a shipment of about 30 pairs of shoes.
Adidas was really trying to get their shoes on as many athletes as possible and make their name synonymous with running.
We only had a few athletes who could use the shoes, so we decided to sell the rest.
We burned through all those shoes in about a month. We gained enough capital to open our own store, lease a space, buy more inventory and launch Legacy Running Company, which we operated for about six years.
Wide toe box: Topo shoes have a wide toe box. Topo also makes running shoes with different stack heights and offsets from zero to 5 mm.
And that's important. There's a lot of interest in zero-drop shoes.
Offset options: But if you go from a 10mm drop shoe to a zero-drop, that shifts a lot of weight away from your knees and directly to your feet. And that puts you at risk for excessive force injuries like plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, and other problems.
Topo shoes give you options with a less dramatic drop. You can work your way down from a 5mm drop, to 3mm, and zero drop.
Natural running design: The shoes are also designed to help you run naturally and strengthen the legs, knees and feet. The shoe isn't overbuilt.
Casey: It's called Zip Foam. It's Topo's unique blend of EVA foam mixed with a type of thermal plastic material.
When you blend the two foams, it creates a really responsive and explosive foam compound.
It lends itself to better proprioception so you can experience the feel of natural running
Zip Foam also lasts 25 percent longer than traditional EVA foams. And it's resistant to temperature changes, so it's not overly firm in the cold or overly soft in the heat.
Casey: The Phantom 2 is one of Topo's high-stack offerings with a higher offset. You can jump into this shoe even if you're used to running in a shoe with a higher drop.
The high volume of cushioning gives you a bit of a safety net if you're moving from a shoe with a higher drop.
Casey: The Topo Specter comes out in June.
This is a high-cushioned shoe with a 5mm offset. The Specter will include a new type of foam made from Zip Foam to magnify energy return.
We designed this shoe to help you run a little faster, do tempo-based workouts, and even high-mileage training.
You'll get the experience of a shoe designed for speed with optimal energy return without the burden or stiffness of a plated shoe.
And we're really excited to launch the Specter with partners like Running Warehouse.
Casey: If you have an interest in natural running and want to become a stronger athlete, Topo shoes can help you.
Topo's shoe design, construction, midsole, and wide forefoot really make a difference to help build leg and foot strength, and allow your foot to move naturally without the burden of running in an overbuilt shoe.
Years in the running shoe industry
Favorite Topo running shoe
Topo Ultra Venture 2. It's got a full-sticky Vibram outsole for trail running. Because it's high stack and high offset, it's almost like a fat-tire on your feet. It's good on grass, streets, fire roads. I can tackle basically every surface in this shoe.
Longest distance I've ran
26.2 miles at the Los Angeles Marathon
Swim 1.5 miles. Bike 18 miles. Run 8.5 miles. It's such a great race. You jump off a boat in the water surrounding Alcatraz Island and swim to shore like someone who's just escaped from jail. The current is super intense, and the water is really cold.
Favorite place to run
I go for a couple 3 to 5-miles runs a few times a week in Eldorado Park in Longbeach, Calif. It's 380-plus acres of green space with nature trails that go around the entire park.
Top tips for choosing a running shoe
Ask yourself these three questions:
Topo vs. other running shoes
Find a specialty running store in your area that carries Topo shoes, and go try on a pair. You really need to do this to experience the difference between traditional running shoes and Topos.
If you're even a little curious about moving more freely, and strengthening your feet, give Topos a try. It's really a great utilitarian shoe brand to build overall fitness.
What do you like most about working in the running industry?
It's a lot of fun. I love the running community, and I've been part of it for a long time. I love what I do. I have a passion for running. And that makes working with running store owners and partners easy. Fortunately, I've learned a lot from mentors and people in the industry to help me be successful.