My first run-in with the fivefinger shoes was about a year ago when I was thinking about starting running. My wife was reading a lot of running magazines and Vibram had ads in most of them. When I first saw them I thought they were a stupid idea, but the more I thought about it, the more I wanted a pair. My wife started on the other side of the equation, wanting a pair at first, then changing her opinion because “they look funny”.
This past December, after some time being exposed to the Primal theory, I’ve decided that I’d like my feet to be as free and natural as possible. I went and bought a pair of Komodosport foot gloves and haven’t looked back. I also took the prescription orthotics out of my regular shoes which I have because I got a bad case of plantar fasciitis during my very first half marathon. The orthotics did help a lot, and the inflammation has not returned, but I’d like to train and strengthen my feet against this condition without artificial support.
I’ve gone on three short runs with the Vibrams, which is not a lot to form a complete opinion, but I’ve been dying to write this review. I’ve also worn them as casual shoes for walking around and driving, and even attended lots of Crossfit classes with them, so the running was not my only activity in them. My overall impression is that they’re well made, sturdy, and perfect for a range of applications from walking to running to doing push-ups.
Regarding my three runs in them, I tried going for 2 miles (3km) during my first run, which went great, but I could not walk for the next 5 days. My calves felt completely shredded and it was quite difficult to move around. The second run was only 1.5 miles (2km) and that felt a lot better, though I still got some pain. My third run was 2 miles again and the pain experienced in the days following was minimal to none. I will now attempt to increase my mileage as I’m training for a 5 mile race in February. Hopefully I have acclimatized to the shoes and I’ll just have minimal pain post-run.
This pain is due to the different posture needed to use the FiveFinger shoes properly. Casual runners have the habit of striking the ground with their heels first, followed by a push-off with the toes. The Vibrams will not allow this movement and will require a mid or fore-foot strike. That means that you have to land on the anterior part of the foot, using your calves to cushion your landing, and the heel will barely touch the ground. This is the natural running posture of humans because it requires the least amount of energy. Movement is achieved not through the push of muscles, but through gravity. Basically, all you need to do to achieve movement is lean forward and gravity will take care of the rest. Here is a good video describing the natural running posture:
This posture will cause stress on the calf muscles though, and since most runners’ calves are under-developed due to heel-strike running, it will lead to painful muscle tears if you try doing too much too soon. Thankfully, this side-effect of using the Vibrams is counter-balanced by the feeling of unlimited speed and complete freedom that you have in the shoes. I thought I’d be able to fly if I really put my mind to it, achieving a speed of 8mph almost effortlessly. For me, this is quite good as I’m a slow runner on the best of days.
For those of you that skipped to the end, here’s a detailed itemized list of what I liked, and didn’t like, about these shoes:
- perfect fit for my feet
- easy to put on and take off
- enough insulation so that your feet don’t freeze (if you’re running outside in the winter)
- the sole goes up on the toes, providing some support for various activities
- the sole has good grip on slippery surfaces
- they’re designed to not allow foreign matter to get in the shoes
- they are a great conversation starter
- you have to go to a store that sells them in order to make sure they fit your feet
- they are kind of pricey (I paid $120 CAD, taxes in, for my pair)
- they will require a gradual build-up for running in order to avoid injury
- they are a little weird looking
- you will get looks if you wear them in public
- people will approach you and ask about them
- don’t worry though, you’ll make friends this way
So that’s about it for the review. I really like these shoes and I can’t wait to go outside and run some more. I hope the review has been useful and that I’ll hear about your experiences with the Vibram FiveFingers in the comments, Facebook, or Twitter.