This is a subject that has caused much debate in the running and fitness community. Before I started out on my toe shoe journey/ obsession, I did a fair amount of reading, there is a huge amount of material available on the subject, like huge amounts! I’ll leave you to research it for yourself if you are that way inclined. After all my reading it seemed to boil down to two things:
- “Minimal” or “barefoot” running is good for you
- It’s not
If we set aside the fact that there are numerous companies out there making a good deal of revenue from the “traditional” thick/ cushioned running shoe, that it is in their interest to discredit any potential positive benefits that lead you away from buying the existing product ranges. However many of those companies have a range of minimal and zero drop shoes. Ok, so conspiracy theories out of the way.
IMHO “Vibram Five Fingers are not for the faint of heart”. Without getting overly emotional, you’re either a lover or a hater.
To start out with when you buy your first pair from any reputable running shop, which I suggest you do, purely because they will let you try them on, make sure they fit right, hopefully, let you run around a bit to see if you are naturally a heel, mid-foot or toe striker. If you aren’t naturally a toe striker guess what, you are going to have to learn to run again.
They say to put them on at home and walk around for a few days, then go for very short runs increasing the distance by as little as 10% increments. I obviously did all of this, NO I didn’t. I found the ones I wanted on Amazon had a guess at the size and being a Prime member had them the next day and went straight out and did my normal run. Mistake? Yes! Massive! But I pride myself on not listening to people.
The real reason behind my purchase was that during my training for the 2005 London Marathon I had picked up a knee injury, every run or mountain bike ride, long dog walk was accompanied by excruciating knee pain. It was so bad at one point that my housemate and I had made it 1 mile from the flat and I had to STOP and my sub 60kg savior had to fireman carry my 90kg frame back home. I got the usual response from the Doctor, “sports-related injury, you need to rest for 6 weeks” or “if it hurts when you run, don’t run”. This wasn’t good enough, costly physio helped, sort of. But then a friend of mine mentioned he had switched to minimal running shoes and it had helped him. I tried a pair of Nike Free Runs and they did indeed reduce the severity but not the frequency of my pain. Being a fan of experimenting I needed to go a step further.
So finally we arrive at Vibram Five Fingers, they fixed me knee pain almost immediately. But we aren’t out of the woods yet. If like me you spend 8 hours a day sitting or standing behind a desk doing computer stuff or sitting uncomfortably on the floor of an air-conditioned computer data center wondering why lights are blinking like that, then you’ll probably have weak or misaligned hips, some kind of twist in your spine, weak ankles, the list of ailments associated with a sedentary lifestyle is long. But it ultimately comes down to poor posture in some form or another.
I mentioned previously that you will have to learn to run again and in my experience, it takes a good while to condition your calf muscles and all those little funny bits and bobs in your lazy foot to the new running style. But if unlike me you follow the advice and go, slow and steady, build up your mileage in a controlled manner you won’t get the DOMS of doom, cataclysmic calf cramp and I can’t think of anything funny to say about the pain you get in your Tibialis Anterior because it isn’t funny. Once I got the hang of it I had a much more efficient running style, it’s a lot more upright, which means at the end of long runs I have less back pain.
Ok so now we have learned to run again. Our calf muscles aren’t tighter than the proverbial ducks rear end, life is good. But you will note that the VFF sole is thin in some cases 8mm. You will need to look where you are going, like really look where you are going. I’m happiest on the dirt running through England’s green and pleasant land, it is pretty and smells like animal manure, but there are stones, and roots and all manner of pokey things that conspire to hurt your soft and fleshy foot and by the way, if you are used to running on trails with big lugs on your soles to stick in the mud and give you grip, you don’t have those anymore. But you don’t need them, look a few Metres ahead, plan where you are going. I learned to trust my balance, ankle strength and use my toes to spread and support my weight.
I said earlier “Vibram Five Fingers are not for the faint of heart”. But when I made the switch, it changed everything for me. Well for a start I could run again, I didn’t have to complain about my knees anymore. I just complain about everything else, like not being fit or fast or strong and it’s cold and raining outside etc. But I’m happy to be able to get out there in the mud and shout obscenities at my team and muddy friends from the top of obstacles. I now have 9 pairs each with a different purpose:
- Two pairs for, alternating days at OCR
- Another pair for OCR that I can no longer wear as my foot is now wider due to wearing VFFs and I can’t put my foot in them, which is kind of embarrassing and annoying at the same time
- A wool lined pair for when it’s cold outside
- A pair for road running
- A pair for the gym
- Two pairs for just walking about and just being that toe shoe guy
- A pair for being the toe shoe guy at home (slippers if you will)
Oh, and socks, you’ll need special socks and thick skin, because children stare at your feet and then their parents stare at your feet and then, well it all just gets uncomfortable but hey I love them.
Now to conclude, although I am a huge fan of VFF, I don’t limit myself to them, sometimes, when the need arises I’ll go completely the other way and dust off my Hoka Speed Goats. For example, WTM2017 I started out the day in my trusty Five Fingers, once it got dark, vision was limited and I was tired and not paying enough attention to the ground underfoot I switched to the Speed Goats and this May at ETM 2018, we started out 00:00 so I just went straight for the Speed Goats, my Wife, on the other hand, started out in her VFF Spyridons and stayed in them all night (trooper) and just to beat everyone in the macho stakes TC decided to stay in his for the whole 24 hours at WTM2017, so people are just dedicated to the cause!!!
Be good, if you cant be, good be, sensational!