I’ve been a runner for the past 15 years. Over this time I’ve suffered countless injuries. Training for marathons and Ironman Triathlons can be tough on your body!
Shin splints. Stress fractures. IT band issues. Knee issues. Plantar fascia issues. I’ve suffered through it all. I can run injury-free as long as keep my mileage fairly low, around 30 miles a week. If I get above 40-50 miles a week for a month or longer – I tend to develop issues. My easy response to this is just to keep my mileage low and cross-train heavily.
There must be a better way to stay healthy while training – without having to cut back on mileage.
Lately, there has been a lot of buzz about barefoot running. The benefits of ditching traditional shoes have been discussed in Men’s Health, bestselling books like “Born to Run” and by popular blogger Tim Ferriss. Running and walking barefoot is what we were built to do as human beings. Ditching heels and overly cushioned trainers are said to be a huge help in curing lower-leg and back injuries as well.
I always enjoyed running around in my yard barefoot when I was a kid, but hardly ever do so nowadays. I spend my work-days in an aweful pair of dress shoes, train in standard running shoes and only walk around barefoot in my home and during my yoga practice. It makes sense that spending more time barefoot is a good thing for lower leg and foot health, so lately I’ve made it a point of doing so as much as possible.
In fact, last month I ordered a pair of Vibram FiveFingers running shoes. They are basically a glorified sock with a 2mm tough rubber sole. Here is what Vibram says about their shoes:
The typical human foot is an anatomical marvel of evolution with 26 bones, 33 muscles and hundreds of sensory receptors, tendons and ligaments. Like the rest of the body, to keep our feet healthy, they need to be stimulated and exercised.
That’s why we recommend wearing FiveFingers for exercise, play, and for fun. Stimulating the muscles in your feet and lower legs will not only make you stronger and healthier, it improves your balance, agility and proprioception.
What’s my verdict? I am now a total convert. The shoes feel incredible, and though I am still “breaking them in” and getting used to running with hardly any padding, I definitely feel better running in them.
I feel more connected with the ground when I run. There is less jarring in my joints since my stride is shortened and quickened. I feel more agile as I run. Running just feels more fun in these barefoot shoes. Just a few hundred yards in these and my stride began to compensate. I can no longer get away with pounding and heel-striking my way through a run. I have naturally shifted to a more mid to fore-foot strike. This results in far less stress on my joints and is overall a more efficient way to run.
I’ve worn the Vibram FiveFingers for about a half-dozen runs and a bunch of walks around town. Already my feet feel stronger. I’ve also worn them in the gym, and I feel much more in control and powerful when lifting – particularly squatting and lunging. I also think that running around in these shoes is helping my balance in yoga practice, so much of balance depends on foot, ankle and toe strength and control.
If you are a casual or serious runner, I highly recommend checking out these shoes. If you are lucky to live in a place where you run around grassy fields barefoot, that is ideal. Otherwise, the Vibram FiveFingers will keep your feet safe and give you all the benefits.
If you are planning to get a pair of these, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- You’ll probably need to get at least 1 size smaller than normal for a good fit.
- Fit for these shoes is super important. Try to go to a retail store that carries them to make sure you have a snug fit. The heel should feel snug. If you can’t find a local retailer with them, make sure they fit well before running in them – and be prepared to return them for the proper size if they don’t! I ordered mind through Vibram’s website, ran 100 yards on clean black pavement – realized I had the wrong size and sent them back for the correct size. They processed the return in about a week.
- I like the Classic variety (open-top), but there are several other types. I haven’t run in the others, but I like the minimalist look of the classics.
- Expect to get a lot of looks from people. These are great conversation starters! Really though, expect to stand out in a crowd for these. I have gotten plenty of looks from people trying to figure out what I was wearing, particularly in the gym! The black color is the most inconspicuous (the kind I have) if you don’t want to be the center of attention wherever you go.
- When starting out, just plan on running a mile or so at a time. Give your feet some time to adjust gradually. Wear them for walks around town to break into them.
- If you experience any rubbing on your Achilles (like I do) – put a small strip of medical tape on your tendon and you will be fine. I am hoping this friction will go away once the shoes have broken in more (or my skin toughens up).
Are you a barefoot runner? Do you run in the Vibram FiveFingers? How do they feel? Please post a comment and let me know what you think.