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This Plant-Based Shoe Made Me Fall in Love With Running Again

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Buying running shoes turns me into a melodramatic fairy tale character. I’m Cinderella, because I’m looking for nothing less than a perfect fit. (No glass slippers though, please.) I’m the Princess and the Pea, because if one little thing is off, it’s all I can think about. I’m Goldilocks, because the shoes can’t be too big, too small, too loose, or too tight. The cushiness, the support, the lacing, the fit — all of it needs to be juuuust right. Honestly, forget finding Prince Charming. I’d settle for a well-fitting pair of running shoes.

Yes, I’ve kissed a lot of frogs in my search for the running-shoe version of a happily ever after, and yes, I promise this extended metaphor is almost over. The bright side is that I’ve really branched out in the types of shoes I’m willing to take a run in, the most recent being a pair of ZR 01 shoes ($139) from Zen Running Club. What caught my eye about these shoes was that they’re plant-based and sustainable to produce, something I admittedly haven’t paid much attention to in the past when it comes to my running footwear. As Zen Running Club puts it on the brand’s website: “Our running shoes are primarily engineered to perform — they just happen to be made from plants.”

Zen Running Club sent me a pair of ZR 01 shoes to try out, and within a couple of runs, I was falling back in love with running after a long break. Had I finally found my one running-shoe true love?

What I Like About Zen Running Club ZR 01 Running Shoes

From the moment I laced them up for the first time, I was stunned by how comfortable Zen Running Club’s ZR 01 shoes were. I’ve loved certain pairs of running shoes in the past, but there were always a few small things that bothered me, especially during the first few runs, like tightness around my toes or inadequate arch support or cushiness.

The ZR 01 shoes, though, felt like they were made for my feet. They’re comfortably snug around my arch, where I need the support, but roomy in the toe box. The top of my foot is especially sensitive, and any running shoes that are a little too tight can cause tingling and pain, and sometimes make my feet fall asleep. So far I’ve gone on five runs in the ZR 01 shoes and haven’t experienced any numbness or discomfort in the top of my foot (the first time I’ve had consistent relief from that pain in years!). I also have issues with pain in my heel and Achilles tendon, and haven’t had any problems there either.

Zen Running Club’s website says that the ZR 01 shoes are designed to “form to the shape of your foot during the first time of wear,” which might explain how comfortable they are. The shoes somehow address all of my current foot ailments, while also feeling super-springy and supportive while running. Through five hilly road runs so far, I have no knee or foot pain and no complaints about fit or comfort.

According to Zen Running Club, the ZR 01 shoes are also plant-based and vegan-approved by the Vegetarian Society. The upper of the shoe (the fabric part above the sole) is engineered from fibers of sustainably-grown eucalyptus trees, the soft mid-sole section under the foot uses sugar cane, and the outsole of the shoe (the part that touches the ground) is made of natural rubber that the company says is responsibly grown.

What’s Worth Noting About Zen Running Club ZR 01 Running Shoes

One thing to know about the ZR 01 shoes is that the upper is all one section of fabric, with no separation between the tongue and the rest of the shoe. You can tighten and loosen the laces a bit, but it won’t significantly alter the fit of the shoe like it would with a traditional running shoe with a tongue. I usually loosen my laces a lot due to the sensitivity in the top of my feet, so I thought this would be an issue for me, but it didn’t turn out to impact the fit or comfort of the shoes at all. Still, this is something to keep in mind if you like to tighten or loosen your laces a lot to get a good fit. Zen Running Club also recommends going up a half-size, or a full size if you have wider feet. I’m a size 9 in everyday shoes and got a size 10 just to be safe.

Who Zen Running Club ZR 01 Running Shoes Are Best For

I’d recommend Zen Running Club’s ZR 01 shoes to any runner looking for a comfortable, springy shoe made of sustainable materials. While everyone’s running shoe needs and preferences are different, my very picky feet liked these shoes immediately, and they’ve felt supportive through every run so far.

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