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The January 9th issue of the Boston Globe featured an article by David Abel recounting his story of running into a stress fracture in his Vibram Fivefingers. David’s story is certainly not unique as I have read reports of a number of cases of this happening. However, I have also received numerous testimonials from runners who have successfully transitioned into the odd looking toe shoes and have shed old injuries in the process.
It’s difficult to know why some runners have trouble in the shoes and others (so far, myself included) do not, but my hope is that as more stories get told, we will begin to better understand the best approach to transitioning to an ultra-minimal running shoe. I recently received an email from a fellow runner who wisely made the transition to Vibrams very slowly, and has found great benefit from making the switch. Below is Robert K’s story:
Robert K’s Story
I’ve been a regular runner for about 30 years. Early on I was diagnosed by a podiatrist with over pronation and have been running in orthotics since then. I ran a few marathons and such along the way.
Eventually, my legs started complaining about the running frequency and distances covered. About 10 years into my running career, I started to get some discomfort in my right knee and right leg in general. I was then diagnosed with a small tear in the meniscus of that knee. I was ready to go under the knife until an acquaintance of my mine who had done the same for both knees warned me of his remorse. After a second professional opinion, I decided to forgo the surgery and manage the pain with appropriate strengthening, stretching, and rest. Through much trial and error, I eventually learned that my legs could only tolerate running every 3 days, no more frequently.
Along the way, I also got DVT (deep vein thrombosis, i.e. a blood clot) in my right leg behind my knee and another one in my left foreleg about 5 years later . Needless to say my legs have felt sore for more time than I would have preferred over those years.
I switched to cycling a few years ago to allow me more frequent aerobic conditioning. I can cycle pain free so I had pretty much given up on running.
Then we got a hyperactive puppy about 2 years ago. He demanded exercise so I strapped back into my running shoes and worked my legs back to 5-6 miles so I could try to wear out the canine. By ramping up the mileage very slowly and taking care with rest & stretching, my legs felt tolerable.
About a year ago, I got wind of VFFs and starting pining for them. My wife gave me a pair of Sprints for my birthday in August. After receiving them, I read a bunch of blogs online and learned that I really needed to work into them slowly. With my previous experiences with my legs, that rang true to me so I took the advice to heart. I started with short walks around the neighborhood and slowly increased the duration. When I finally started running in them, I mapped out a few double routes in my neighborhood that would allow me to run first in my VFFs, end up back my house and switch back to my regular shoes to finish my session. I would run at least 3 times at a given distance in my VFFs before I upped the mileage. It took me a couple of months to get up to 6 miles in my VFFS. the last couple of those weeks were torture for me because I got to the point of dreading putting on my old shoes. But I decided to be focused. Oh, and I ditched the orthotics along the way.
Once I could do my 6 mile route with my VFFs, I stuck with my 3 day routine. But I noticed that my legs felt great after each run and unlike runs in my old motion control shoes, didn’t seem to really need the 3 days of rest. But I’ve been running every 3 days for a long time so I didn’t really think i should press my luck. After a few weeks, however, I decided to try every 2 days. Sure enough, no pain! I’ve been doing every other day for a couple of weeks now and feel like I could move up to every day if I felt like it. I think I’ll wait for a while for that!
Two punch lines for me:
Running in VFFs have helped my legs (and ankles and knees and feet) to feel the best they have in years. My wife even notices that they look stronger. I had swelling in one of my ankles due to the blood clot and that swelling has basically disappeared! I wear my VFFs for weight training and I am doing weights with my squats & dead lifts that I could only imagine in the past!
Slowly & methodically working into my VFFs helped me avoid transition injuries. My wife will confirm that I can be a bit obsessive about things so I could have easily jumped in headfirst with these new shoes and got hurt quickly. But I headed the warnings online and am sure glad that I did.