My New ‘Shoes’ – Vibram FiveFingers

Behold: Vibram FiveFingers, the first article of clothing I’ve ever felt the need to put in quotation marks.

vibram fivefingers photo 1024x768

A while back, I wrote about barefoot running and my interest in trying it, but I was hesitant to mess with anything before my attempt to qualify for Boston.  Having done that successfully, as well as having gotten all worked up about running like a tribesman after reading Born to Run, I went ahead and bought this pair of barefoot-simulating shoes as a little BQ-present to myself.

My first thought was that I’d buy the Nike Free, but lots of people recommended Vibram FiveFingers instead, since they have even less cushioning than the Free.  But why, you ask, would I want less cushioning, when running shoe companies have been telling us for years that more is what we need?

vibram fivefingers bottom photo 768x1024

Barefoot Running

The rationale behind the barefoot movement — and make no mistake, what I’m doing is not the same as barefoot, but similar — is that Mother Nature knows better than Nike or Brooks about what has to happen for us to run most efficiently.  According to studies cited in Born to Run, 65-80 percent of runners are injured every year.  If you’re a runner, this isn’t that surprising.  What’s shocking, though, is that injury rate is directly correlated with running shoe cost — the more expensive and more “advanced” the shoe you’re running in, the more likely you’ll be watching your next race from the sidelines.

The problem, it seems, is that the comfort provided by all that cushioning comes at the cost of environmental feedback.  In other words, you can run sloppily, in a way that isn’t healthy on your legs, without feeling (at first, anyway) the pain you’re supposed to feel from it.  Take off your shoes and run barefoot, though, and your form immediately improves; all the sudden it hurts to take those big strides and land hard on your heels like you could with a high-tech running shoe on your foot.

And finally, all that support provided by modern running shoes allows your feet to get lazy.  Kick those shoes off and run, and now those little muscles need to work.  And as they work, they get stronger, the way they’re supposed to.

In case you can’t tell; I’m pretty high on this idea and these new “shoes” of mine.  But it’s a cautious optimism.  By choosing which studies to cite, you can make a pretty good argument for any case you want.  Born to Run seems to be drinking the barefoot Kool-Aid, so to speak, and I’m sure there are some pretty good arguments out there against barefoot running too.  But I find the idea fascinating, and for me it’s worth a “trial run.”  (Sorry, that’s a bad one.)

I just got back from my first run in these bad boys, a little one-miler around the neighborhood.  You’re supposed to ease into this new way of running, since, as I mentioned before, those muscles haven’t had to work in a long, long time.  And I also plan on wearing them mostly on the track and trails, not roads.  The same logic that says we’re meant to run barefoot says “cavemen didn’t have paved roads.”  Nonetheless, it was a nice little run, and I could immediately tell that I had to run differently than I do in my normal shoes.  And I felt every little rock I stepped on; the hard rubber on the bottom really only protects your feet from the scraping of the road.  And that’s exactly the point.

So there you have it: why I am wearing such a ridiculous-looking shoe.  I’ll keep you posted on how it goes as I increase my almost-barefoot  mileage!

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Comments

  1. i just got these too!! i am just hesitant to use them because i know how they are supposed to let you run, how nature intended us to run, but will that negatively impact us when we have been running on cushioning the past 20+ years?? thoughts?
    .-= Leslie´s last blog ..The Raw Crunch Diet Giveaway =-.

    • Hi Leslie,

      I first heard about these shoes a few years ago. What I remember
      them talking about was that you should first run on them on a soft surface like a sports field. It will take a while to strengthen your foot muscles, so don’t hit the roads right away. Another good option would be running on the beach either with or without the Fivefingers. The sand is low impact, gives and will build muscles in your foot, legs, and torso. Beside, it feels great to run along the shoreline as the waves roll in and smell the fresh salt air and hear the sounds of the coast!

      After just over 30 years of racing and 6 marathons including 3 Boston, I am currently dealing with knee pain. I started running in Nike Frees and am feeling better. I hope to test out the FiveFingers after I have gotten my knees better.

      Good Luck,

      The Road Runner

  2. I’m fairly certain we need a video of you running in these bad boys. I am interested to hear your thoughts on them tomorrow or after a longer run in them! Sounds like fun :)
    .-= Erica´s last blog ..Long Run, Stevia Packets, Mellow Mushroom =-.

  3. Interesting. Can’t wait to hear how they work for you and what you think after a while. Personally, I’ve heard of Vibrams before and after looking into them didn’t quite agree with their purpose or believe they’d be well-suited, but I haven’t heard many testimonials not from their website so you have me intrigued.
    .-= Evan Thomas´s last blog ..Healthy Is Not My Word =-.

  4. First and foremost congratulations on your BQ! I was sending happy thoughts your way the whole day. It is so ironic the babies due date and Boston Marathon are on the same day. Most babies don’t arrive on their exact due date so you never know…

    I have a pair of vibrams and I am slowly getting my feet adjusted to them (“almost-barefoot” running intrigues me also). I have been reading about it on the RunnersWorld forums and am following the advice there of taking it slow when you start to use them. As you said you have to get your feet and muscles adjusted to the new movements.

