An Experiment In Footwear

I’ve been wanting to get back into running for a while now, but I’m worried that all my various injuries (bum knee, sore hip, painful feet) will force me to quit before I really get back in shape – as they have the past couple of times I’ve started running again. And then Jon Stewart did an interview with a guy who wrote a book about this native tribe in Mexico who are all like super-human runners who never get any of the common runner’s injuries. And he said their secret is that they don’t wear shoes – the run barefoot, or in thin sandals.

“How silly,” I said to myself. “Running without shoes. I couldn’t do that! There are rocks and mud, dog shit and broken glass everywhere!” And the next day I remembered that there are a whole bunch of really thin-soled running shoes out there… so, GoogleGoogleGoogle turned up the Vibram FiveFingers shoes. “Hmmm,” to myself I said, ” could this be the answer?”

Well, I bought a pair, so we’ll see.

I read a lot about them, on other blogs, and everybody says you need to start really really slowly with them, because going from a deeply cushioned running shoe to something that’s basically a five-toed elastic sock with a thin rubber coating on the bottom requires a totally different running style. Walk in them, run a little, walk some more, run a little more: slowly figure out how to run barefoot. No problem, since I haven’t run in over a year , there was no way I was going to overdo it.

So, out the door.

Walking in them is like walking in socks – and you might be surprised at how strange it feels to walk outdoors, down the sidewalk, in socks.

The first bit of running I tried was awkward and tentative – you need to avoid landing hard on your heels because there is basically no padding in these. So I’m up on the balls of my feet, heels high off the ground, prancing like a fucking show pony, and my calf muscles are like “Oh no, buddy. You keep this up and we’re gonna give you such a cramp!” And then my Achilles tendons reminded of me what they do, and why I should be nice to them. So, that wasn’t right.

The next bit of running was up a slight hill, and that felt a lot better because when going uphill you automatically avoid your heels. The next bit was downhill, which was the opposite problem: going downhill is all about hitting your heels.

I did another five or six cycles of walking/running, and by the end, I was starting to see a way to make it work: really short, light strides and a lot of attention to form, a kind of slow-motion sprint. I probably looked like an escaped mental patient, trying to get away from my captors in nothing but socks, but too fascinated by the mechanics of running to actually get anywhere fast.

We’ll see…

6 thoughts on “An Experiment In Footwear

  1. cleek Post author

    yeah, i remember it … :)

    and i agree, these things are silly looking. but, when you think about the job they’re made to do (protect the bottoms of your feet while preserving the overall mechanics of going barefoot), it’s hard to see how they could look any other way. it pretty much has to be a hard-soled five-toed sock.

    they come in many ridiculous color schemes though!

  2. The Grand Panjandrum

    I started running in these bad boys back in early June and I now swear by them. Yeah, baby steps and all, but my feet are much stronger now. Of course, I live in NH and we have plenty of bike/running paths in this particular area so it is relatively litter free, although you still have to keep your wits about you for that stray piece of glass.

  3. jibeaux

    Oh sure. Plus if you get invited to a luau with Jack Johnson, you’ve got something to wear.

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