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.

Join The Conversation

41 Responses

  1. Jo-Lynne – I just finished Born to Run and am dying to try Vibrams for myself! I’ve been using Chia in my marathon training and it is A MA ZING! Vibram is on my list for my birthday or Christmas this year… so glad to meet another gal who is trying it!

  2. Interesting post, I’ve seen a few people running in them in Australia, and I’ve always been intrigued. I do have orthodics though, so I wonder if the change would be a hinderence or benefit.

    I only started to run this year, and am enjoying it. Still working my way into a 10km constant run, I tend to move back and forth from running to walking and back again.

    Thanks for a little motivation, I need it.

  3. I’m so proud of your anti-normal; gluten free, running practically barefoot, WHAT’S NEXT??

    You do inspire me, lady 🙂

  4. I rarely run– mostly just walk fast. 😉 I wonder if the same benefits hold true? Or if I should be sticking with my regular old sneaker? Interesting info here– thanks!

    1. Well, I’m of the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of thought. So if you’re happy with your regular old sneaker, I wouldn’t bother. But I do like them for walking. I also have hiked in them. 🙂

  5. I absolutely LOVE my Vibrams FFs! I was never able to run because of knee issues and shin splints until I tried them (after trying barefoot running, which was great on soft clear ground and not so much on pavement and rocks!). I actually have 4 pairs in different styles and colors to coordinate with with running outfits. 🙂 Thank you for being a fashionable and forward-thinking proponent of these wonderful shoes!

    1. I love it! I only have the 2 and I never wear my black ones now that I have these cute blue ones. 🙂 Okay, so cute may be pushing it. But compared to the black? These are a BIG improvement.

  6. I read Born to Run a few months back and really enjoyed it! As a mid distance runner I found the idea of barefoot running so intriguing! I am thinking I’ll have to try these! Thanks so much for sharing!

        1. Yeah, they don’t seem as weird now that I’ve been wearing them for a year and a half. 🙂 Like anything, your eye adjusts. I mean, they aren’t exactly stylin’ but they don’t bother me either.

          The toes… I think the reason they have toes is so you can spread them out. That is how you typically run. Try it. Go outside barefoot, and pretend like your kid just took a spill on his bike. Sprint across the lawn, like you’re going to help him. Pay attention to how your feet run. You will spread your toes, try to land not too heavily as to hurt your bare feet, and you’ll land more on the ball of your foot than heel first.

          That is a trick I learned from the book, when you’re trying to learn proper form. And I found that running barefoot (as opposed to in the Vibrams) does help you get the right form. Even the Vibrams offer enough protection to lapse into bad habits, so once I went to a track and ran totally barefoot to remind myself how it should feel. 🙂 Of course I also got blisters. LOL.

    1. LOL. Well, I actually do run in them on gravelly dirt roads! Every year when we vacation in Maine. They are fine. You DO feel the gravel some, but it helps you remember to land lightly. 🙂

  7. Oh please tell me you watched, “Happy Endings” last night? I’m betting it’s not your type of show but they had these on there. So imagine my glee to see them featured here (seriously) in your post? And while I’m talking about tv (that would be my sport), have you watched “Up all night?” Last night’s episode was the husband bemoaning the fact that his wife doesn’t dress up sexy for him at home, just at work. A big resounding “Amen” was uttered by husband, which led me to believe that perhaps I need to try harder, which made me think of you and how well you rock the casual look! So in your honor today, I have committed to removing the hair clip and accessorizing before he walks in the door tonight! I might just go crazy and actually put some lipstick on. 🙂

    1. You are HILARIOUS. Yesterday I got all gussied up to go to the kids’ school and for WIWW of course *snort* and I got home and wanted SO BAD to change into yoga pants. I was uncomfortable, and it was rainy. And then I was like, WAIT. The POINT of WIWW is to look nice AT HOME for my FAMILY. And so I pressed on. And I stayed dressed. But I was so tempted to give it up. LOL.

  8. Sooooo, what do you think of wearing these out to, say, Chili’s on a Saturday night? Because there was a guy there wearing these shoes with jeans and a polo. Kind of weird.

