A running post I'm afraid. I don't think I promised to move them all across.


Courtesy of the generous Maz the Merciless I have a pair of "footgloves" wot am all de rage, or at least they were all de rage a year ago or somesuch. Naturally, I'm late to the party. Today I gave them my first try-out, a 5 km run round the local "countryside reserve". They are really called "five fingers" (of VFF's, as the hip cats say); as they say: we recommend wearing Vibram 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 and I'm sure you can read the rest of their PR if you want to. I didn't bother. In a token attempt at balance on the issue, I also point you to The Dangers of Foot Gloves like Vibram FiveFingers but! Please remember that I don't really care.

Starting off, it did feel very much like running with bare feet, surprisingly so. The soles are very thin and the feel of feeling the surface comes through (incidentally James T says that one problem with them, for longer races over cold or wet ground, can be your feet getting too cold, because there is also little thermal protection). You have to run on your toes, this is the entire point, and a few steps trying heel-striking convinced me it was too jarring. Therefore, this puts a lot of strain on your calves. I cycle a lot, and run a bit, and row, but still after 1.5 km it was hurting, and I was happy to get onto the Reserve where I had the choice of running on the concrete track on my toes or switching to the slightly soggy grass verge on my heels to give my calves a rest. I gratefully did the latter. That gave me 2 km rest, and when I came back to the road and my calves still hurt I compromised between toe and heel a bit. So clearly, extending this out to even 5 km is going to take some practice, let alone 10 km or longer.

I was a minute below my 5 km best, but then I wasn't racing anyone (though I did overtake that James E on the spine route, which was nice, though I suspect he was on the last leg of a longer run so I won't count my chickens yet). I think they definitely slowed me down. I believe that the True Believers will tell you that ultimately they can speed you up - the theory being, as I understand it, that instead of losing energy as your heel strikes the ground the energy is retained elastically in the muscles/tendons/ligaments/whatever. But I'm clearly not there yet. After a little warm-down I came in, sat down on the sofa, and broswed the web for 5-10 mins in a fairly static position. I then tried to get up and nearly collapsed - my calves had set solid like rocks, or that was how it felt, briefly.

all in all an interesting experiment. I'll try them again. But at least for now, if trying for my best pace, I'll go back to the Mazuno's (which also, by not-quite-coincidence, came from "Imelda").

[Update: one week later (when my calves had nearly recovered), I went for a 1 km run instead. Felt like lots of stress in the calves, still, and probably as well not to go further.]


* My running injuries - how exciting.
* NEW BALANCE MINIMUS TRAIL REVIEW from the shouty Barefoot Running University (also a review of Merrell Trail Glove). This clearly answers one of my questions: when will people start doing knock-offs. Though those both look more like "real shoes" than the VFF's.

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By Physicalist (not verified) on 08 Jan 2011 #permalink

Start slow with these or any other minimalist shoe -- treat it like a different kind of exercise with a different set of muscles. I started with 10 min. runs in boat shoes and my calves hurt too at first. The same goes with landing on pebbles and whatnot: after a while that didn't bother as much. Wear toe socks to cut down on funk and blisters (Injinjis work for me).
I got a 6-month bout of plantar fasciitis after 1 (one) day in shoes with a high arch, but never had a problem in years of running in these, boat shoes, or sandals. YMMV, I suppose. I only go up to 4km or so, but so far I wouldn't go back.

I started out much more slowly with my Five Fingers. I started with a 2K run, then 3K, 5K, and then after a few months went up to 16K. (I alternated with my regular running shoes during this transition period). I really like them but they definitely require and adjustment period, especially for your calves. Anecdotally, I found that they helped with my plantar fasciitis, but this may have been because at the time, I was training for a half marathon instead of the full earlier in the year. Good luck!

Tee hee. I thought everyone knew you were supposed to start slowly (or more literally, with short periods of use) with these. I vaguely considered getting a pair, but our local run is in the hills and a quick test in a hiking shop convinced me they would be far too uncomfortable on rocky and uneven surfaces.

Last couple of years I've seen a couple of people running in these in the trail ultra I do annually. Not sure how they do it because I haven't been game to use racing flats in this race because of the steep descents with loose rocks - they must be either be very agile than or pick there way down slowly.

Anyway might get a pair for shorter runs mostly on grass, as I'm comfortable doing long barefoot runs on the beach.

Well it's not quite true you run on your toes. You land forefoot or toe wise (even the great Haile Gebrselassie reduced from a toe stye to more midfoot when he moved up from 5 and 10K to marathon according to a bio bit in Advanced Marathoning - book). Generally for every step your whole foot does rest totally flat even if only very briefly.

[OK. Bear in mind that I've never been a technically-minded runner (in fact I've only really been a "runner" for the past 1 1/2 years, and I spent much of that time injured as I pushed my running too hard, since I was fit already). And I did find that on the second half, when the calves were really tired, I was ending up with the foot flat more -W]

That said you do need to slowly build up those calves if you the body isn't used to it as the body is conditioned to the different style. As another poster said it's almost like a different form of exercise.

