Running almost barefoot

Last night I took my first experimental run in Vibram Five Fingers.

To set the stage a bit my run training has been terrible this summer, (in part due to an injury in the spring). Despite running in several sprint triathlons my run is about where you’d expect it to be after 3 to 6 months off. That being said a 5K is readily doable, if not in an impressive time at least in an almost reasonable time.

If you’ve not seen nor heard of Vibram Five Fingers you probably live in a cave, but here’s the idea:

They are basically like wearing gloves on your feet. The soles are of a relatively tough yet flexible kind of rubber that makes it feel like you’re barefoot but with feet toughened by years of BEING barefoot.

Our run starts though some neighborhood streets before getting to a dirt/gravel trail. I was expecting that running on cement might be the tough part but it really didn’t feel all that different. (my buddy did say I was a lot louder…meaning my feet were flapping on the pavement!) That first half mile or so really just felt like an experiment…what is it like to run in these?

Once we got onto the trail things were even easier. These shoes are REALLY light so you hardly feel them and the soles protect your feet while at the same time letting you feel the difference in the terrain beneath you. It might be too graphic a description but it is almost like running in bare feet with really built up callouses across the entire bottom of your foot.

I made it though about the first mile to mile and a half running then started to alternate between running a block and walking a block. Somewhere about halfway through mile two I started to feel it in my calves and a little on the balls of my feet. They’ll tell you that you need to re-strengthen you feet before taking on long distances in these and that your calves will need some work too and they aren’t kidding.

The final block or so I was still able to really lengthen out my stride…which I normally can’t do…and it even felt more “normal” to be running that way. I normally “feel” a run in my hamstrings and core first…this was definitely different.

In the final analysis I think I’ll be working more and more with these. My calves are achy today but not any worse than I would expect to feel after a couple weeks of no running.

On the upside these shoes are way comfortable. My experience in this first go was that my running stride wants to move towards a more natural gate than when I am in traditional running shoes. I tended to want to stride out and even sprint, probably just because it felt like being in bare feet. I didn’t feel any pain from stepping on anything but I could feel the differences in ground surface…which was kind of cool.

On the downside I did stub my toe once or twice which resulted in pretty easily wearing a hole in the lightweight nylon upper on the shoe. Now, had I caught my foot like that in regular shoes I might have stumbled rather than just folding over one toe…so, good on the injury side…but poking a hole in the top of my shoe that easily is a bit of a bummer.

If you’re thinking you want to try these let me strongly recommend trying on at least two or three different sizes. You’ll most naturally be focused on how they feel on your toes when you first out them on due, in large part, to the fact that it takes some work to get your toes lined up right. Even though I did try on two sizes I wound up with probably one size too big because of this. The import thing to check is how far back your heel is seated in the shoe. Seating your heel back correctly after you get them on will adjust how well your toes match against the other end. Don’t trust that the guy in the shoe store will know this!

In all? I like ’em. I’ll run more in them and probably get a second, better fit pair. (Unfortunately you really can’t return these after about the first wearing.)

If you like being bare foot then I really recommend giving these a try!

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