    I do have to say, since I have been using the Vibrams and a very low sole shoe I can no longer wear normal running shoes. They feel so weird and make my hips and knees hurt when I run.

    I am not sure if you have heard about it but Chi Running or Pose Method. It is about mid-foot striking and how that can help to prevent injuries. They both recommend minimalist shoes.

    An additional vibram note… in the cooler weather I wear injinji toe socks so my feet stay warm.

    Here are some vibram links you may be interested in:

    The people on this site LOVE their VFF’s – http://birthdayshoes.com/index.php

    KSO running review – http://www.keith-in-training.com/2008/03/vibram-fivefingers-ksos-part-i.html

    An ultramarathon trail runner writes about his KSO’s (great write-up) – http://redrocksbluesky.com/2009/03/16/450-miles-on-vibram-five-finger-ksos/

    A great review by Tim Ferris: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2009/05/07/vibram-five-fingers-shoes/
    .-= Hethir´s last blog ..Perseverance, Fertility Recipe and Maca! =-.

  5. i cannot wait to hear how these go!!!!

  6. JEALOUS! i want a pair! i want the blue ones with teh strap. those are the kso’s right?
    .-= tra´s last blog ..Shredded =-.

    • Hey Tra, the ones I got are the KSO’s (it stands for “Keep Stuff Out,” since they have the mesh covering on the top). The ones with just the strap are the Sprint. But I think the blue ones come it both versions, and I thought really hard about getting that color!

  7. Oh Matt – you are boggling my mind with those things. I’ll be sure to follow!

  8. Fantastic!! I have been hesitant to run in mine yet. I walked a great deal in them last. This week I will run. The difference in the foot strike and the muscles that are worked is wild.
    .-= Shelly (Run Geek Run)´s last blog ..Gorilla Feetz? I haz ‘em! =-.

  9. Ooo! I can’t wait to see what you think of them!! I saw 2 bare-footers at the Twin Cities marathon a few weekends ago and find it very intriguing! Best of luck, let us know how the “shoes” work out. Maybe I would try them, but not till spring!
    .-= Mary @ Fit this girl´s last blog ..Half marathon Training at the lakes =-.

  10. You look like Aqua Man ;) Let us know how it goes once you get some higher mileage runs in them.
    .-= Caleb´s last blog ..Learning to rock climb – beginner to trad climber =-.

  11. Ridiculous looking, they are. But the concept behind them is really interesting. Trails/tracks might be good… cavemen didn’t have paved roads, but they also didn’t have nails and pieces of glass that could hurt with “shoe gloves” (lol!) like those.
    Very cool that you’re trying them out.
    .-= Tracey @ TropicalHappiness´s last blog ..Amazing Mom Mondays II =-.

  12. Matt – are those the flows? Probably too toasty to wear to work if so. As a regular barefoot/vibram runner, here’s a few thoughts you should keep in mind:

    1. Vibrams are not barefoot – they are better than sneakers (and flows, which are all marketing and no substance, in my opinion) but you still won’t get the same feedback as actually running barefoot. I use mine pretty regularly, don’t get me wrong, just be aware that it isn’t the same and you can get some of the same problems as you’d get with shoes.

    2. As Leslie mentioned – your feet won’t have the muscles built up to go barefoot/vibrams with all your runs. I recommend wearing them around walking for a while before running and then easing into it, unless you are willing to “start from scratch” with your running and start a new training program as if you’d never run before and will use the vibrams or go barefooting for everything.

    3. On the same note, I actually have 2 pairs of Vibrams (both KSOs) – I got a running pair, and a pair that I replaced my every day sneakers with. I wear the second pair to work every day and around town, and they aren’t as muddy or (quite) as stinky as the running pair.

    4. Regarding pavement, try visiting a savannah some time. In terms of how hard it is, there isn’t much of a difference. We actually were evolved to run on hard surfaces just fine. Our major problem is that the muscles in our feet are way too atrophied to do it safely right off the bat.

    Good luck with your new shoes, looking forward to updates. I like mine a lot, even if my wife does think they are weird.
    .-= Blaine Moore´s last blog ..I’m Giving Away My Latest Coaching CD =-.

    • Hey Blaine, they’re the KSO’s, not the flows. So maybe I could wear them to school without getting too hot.

      Thanks for all your tips; I really appreciate getting such great advice on so many running topics. I don’t have many running friends, so it’s nice to get the scoop from someone who knows what he’s talking about.

  13. I am so eager to know what you think of the whole barefoot running deal. I’ve been running Pose since April, and yes, defffffffinitely important to ease into it. I ran a mile my first day and my calves were full of rock hard knots for the next week. Granted, I wasn’t much of a runner before that (who am I kidding? I’m still not!), so I am sure you’ll do better. I am very curious about the Five Fingers but am currently alternating between a pair of Diesels (kind of like the Pumas rec by Pose ppl) and old, split-toe Nike Air Rifts. Anyway, I can’t wait to hear more!
    .-= CinnamonQuill´s last blog ..Boeuf Bourguignon, sans boeuf =-.

