If you’re part of the on-line running community, you’ve probably heard of the Vibram Fivefingers. Described by my family and friends as “monster shoes,” “yeti shoes,” “foot gloves,” or “reptile shoes,” Vibram Fivefingers (or VFF’s for short – see picture below) are sort of like water-socks with toes that runners have flocked to as an alternative to over-engineered running shoes. Spurred in part by the book “Born to Run,” by Christopher McDougall, and its call for a return to more minimalist footwear (or even barefoot running), the Vibram Fivefinger craze has begun to spread from a few vocal proponents (notably @BarefootTed) to the world of mainstream runners (for example, my running club coach just sent out a plug for “Born to Run” to the entire club; for those interested, I also have a review of Born to Run posted on Runblogger). I’ve posted a few times in the past on the Fivefingers (e.g., see this VFF post and this one on some new Vibram Fivefingers models), but am now at the point where I have a bit of direct experience to share.
Never one to turn down the chance to try out a new running “shoe” (I openly admit to having a running shoe addiction), I ordered a pair of VFF KSO’s about a month ago from City Sports, and have now worn them out on two separate runs. My first VFF run was about 2.75 miles, and though it went OK, I felt some pain in my right forefoot on landings, and had some ligament/muscle strain on the top of my foot for several days afterward. I shelved the VFF’s for a few weeks to make sure I didn’t aggravate anything in my foot, and decided this morning to give it another go.
The original plan for today was to be conservative and just do 2 miles in the VFF’s in order to get my dog Jack some exercise, but I felt so darn good out there that I rolled with it for a full 7 miles (at an 8:23 min/mile pace, which is right on my standard “easy” pace). I felt no pain during the run, and only one tiny heel blister appears to have formed (went sockless, need to give my Injinji socks a try). I’ve never been one to follow the CW when it comes to running (see my experience running 20 miles in Nike Free 3.0′s on my 3rd run in them), and I may pay for this one later, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?
I think one of the problems on my first VFF run was that I was consciously trying to force a forefoot landing, thereby straining my foot in the process. In doing some reading online (notably this article by Barefoot Ken Bob), I tried to focus on my stride less today and let my feet land more naturally, hoping that they would find their own groove with time. Needless to say, I felt incredible, and could have probably kept on going for a few more miles (didn’t want to press my luck too far). To quote my 5yo son, this run was super aloducious awesome.
Perhaps the best part of the run occurred as I was finishing up. Two serious, fit-looking cyclists passed and waved – as they went by I heard one say to the other: “He’s got Vibrams on!” Apparently word about VFF’s is getting out, and I smiled all the way back to the house.
Update 2/27/2010: You can now view my entire series of posts/podcast episodes/videos on my experience running in the Vibram Fivefingers. You can also view my entire series of posts on Minimalist Running.
Update 12/10/09: I just added a new post comparing slow motion video of footstrikes from myself and a student of mine running in stability shoes, Vibram Fivefingers KSO’s, and barefoot. Amazing difference – check it out!: Vibram Fivefingers and Barefoot Running: Does Removing Heel Cushion Change Footstrike?
Update 12/5/09: I recently shot some slow motion video of myself running in the Vibram Fivefingers KSO’s. You can view it below.
Running in Vibram Fivefingers KSO from Pete Larson on Vimeo.
Slow motion video of treadmill running in Vibram Fivefingers KSO’s – appears to be a midfoot strike. Video shot at 300 frames-per-second with a Casio Exilim EX-F1 camera. More videos like this available at: http://www.runblogger.com/2009/12/relationship-between-running-footstrike.html.
Update 9/2/09: You can now read a post on how I felt on the day after this Vibram Fivefinger run.
Update 7/09/10: I just put up a post about my first run in the new Vibram Fivefingers Bikila. Check out my very preliminary Vibram Fivefingers Bikila review here.
**Disclaimer**: It is possible to strain or injure yourself by doing too much, too soon when transitioning to barefoot running. If you’re thinking about giving barefoot or VFF running a try, I highly recommend Barefoot Ken Bob’s site, Running Barefoot, as a source of advice and guidance. I also would not recommend doing what I did today – ease into it if you decide to give barefoot or barefoot-like running a try. I’ve been running in Nike Free 3.0′s nearly this entire summer, which are a transitional, “barefoot-like” shoe, so I think my feet and legs are a bit more conditioned for the shock of a VFF run. We’ll see how I feel tomorrow!
If you’re looking for more information on Vibram Fivefingers shoes, I highly recommend Justin Owings’ great blog: Birthday Shoes – For the love of feet and Vibram Fivefingers.