Category Archives: FiveFingers

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...

An Experiment in Footwear, Ctd.

On my second day of running in the FiveFingers, I was able to run a couple of stretches without having to think about the position of each of the bones and the tension in every muscle below my waist. It just clicked a couple of times! I ended up with a very fast, very short stride, with my heel hitting just hard enough to make me worry about it, but not enough to rattle my teeth. To do that, though, I needed to concentrate on everything above my waist: my posture and the tilt of my body: very straight posture with a slight forward tilt. At the same time, it all had to be very loose and relaxed. As with avoiding hard hitting on my heels, that posture is exactly what's required for sprinting. So, this is turning out to be pretty much what I noticed the first time out - a slow-motion sprint. Instead of using full power going forward, I'm doing it all at about half power, and all of my leg motions are about 3/4 speed.

Another thing I noticed with the FiveFingers: because they have almost no sole, you can feel hot pavement pretty well. That's not fun.

It Keeps You Running

My fourth time out running with the FiveFingers yields a handful of insights:

  1. I am actually getting used to them. My first two running intervals were nearly comfortable.
  2. As the route wore on, I wore out, and I found I couldn't maintain the necessary form unless I went faster, which was hard to do because I was tired. Hopefully this will become less of an issue as I build running strength.
  3. I ran in the rain today, and even though my feet got wet, I didn't get that mushy, squishy foot feeling; these shoes don't let your toes touch directly, and there's not really anywhere for water to build up between them.
  4. I have no idea how to run downhill. even the slightest decline has me pounding the hell out of my heels. There must be a way to do this besides Damn The Torpedos, I'm Full-out Sprinting Down The Whole Thing!!

I'm still not used to these things. And I'm starting to wonder if I ever will be. But, it's only been a week. I should probably reserve judgment for a bit longer.

The Footwear Experiment, Ctd.

Today starts my third week of running in the FiveFingers. I've gone from wondering if it was even possible to run in them, to having a sense of the form I'd need, to being able to force myself into the form, to being able to get into the form and stay there as long as I maintain near-constant attention.

And today? My left hip hurts (which has on and off for years now); left knee hurts (which it's done on and off since I twisted it climbing stairs this past winter); the plantar fascia in both my feet hurt (which usually only happens when I do calf stretches). So, except for shin splints, I have all the things barefoot/minimal-shoe running proponents claim it fixes/prevents.

It could be a matter of still not quite having the correct form, but when I'm doing it, it feels pretty smooth, mostly. I try not to over extend my knees; I try to lift my feet off as quickly as possible; I'm not heel-striking. Plus, I'm extending the distances I run, and feeling somewhat strong doing it. IT only hurts when I stop...

So I'm wondering if I should keep this up, or if I should end the experiment before I really fuck up my lower body.

The Footwear Experiment, Ctd.

As I'm sure you all know, week four of my minimal-footwear running starts today !

Last week, I hurt: ankles, knees and hips. This week, only my hip hurts a little, and that's an old injury that is irritated when I do anything more than sit quietly at a desk. So, I don't blame the (lack-of) shoes for that.

I've eliminated the walking periods and am running the full distance now - though it isn't very much a distance (maybe a mile and a half). But, there is no more walking, no more trying different things to get the stride correct. I'm Just Doing It. It feels almost natural. It doesn't seem very efficient yet, and I still have to nudge myself back into proper form every now and then, but my legs pretty much know how to do it. Now I guess it's time to start upping the distance.

Today I was tempted to try it with no shoes at all... but I talked myself out of it, because I remembered all the stories about what running on pavement does to soft, un-calloused, bare feet the first time out ("bloody flaps of skin"?) No thanks.

Anyway, that's pretty amazing to me. Three weeks of running every other day was enough to learn how to run nearly barefoot.

Now if I could get people to stop whispering and pointing at my shoes when I wear them around town...

The Experiment Runs Into Trouble

My fourth week of running in the Five Fingers started great. I was comfortable with the form and I almost felt strong doing it, on Monday. So Wednesday I added some distance, and some hills. That went pretty well, too. So today I added even more distance and more hills. In retaliation for my streak of good feeling, the universe's enforcer of karmic balance strained one of the small incidental muscles in my right calf about 2/3's into the run. I limped home in defeat. And just to make sure I learned my lesson, the universe chose a muscle that gets a surprising amount of use controlling the gas and brake pedals in my car.

Thank you, universe, for reminding me who's boss.

Cold Comfort

I've been running in my Five Fingers since June. Every other day, on an almost perfectly flat trail (because hills hurt my hip). No timer, no racing, no training. Just easy, steady running. And it's been great. I'm almost perfectly comfortable with the form, now. I no longer have to pay close attention to every stride - just little adjustments every once in a while is enough to maintain the proper form. So that's awesome.

If you're a runner looking for a change of pace, I recommend these.

But, the weather's turned c-c-c-cold these past couple of weeks, and it's taught me something new about the shoes: the 3mm of rubber in the sole provides no thermal insulation, and the mesh that makes up the rest of them does nothing to keep off the cold. First step and I can instantly feel exactly how cold the road is. I sweat from the top of my Bruins hat, through my three shirts, gloves and down to the bottom of my nylon pants. But my toes and forefeet go nearly numb from the cold.

Five Fingers: for an ascetic athleticism.

FiveFinger Refund

There might be more to squint at about Vibram FiveFinger shoes than how they look as if you're walking around in a pair of tight gloves. Manufacturer Vibram USA Inc. has announced it would offer refunds to buyers to settle a class action lawsuit that said its health benefit claims went too far.

The lawsuit asserted that Vibram misrepresented health research to advertise that its shoes, which are designed to mimic barefoot running, improved posture, strengthened muscles and reduced injuries. Were it not for for these claims, the suit filed March 2012 said, consumers wouldn't have snatched up pairs. The shoes sold for $80-$125.

The company said Wednesday that buyers will be able to file claims at, which isn't live yet. Once it is, valid claims are expected to be able to get between $20 and $50.

My experiment with them went pretty well. With them, I had my longest span of regular running, ever. I think I went three and a half years of running three or four times a week, every week. And it didn't end until my right arch started acting up. I don't know if I blame my FiveFingers for creating the problem, but I suspect that once it started they made it get really bad really fast. And now, even after eight months off, it's not 100%. Not even 50%, really. But I'm tired of waiting. I'm running again, but I'm running in Mizunos now. I'm afraid of the FiveFingers.