I broke my right foot on a motorcycle when I was young. I shattered three metatarsals in my right foot and had surgery to rebuild it. I spent the next twelve years using my gimpy foot as an excuse for why I could not run (not to mention my flat feet and bad knees!).
Two years ago I started running. I was trying to lose weight and started jogging a slow mile on the treadmill. You know, for cardio! Soon, one mile became three and the next thing I know, I’m outside in the middle of winter running five miles at a time, three times a week.
My journey to this point has not been easy. When I started having knee pain, I bought a pair of Brook’s Beast Motion Control shoes. When I started having Iliotibial band syndrome, I saw a podiatrist and was cast for orthodics. When the orthodics failed to help, I turned to barefoot running.
I really enjoyed running barefoot… but my feet did not. I spent months running one mile at a time, on a smooth indoor track–my feet were blistered and destroyed after every run. I just could not to get my mileage up. That is when a buddy of mine pointed me at Vibram Five Fingers. I bought a pair of KSOs and immediately took them outside.
One hundred steps away from my door and I had a silly grin on my face. It was like instantly developing thick I’m-a-kenyan-who-has-run-barefoot-since-birth callouses. I ran for six miles that first day. Yeah, I did get some blisters on my big toes, but SIX MILES!
So the review. I ordered the shoes online for about $80 shipped from TravelCountry.com. My first impression, upon un-boxing the shoes, was that they looked like a goofy pair of aquasox. The best way to describe them is “gloves for your feet.” There really is not much there. A few millimeters of rubber, some cloth, and a velcro strap. The construction seemed solid, though seams were glued, not stitched, which I found concerning. The rubber on the bottom of the shoe has some texture and is siped. Each toe has its own rubber pad that wraps around the top of the toe.
Running in the KSOs is a whole new experience. I have logged three 3-5 mile runs every week for two months with the Vibrams. My first runs left my calves in massive pain. Running barefoot entails landing with a midfoot or forefoot strike. Your calves become shock absorbers and work much harder than they are used to. So I spent a few weeks walking around funny while my legs caught up.
The soles are three millimeters thick. I can feel every pebble, root, and squishy slug. The Vibrams make it enjoyable to run on different surfaces and I find myself looking for new textures to step on. Instincts seem to take over when running like this. If I step on a sharp rock, I find my body automatically compensating and rebalancing my stride to avoid putting my weight on the object. After a few runs, I stopped looking at my feet and began looking farther ahead, trusting my body to handle any obstacles underfoot. The interactive nature of the shoes has pushed me more towards trail running, though I have no issues running on asphalt. Running feels more pure and more efficient with the shoes. Not to mention, my ITBS and knee issues have vanished and my runs are pain free.
I was worried that the shoes would wear quickly. After nearly 100 miles, my worries have proven to be unfounded. The rubber on the toes shows some minimal wear but looks like it will be good for another 200 miles more. The glue and fabric seams have held up great and show no signs of separation or wear.
The shoes do have some flaws. If I step in a puddle or some mucky dirt, they seem to slurp the moisture up through the toes and it goes straight through the fabric sidewalls. This makes the run less comfortable and I try to avoid it. I would like to see a wet weather version of the shoe that is a bit more waterproof for winter running in Seattle.
My other complaint is that my toes get cold. Having the toes separated from each other means less insulation, less insulation means numb toes. I am sure this will not be an issue in the summer, but it has been an annoyance.
To sum it up: I am a convert. I am already planning my second and third pair of Vibrams. I am thinking of trying to the Flows for cold wet/weather running and potentially some Treks for… well trekking. I would recommend these to anyone who is looking lose the heel strike and give barefoot running a try. These shoes will get you reasonably close to outdoor barefoot running without destroying your feet.