I count myself among the many skeptics when it comes to the barefoot running movement. It’s not that I don’t believe that the people who run barefoot love it, because I do. And I would love to try out a pair of minimalist shoes, since I’ve heard good things about them. But I’m not convinced when I hear people saying that we would all be better off if we took off our shoes.
Last week at the NYC Run Show, I stopped by the Vibram booth for a couple reasons. On one hand, I wanted to find out what all the fuss is about, since it seems like fivefingers are the trendy new thing that everyone has to have; on the other hand, I’m intrigued by them and I (not so secretly anymore) want a pair. I was at the Run Show early with press access, so I had the booth, the attention of the Vibram employees staffing it, and the funky treadmill (on the right) they had brought along with them all to myself.
I talked to one of the employees for a little bit about the evolution of the fivefingers’ design (over the past few years, the shoe has developed mostly as a result of customer feedback and demand, which I thought was pretty cool), and then I tried a pair on. She handed me a pair of the Bikila LS and then gave me a brief description of the treadmill, the design of which encourages a forefoot strike (it’s self-powered so a forefoot strike is the most efficient way to run on it. A heel strike would probably just be frustrating). I started out slowly, and as I got used to the feel of the treadmill and the shoes, I gradually picked up my pace until I was running. The sensation was amazing, and I feel like describing it would just be an exercise in cliché–I felt light, airy, and worry-free. It was liberating and invigorating, and I got embarrassingly gushy about it: “Oh my gosh, I want these shoes and one of these treadmills!” (The Vibram staff just sort of looked at me like I was crazy, and nothing will make you feel crazier than getting looks from a bunch of people wearing crazy looking shoes.) I ran merrily along the treadmill (like you do) for about a minute before getting self-conscious and deciding I should stop, especially since I knew I couldn’t afford the shoes to begin with.
That evening, I went for a run in my usual pair of shoes, the Mizuno Wave Riders (I also tried on the newest model of Wave Riders at the Run Show, and they felt great, too). I pranced merrily through the park much like I had done earlier on the treadmill, albeit in entirely different shoes. That brief amount of time I’d spent in the fivefingers was enough to give me a sense of lightness that endured through my evening run, and I felt really connected to the pureness that running can have. I was entirely connected to everything my body was doing, and at the same time I felt totally removed from where I was. It was an incredible feeling, and one that I don’t think I would have had without the minute I spent on the treadmill earlier that day. I ended up having one of the fastest and most effortless runs I’ve had in a long time, the kind of run that makes you feel like you’re absolutely at one with everything.
When I got home, I told Nat about it: “I just had the best run ever! I think it was because of running in the fivefingers earlier!!” He just rolled his eyes, and then implied that I was a shoe diva when I told him how much I wanted a pair not, to replace my regular shoes, but just to have around for a change of pace every now and then. Clearly, he just doesn’t get it.