Five-fingered running

Image via EnvironmentTeam.com

Carrie Bradshaw dreams about Manolo Blahniks.  I dream about Vibram FiveFingers.  You can probably guess how much interest I have in Sex and the City.

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.

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15 comments

  1. i bought a pair of vibrams about three months ago and have slowly built myself up to running in them (because if you start immediately running with them it can be really, really painful after you stop running). yesterday i went for my first real run in them. all i can say is wow. seriously, it was maybe the best run ever. i felt so relaxed and happy and nothing felt uncomfortable. my knees and lower back didn’t ache like them sometimes do in my regular shoes. i totally recommend getting a pair!!

    1. Thanks for the link–both your posts on the vibrams are great, and I really liked your breakdown of foot striking in the second post. I think a lot of people don’t really know about how running shoes encourage a heel strike and a longer stride when what’s more efficient is a shorter stride…I actually went to a panel discussion last weekend about barefoot/minimalist running that was pretty interesting and I’ve been meaning to post about it!

  2. If I could only own one pair of shoes, it would be my five fingers, no question. Not only are they super comfy and light, but they completely eliminated my knee problems when I run. I over-pronate really badly, so it puts a lot of strain on my knees when I run but with the five fingers, I strike with my forefoot and don’t pronate at all! Also, I tend to get really sore shins when I stand for long periods and walk around on hard surfaces, but the five fingers took care of that too. I recently wore them on a week-long trip to Disney World and I had no problems walking around on concrete all day.

  3. JEALOUS! I totally want to try and pair of those. And if that treadmill is as good as you say, I’ll have to give it a go. My knees HATE treadmills but I love them.

    1. It’s too bad there aren’t more ways to try out shoes like this, especially since for some of us (even though I can only speak for myself) they’re kind of a significant investment. It might be worth it to see if your local running store (or any place that carries them) would let you try on a pair and run around the block or something.

  4. I don’t know if it was that few minutes in a pair of Vibrams, but i’m glad your run was good. I’ve worn Vibrams for over a year (i run in both heavy trail running shoes and minimalist shoes) and i sometimes dream about running now and feeling fast and easy while doing it. They are not a magic panacea like some people spout on about but they have worked for me by eliminating sole inserts that i can only get from a podiatrist. I just don’t think there are things wrong with us that we need to fix by buying something. Yeah, i do (did) end up buying vibrams – but i buy them because i can’t, and don’t want to, walk around barefoot. And they ended up costing less than going to a podiatrist. You never know you might get gifted a pair now you’ve blogged about it!

    1. I agree that there aren’t things we need to fix by buying something, and that minimalist shoes are a panacea. It actually bothers me when people try to argue that no one would ever be injured again if we all started running barefoot/in minimalist shoes–what works for some people doesn’t work for everyone (this is what bothers me most about ‘Born to Run’ for example). But I have heard that minimalist shoes can make a big difference in people who have tried other things (like orthotics) without success. From what I’m learning, it really just comes down to your form and how the shoes you wear affects it. I’m glad they’ve made such a difference for you, it must be a relief to no longer have to deal with regular trips to the podiatrist *or* the pain that results from walking around barefoot.

  5. i got a pair about a year ago? (roughly) i didn’t get them with the intent of going 100% barefoot and hugging trees – i thought i could use them to work on my form. i have no scientific way to prove if they have (or haven’t) helped, but i guess if it helps mentally that’s good enough for me 😉 i haven’t ran in them as consistently as i should either.

    anyway, i just like them. they’re funky and different and people stare at you when you wear them to home depot.

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