A year in review: Vibram Five Fingers

You’ve seen them.  Those funky looking toe shoe things.  Maybe you’ve asked someone if they can really wiggle their toes in them.  They are popping up more and more frequently all over the place and the month of August marks one year since I began running in them.

My transition to Vibram Fiver Fingers didn’t start last August.  If you check out my blog over on runnersworld.com, you’ll find I began my journey by attempting to run barefoot.  I heard all the hype about this mode of running, but after a month of bruised, blistered and asphalt-burned feet, I decided to give the Five Fingers a try.

Now, after a year of wearing these glove like shoes to run, work, play, and hike in, I love them.  That said, I’ve also come to realize I can not replace my regular arsenal of footwear with them.

After the initial difficulty of training each of my toes to slide into place, it took about three months to build my foot strength up to the point where I could run regularly in them.  There was initial discomfort in my feet and soreness in my calves as my body learned a new form of running.  Once it had adapted and my muscles were strengthened, the achyness went away.  It also took a little time to get my speed up to par in them.  But by the end of October I was only running seconds slower per mile than in my racing flats.  The longest run I’ve completed in my VFFs was 14 miles.

Over the last few months I’ve had on and off knee pain that I’m not sure is attributable to my VFFs or to a combination of recent footwear errors.  I’ve had a string of shoe-related injuries, the worst of which came after I ran in a 200-mile relay (of which I ran 43).  In this race I wore the Vibrams and a worn out pair of running shoes.  I’ve since trashed those shoes and my knee pain has greatly abated, even in my Vibrams.  I still limit the number of miles I run in them right now because I want to avoid any additional injuries right now.

I own two pair of VFFs.  The Sprint and the TrekSport.  The Sprints are great for the track and that’s about the only time I’ll bust them out.  I purchased these as my first pair because they are about $20 cheaper than other available models.  I bought my TrekSports this Spring because I was looking for something with a little more traction and protection on the trails.  The knobby treds on the bottom of this model made it a great option and I wear it for everything from going to work, to running, to light hiking (I wore them to hike up Mt. Flume on the Pemi Loop and the rocks were just too unforgiving).

You may not be interested in wearing them as a day-to-day running shoe, but if you are looking to strengthen the foot muscles that usually sit idle in your running shoes, this is a great option (especially for those who don’t have access to large plots of soft grass to run barefoot in).  The Vibrams are a great way to improve your foot and calf strength.  According to sources like the book Born to Run and Runner’s World, modern running shoes provide so much cushioning and support, they atrophy the muscles in your foot, so to speak.  So, if you’re interested in reviving these unused muscles, you may consider giving these a try.

Aside from the shoe’s strengthening qualities, they are also extremely comfortable.  Wearing the VFFs is almost like wearing slippers or socks around.  While I get a lot of funny looks and many people asking me about them, I still enjoy wearing them around because they feel so great on my feet.  People often ask if it’s weird having my toes separated or if it hurts to have my toes in little slots.  Neither of these things bother me, though I’ve talked to some curiosity seekers who have told me they can’t get them on their feet because of an oddly shaped toe or two.

So, whether you are looking to launch into barefoot running, strengthen an unused set of muscles or just make a wacky fashion statement, I highly recommend the Vibram Five Fingers.  They will run you upwards of $90.  You can order them online, but I highly recommend a specialty running store, such as NH’s Runner’s Alley, to ensure you get a proper fitting.

And yes, I can wiggle all my toes.  Enjoy!

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