Thursday, February 4, 2010

Vibram Five Fingers -- The Runs

After Christmas, we went back to the store Boyfriend got the shoes at to make sure I had the right size and model. It was a weekday and while I was there (~1.5 hours) about 4 more people came in asking for VFF shoes. At least two other people were runners and the general attitude of everyone was, "Damn these things are hideous but I've heard so many interesting things about them."

I decided to wear my Injinji socks (socks with individual toes) when wearing my VFF shoes. It just feels more comfortable to me. I sadly have to admit the socks make the whole get-up even more ridonkulous.

First run (surface: track)
I read you should ease into VFF running and am SO glad I listened! Our maiden voyage was just 0.3 mi (about one lap around the local track). The next day my ankles and calves hurt like I had run 16 miles. My ankles hurt almost as if I had sprained them -- lateral movements would cause them to feel sore. But, it was a good hurt vs. the bad hurt after a sprain.

Second run (surface: dirt/sand trail)
The next week we ran 0.4 mi and I woke up the next day feeling like I had run 20 miles! This second run I had adopted a really strange running form where I kicked out my toes way in front of me before my foot landed. Boyfriend said I looked like an ostrich. I guess that really didn't agree with any of my calf muscles because they were sore for days. Luckily since running with regular shoes uses totally different muscles, I was able to continue running. But, I hobbled around painfully while down in San Diego.

After this second run I almost swore off the VFF shoes. I worried that the muscle pain would interfere with my "normal" running. But I decided to give it one more go, especially since I had such a funky gait that second time.

Third run (surface: concrete)
So the third time we attempted another 0.4 mi run. I concentrated on a more natural stride. I am happy to report there was NO pain the next day! I was unsure if running in them just once a week would be sufficient to be able to develop and maintain muscles for no post-run pain.

So my first impression of these shoes are that they definitely force you to land on your forefoot. I get instant, bone-jarring feedback when I strike with my heel. I tend to run slower in the VFF's than regular shoes but I'm not sure if that is just my own tentativeness.

It is amazing to me how your feet/legs absorb the impact more effectively when you land on your forefeet. There is NO way I could run in my usual heel strike gait in these shoes.

Right now I view the VFF's as cross-training. They are a way to use muscles I have obviously not been using when wearing running shoes. I can also try to get a feel for a more forefoot strike stride. I do not foresee myself running in them much farther than a mile or so in the future. I don't see myself converting to minimalist shoe runner. But I do hope to try to run in them at least once a week for a quick spin.

My current running shoe set-up is stability shoes with custom orthotics. This past year I got a pair of neutral shoes to run in (which I also use my orthotics in) to see if I could step down the support a little bit. My hope would be to see if I can adopt a more forefoot strike while wearing running shoes and to see if that could translate into ditching the orthotics one day. My chronic shin splints have been fairly cooperative this year but obviously I can hope to improve them further.

Cliff, I do have a video clip of my ostrich-gait (very exaggerated forefoot landing which may have been caused by trying to step more lightly on the rocks of the trail) and I may post it once I get a shot of the more normal-gait I had the third run).


ShirleyPerly said...

Interesting findings! When I got into running marathons I changed my bouncy heel striking gait to a much smoother & lower impact midfoot style of running after hearing of its benefits. But I know I still revert back to heel striking when running harder/ faster (obvious from the video I took while running the 5K recently). I wonder if wearing Vibrams might help me stop that ...

I never thought about what socks to wear with Vibrams, though. Are you supposed to go barefoot in them? If not, what other socks could you wear but those socks with toes?

Anonymous said...

that is so awesome, thanks for sharing! I have been wanting to hear some reviews of these goofy looking things!

ChrisC said...

Thanks for your opinion, barefoot running seems like the latest thing and I am waiting for the jury to come in before I jump on the bandwagon. said...

very interesting!!! i'm so scared to try these... but i'm gonna start reading Born to run, so maybe that will pursuade me.... dunno though. i feel like i have enough feet/hip/knee/back problems to add running 'barefoot' to the situation..... hmmm

Rabbits' Guy said...

I dunno. An awful lot of different running techniques to get and stay used to. Maybe that is good - like cross trainng. If the orthotics are prescribed and custon made, and really do solve an issue you had, then running very far without them might get you some problems.

I suspect these will become a passed fad in due time. Some years ago a local guy here made sandals called Byte .. they were originally for golfers, quite popular. He was a runner and modified them and ran in marathons. He challenged anyone to run a marathon in a pair faster than he did ... free shoes was the prize.

The three guys that started Marathon Maniacs live near me and were all runnning in a fall marathon that year that goes right by my house. I was injured and not participating but was standing by my driveway cheering and taking pictures. I happened to snap these three guys as they came up on the return leg. Much later, when I was processing my pix I saw who they were and by gosh one of them was wearing Bytes! I wrote and told him about the contest and he did win a pair of free ones. He never ran in them again! Neither does anybody else!

It will be fun to follow your experiment!

EndorphinBuzz said...

I do agree that they look a bit weird but then again I'm sure those mexican tribes would think our shoes are weird!

I hope you'll keep us updated of your progress it's an interesting experiment for sure...

Chic Runner said...

I totally am interested that you are trying these out. Though I doubt I ever would it's interesting to see your findings and how you like them. I hope your pain starts to go away with longer distances and more breaking in!! : )

audgepodge said...

So this little experiment is pretty interesting! Of course, I am perfectly content with living vicariously through you. You really are a hardcore runner now!

Kimberly said...

My husband has those shoes and gets weird looks - but he loves them! Of course, he does wear them everywhere in the summer, even the movie theater.

Mica said...

Thanks for the review of the VFFs. I saw some guy wearing them at the gym, and they looked so weird.

That's interesting that you are thinking of them as XT. I'm interested to see how you continue to use them for your running.

...Do they make Mario-sized ones?

justin said...

I hope you stick to it -- maybe over time you'll find you don't need your stability control shoes so much. BTW, your exaggerated forefoot strike -- I wonder if it is a way to manage thicker heeled shoes. You almost *have* to exaggerate your forefoot strike if you're wearing shoes with thick heels:

Running shoes may force you to heel strike

Anyway - posting a snippet from your review here to the latest reviews on the unofficial Vibram Five Fingers fan site (

Anonymous said...

VFFs are the bestest shoes ever! For me, anyway. Grew up running around barefoot in HI, so it feels right. Mostly, I need something between me and the pavement because I don't have the cojones to go commando. (I am female, but you get the drift.)

Ran Nike SF marathon last year in my dirty, trail-dusty KSOs.

zbsports said...

I love vibram five finger shoes, this is the best running shoes ever. It is so light and comfortable.