  14. Love the shoes. I am starting to use my Nike Frees again for my running. I met Tim VanOrden who is the creator of Running Raw project. When I spoke to him he loved the Vibram Five Fingers shoes too. Though, I had no real idea what they really looked like till now. You should check Tim out… he is truly inspiring. His site is http://www.runningraw.com. I hope you like it.
    .-= pure2raw twins´s last blog ..Finding balance =-.

  15. Wow, I am insanely curious to hear your reactions and thoughts on this–I’ve been doing some reading on the barefoot movement and, while it sounds convincing, I still have some lingering skepticism/trepidation. Please keep us posted as you continue with these guys!

  16. I can’t wait to read a full review on these shoes. I’ve started to see them at races and have also read a few studies regarding the benefits.

    I’m hesitant because I have such sensitive feet! If I felt any rock poke me in the foot as I was running, I’m pretty sure I’d fall over. :-)
    .-= Charm City Kim´s last blog ..Things I Learned about Marathons while Working a Water Station =-.

  17. OK, you’ve totally piqued my interest in this – I can’t wait to follow along.

    If you’re into doing things the way nature intended, start reading about home birth! Or encourage Erin to. Start with the birth documentary, The Business of Being Born. I realize this has nothing to do with running, it has everything to do with messing with something that shouldn’t be messed with. Sneakers are to running what hospitals are to birth. No joke.
    .-= Alison´s last blog ..The Quest for the Perfect Veggie Burger =-.

  18. I’ve so been considering those shoes too!!! I look forward to reading about how you do with them!!! I was at a trail race this weekend and noticed a few runners wearing these shoes – my friend thinks its nuts……

    (from the blog formerly sarawithanhishealthy.wordpress.com – I put my blog on private so if you have wordpress you can log into your wordpress account to view it, otherwise its on private since i have no time to blog as much as I would like anymore)

  19. this is definitely the latest craze. make sure you keep it ‘slow and steady’ with the mileage increases! like you mentioned, there are many adjustments your body (legs/feet) has to get used to, and i just don’t want you getting hurt. i think an extra mile barefoot could be more detrimental than adding an extra 3 in shoes — in the beginning, when you’re adjusting/strengthening your legs and feet. anyway, i am sure you are being smart.

  20. Welcome to the VFF club. It’s my opinion that given our feet evolved to be the way they are without cushioned shoes over a couple hundred millennia (or longer), I think the burden of proof in the which is better shod or unshod debate lay firmly in the hands of the shoemakers.

    Evolution doesn’t tend to produce cripples and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that our feet have more bones in them than any other part of our body.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading your end review once you’ve got some more miles (or just general use) on your VFFs so I can feature it on birthdayshoes.com.
    .-= justin´s last blog ..Kevin’s FiveFingers in Fiji =-.

  21. yeah cleans are AWESOME. i’m trying to up my weight on those. 45 lbs is a lot for this little chickadee tho. hahaha. do you deadlift too? it’s okay, last winter i pulled my groin i suppose either sprinting too much or not doing a squat right. MEH.
    .-= tra´s last blog ..hoppin’ on the bandwagon =-.

  22. I’ve been so intrigued by these shoes, please do keep us updated about your experience in them!
    .-= Caroline´s last blog ..Eating out =-.

  23. Ummm do you wear socks with them? I ask because I cannot stand the feel of my feet sweating (I even wear socks with Crocs.)

    First time commenter, long time reader. Congrats on Boston, and Baby Frazier.

    • Hi Alicia, I love when first-timers comment! No I don’t wear socks with mine (they told me most people don’t), but they do make five-toed socks to wear with them. And I might be getting some soon, because I’m noticing that the seam in the instep gives me blisters.

      Thanks so much for reading and for your congrats. :)

  24. Yay! I love my sprint VFF shoes. I too am also working my way up in mileage slowly. I am also trying a pair of Nike Frees and Mizuno Wave Universe(waiting for them in the mail) to see what I like best. I a may also rotate the three, we will see.

    P.S. I was running in Yosemite this week and found the Injinji toe socks worn with the VFF help if the ground is cold.
    .-= Hethir´s last blog ..Perseverance, Fertility Recipe and Maca! =-.

  25. I’m dying to try these shoes, but they are hideously expensive over here… more than double what they cost in the USA.

  26. That’s a relief to hear, because I really cannot stand sweaty feet. At all. So strange…

    I’m still working up to actual running so I’m thinking about getting these before I go any farther.

  27. Great write-up Matt~

  28. I am obviously behind on posts, but these look awesome. I couldn’t talk my husband into letting me go the vibram/barefoot so I got my Newton’s. Can’t wait to hear how they are going.
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..New Shoes and Fighting Kids =-.

  29. you are insane. and i cant wait to read more.
    .-= Mel @ She Runs Brooklyn´s last blog ..Running Round Crazy =-.

  30. Carrie Bale says:

    So, a year and a half later, what is your status with the VFF? Still wearing them? Gone totally barefoot? I am just reading (not finished) Born to Run. I also recently completed a 25K road race (where I got my PR by 15 minutes).

    My interest is definitely piqued by the barefoot movement, and the chia and pinole! :)

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