By Popular Demand . . . the Vibrams

barefoot running

A few weeks ago I posted a picture of my new running shoes, and I got a lot of curious comments about them. I forget that not everyone who stops in to read has been hanging on my every word since 2006 — although I’m sure I don’t know why not . . .

I run exclusively in Vibram FiveFingers, and I have ever since I read the book Born to Run and learned about how bad the modern running shoe actually is for our feet and legs.

I know, I know. Here she goes again . . . 

Incidentally, someone wrote in a while back and lamented that I used to be “so normal” and they just don’t know what happened to me. I had to giggle. I have NEVER been “normal”. I’m not entirely sure there is any such thing to begin with, but if there were, I would not be it. Just sayin’. I don’t go out of my way to be different just to be different, but sometimes the most common way isn’t always the best way (or, at least, the only way), and I try to be open to new ideas. I don’t mind being different, especially if it serves a purpose.

When I first started running, I had some intermittent knee problems — doesn’t everyone? But they got much worse when I went to a running store and dropped $100 on a pair of fancy Asics running shoes. When I brought them home and proudly showed my husband, he gave me a funny look and said, “I’ve actually read about this. There’s no science behind it, you know.”

I promptly shrugged him off, laced up my sneakers, and went outside to break them in. And that’s when my knee problems started in earnest.

I was so disappointed. I had just discovered a sport I actually enjoyed — no small feat, anyone who knows me can tell you! I made the commitment by putting cold hard cash down on my new hobby, and then I had to start babying my knees. I went to the doctor, and he gave me a knee brace and told me to find a new sport.

I couldn’t believe it. WHY couldn’t I run? Lots of people run. People run marathons, for crying in a bucket. And nine miles a week was making me an invalid. I kept trying to rest and recover for a few weeks and then I’d try again, but no go. Every time I tried to run, I ended up with horrible pain in my knees.

born to run by chris mcdougall Then I picked up Born to Run. And just as my husband had warned me, there is absolutely no science to prove that the expensive running shoes with shock absorption and heel counters actually help protect our feet and legs from the trauma of running on them. When running became a fad back in the seventies, running shoes were barely slippers. They had none of this protection and arch support; shoes were just there to protect the foot from the elements. And in fact, those shoes often cause more problems than they help.

There’s a lot more to this story. Nike knows they don’t work. The athletes that advertise them wear them for the photo shoot and then change into whatever old, basic sneak works best for them . . . all this and more is revealed in the book, and is probably the same information my husband had come across on one of his many daily news sources. We, with our fancy running shoes, are riddled with injuries, when there are tribes of people in Mexico running hundreds of miles in flimsy sandals with no problems whatsoever. Of course, they build up to that their whole lives. Again, you have to read the book. In fact, if you don’t give a flying flip about running, you should read the book. It’s a fascinating story.

You can read my review for all the details, but long story short, I tried running barefoot one day. And I couldn’t believe the freedom I felt. I decided to give the Vibram Five Fingers a try, and my knee problems all but disappeared. I have been running in Vibrams ever since.

You DO have to start out slowly. Because our feet have been encased in “supportive” shoes for our entire lives, our feet don’t develop like nature intended. So it takes time to build up those muscles and joints to be able to handle running without shoes. My calves hurt BADLY for months when I first started barefoot running, because when you run without those clunky sneakers, you tend to run on the ball of your foot, more so than striking with the heel first. There is actually an entirely different form to learn when you are running barefoot, or with minimal shoes. Sometimes my joints felt stressed. I wasn’t injured, but I had to build up to it because I was using different muscles.

I was careful. I cut down on my running times and took a day or two between each run to allow my muscles to rebuild. Now, a year later, my calves and feet never hurt anymore — unless I let weeks go between runs. And even then, I’m amazed at how easy it is to get back into it.

I have been lax with my running for a while, but I’m still getting out, and I’m determined to ramp it up and be more consistent. I felt so much better when I was running several times a week. It’s hard to get my sorry butt out there, but once I step out the door, I feel like a different person — totally empowered, strong, healthy, fit . . . even though I’m really not. YET.

In addition to my runs, I am going to start working out at the gym again. I’m looking at 40 and it ain’t pretty. I’m gonna fight the middle age slump every step of they way. But that’s another post.

I have a few tips/suggestions if you decide to go shopping for Vibrams.

Shopping for Vibrams

I highly recommend finding a local shop and trying them on in person. You need someone who knows what they’re doing to fit you. You can’t just guess at your size. If you must order online, order a couple of sizes, try them all on, and return the ones that don’t fit. Your toes SHOULD touch the ends of the shoes, so they don’t fit like regular shoes.

Try on several styles if you can. When I got my black ones, that was the only style they had in the store. They were fine, but when I went shopping this summer for a new pair, I was able to try on several styles, and I didn’t end up getting the ones I was planning to get. Some were very uncomfortable. The ones I have (pictured above) are so soft and comfy inside. I absolutely adore them.

Oh, so here’s a “What I Wore Wednesday” photo for ya.

Yep, that’s me, in all my sweaty glory. Heh.

Oh, and I do not typically accessorize my running outfits. I accidentally slept in that necklace and forgot I had it on until it started jangling when I was putting down the street. (Sorry, Lisa. I’m sure that’s a jewelry care no-no.)

So that is the story of my running shoes. I’m sure they’re not for everyone. But they work for me!

Feel free to ask questions and I’ll answer in the comments.