    1. I’ve seen it too – mostly men. I certainly won’t be putting them in my What I Wore Wednesday lineup anytime soon, but I don’t suppose I much care if someone else wears them around. 🙂 Dr. Mercola wears them everywhere – even with suits. @@

  9. Hey there. I am a rather new runner myself (5 months) and my next shoes are going to be Vibrams (or duck feet as my children call them). Have you run any 5k’s yet? My first run is this Saturday. Super excited and a little nervous.

    1. You know what? I haven’t. I’m kind of intimidated by that! I was planning to run one, but I never did. I think I’m kind of ashamed b/c I still do some walking in there with the running – not a lot – but more than I’d want to do in a race situation. And I don’t mind that I do some walking – for me it’s all about enjoying the experience and knowing that I am in control and I can walk if I want, I can run if I want…. but for a race? I’d feel silly.

  10. I love my vibram 5 finger’s. They are the best. I started running in them last year and lost 60 lbs in the process. I still run in them and love them, though I get a ton of questions from people. If you are interested in starting to learn how to run, get a pair, read born to run, and start a couch to 5K program. I loved Carli’s free couch to 5K program at runningintoshape.com (The perfect way to start minimalist running!)

  11. Another good barefoot shoe that I have are from Merrell and they use the Vibram sole. LOVE these! Honestly, I didn’t even know about them since all of the talk was about VFF until they started advertising heavily in Runner’s World. They come in a ton of colors and (sorry) aren’t goofy looking like the Vibrams. Ankle/foot problems kept me from running my 4th 1/2 marathon so I’m running in these and am seeing some good results so far! Glad you did a post on this!

  12. I am an advocate of barefoot running for most people. But like just about anything, there can be value to the traditional running shoe for some people. I currently wear Brooks minimalist running shoes, and I love them. My BIL was running barefoot but had to go back to a minimalist shoe, due to some problems. It is as much about form as it is footwear, it seems. I wouldn’t even try the Vibrams b/c I’m silly and think they’re ugly as sin. 😉

  13. If I were more active I’d totally want to invest in a pair. I’ve heard nothing but good things. Are they good for walking also? And how do they/you fare in the winter? Thanks for sharing!

    1. They are good for walking, but if you have no problem walking in sneakers, they’re probably not worth the investment.

      In the winter, it is hard. they make socks that fit in them, and I have one pair. I wore them yesterday, b/c it is getting cold. In the dead of winter, I am better off finding an indoor track or treadmill to run on tho. 🙁

  14. I’ve never had knee problems (that you, Lord!) but I still want to try the VFFs. I switched to a more minimal running shoe this summer & love how light I feel on my feet. I’m a barefoot-around-the-house kind of person anyway, so I thankfully didn’t have to transition much. Proud of you for getting back out there 🙂

  15. I don’t have the knee problems…but I do have blister problems where I blister on the outside of my big toe. How are they on that…I’ve tried MANY shoes…the only ones that didn’t cause me to blister were the Asics Kayano 9. But nothing since the 9 has worked. Curious if these would help, esp. since you don’t wear socks.

    I’m marathon training now for Philly and the Goofy Challenge so I don’t want to try anything new…but I am curious. That book is on my list, too.

    1. I have no idea, as everyone is different. And I agree, if what you’re doing is working, I wouldn’t jump into these right during marathon training. 🙂 They take some time to get used to.

      They all fit differently too – some are softer than others. So as far as blistering goes, I guess it’s a trial and error sorta thing?

  16. You posted this on Pinterest especially for me right? Because I just declared that I was going to start trying to run, train doing a couch to 5K so I’m glad I read this because all I own are shape ups and balance shoes I was planning on buying running shoes!

  17. Thank you so much for this article. I, too, started to run for my health and well being but immediately ran into knee problems. I switched shoes – to the only viable alternative that I owned, which were old school style Converse knock-offs – and, my knee problem disappeared! But I couldn’t convince myself that those shoes would be ok to run in. Afterall, they aren’t “running” shoes. I have been intrigued by Vibrams for a couple of years (since reading Primal Blueprint and following Mark’s Daily Apple), but have never made the plunge. But now, I just might do that! I’m going to see if anyone sells them locally. Thanks again for sharing your exprience. And I think I will get the book (Born to Run), too!

    1. It’s a great book! Let me know if you get some Vibrams and how you like them. I’ve since tried some other minimalist shoes that I like a lot — look up Skora. I’m going to be writing a review very soon.

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