The trick to trails is being light footed and experienced, realistically you can't go as fast as an armoured footed person but it's surprising how little it slows you down with adequate experience. I've done the Eden Project marathon twice in them now and the first time it really hurt (being 70% trail) but the second time no problem. First time I was very much a novice still in minimalist shoes.

They (KSO/Classic) do get water logged which makes them considerably heavier. But it's sub zero that is the problem once they are wet. I'm sure being barefoot in such conditions would be better than (in effect) a wet cloth wrapped round your foot. That said 14M with some Lizard socks in some Bikila at about -5C was fine.

I don't know what the VFF Trek range are like but I can say for mud trails especially down hill they are terrifying for the slipping and sliding.

But in a comparison this week between my FeelMax Osma, VFF and Evo Barefoot my preference for most surfaces is the VFF or nothing. You feel the surface you run on and it makes the run more of a joy. For this year though in an attempt at serious (for me) times on trails I'm intending to try some of the Merrel Foot Gloves coming in February, some Inov-8 or some of Barefoot Ted's running sandals. Possibly carrying VFF for use on the road sections. And to actually increase the amount I do fully barefoot which actually is less pleasant on the roads and paths round me than that little bit of numbing the VFF offer.

For me it's are you running to enjoy and the experience or running to compete. That moves the balance of what shoes, if any, to wear.

[Ta. I've added some of those reviews you mentioned offline to the refs section-W]

Something else that came from switching to VFF. It revealed problems balance wise that evil trainers had been hiding from me. Notably I got a shin splint in my last run in trainers (a half marathon).

After that I ditched trainers and started out in my VFF Classics only and discovered that during the 12+ years of slipping into more and more cushioned shoes and away from being a forefoot striker to heel pounder I'd become hugely more developed on my right leg.

Barefoot or in VFF it was blatantly obvious that past a certain speed I start to twist as the one leg does most of the work pushing harder. So I'm still rebalancing from that hidden harm.

So even if not becoming a minimalist runner I think it's worth doing some training barefoot as it reveals a lot more about your technique (and it's good enough for the US Olympic sprinters amongst others - See "Born to Run").

I really do respect your opinions about just about every thing except your approach to athletics. This post seems to fairly typical. Running 5k in these the first time is just plain nuts, and doing so in a race is even dumber (even if you weren't really racing). Your experience was completely predicable and it could have been worse.

[Ah, thanks for the compliment :-). It wasn't a race, though -W]

If you are a heal striker it is going to change how you run and doing very much at first is going to hurt and is potentially going to lead to injury. You not only have to let your muscles adapt to a different way of running, your bones and ligaments do also--and they take much much longer. If you have been running one way your whole life suddenly changing it is very dangerous. If one has been running and/or is in good shape then it is easy to push yourself beyond what your bones and tendons can handle.

It is no surprise that people get stress fractures from running too much too soon in the VFFs. The problem is the too much too soon not the shoes themselves.

Due to an old knee injury (from running)I could only run uphill (where one runs on the toes) before I got the VFFs. They have changed how I run. But I did start by just walking in them and it took over two months to work up to 30 minutes.

Just use common sense here. Don't wear them if it is freezing or if the surface is too rough. Start by just walking in them. Start very slowly. They will be much harder on your calves and feet but much much easier on your knees. I'm convinced these are in general healthier and that the overly padded shoes are problematic and cause many injuries (including my knee injury).

[I thought I was being sensible by starting with only 5 km. But it is now clear that I should have done a somewhat lower distance. Bear in mind that I haven't been running all my life, or not really - only over the last 1 1/2 years, really. As for walking... several people just wear them around the office. But I just go barefoot there, so I do have some "practice" -W]

Somewhat like Nosmo, I had a knee injury and couldn't run until I switched to VFF. Then with typical intelligence I pushed too hard and injured my foot a year ago. I can still feel it a bit, and mostly run armored. I still enjoy the VFF for hiking though, and I use the VFF Trek. Conclusion: great for knee injuries, bad for ankle or foot problems, and take it easy.

I've heard about this hypothetical concept of temps below 0C in which people run about, but here in California I haven't experienced it.

[Ah, California. Odd place, or so I hear. Yes, I'm still feeling the effects of Saturday's VFF's now. I think this Saturday I'll just do a km, lightly -W]

Ah, I see I mistook the link to the park run series for your 5K run (the female record is impressive--not so much for the men). As for the complement, well I am from Brooklyn after all--it is contrary to our nature to praise someone without also insulting them. ;), (besides I knew you could handle it).

Walking around an office (carpeted?) is very different from walking outside where one's feet has to accommodate uneven and rough surfaces. And needless to say running is very different from walking.

Bike riding and rowing do not prepare one for running (Excentric vs Concentric muscle contraction as well as the impact). John Howard, one of the best American cyclists of the 1970's and an early Ironman winner, tells the story of getting a flat tire several hundred feet from his hotel just as it starts to rain. He decides to run back to the hotel and was limping for several days. It made him reevaluate his definition of being fit and led him to do the Ironman.

Next time you find yourself in unexpected pain, stop and walk or massage your muscles. Ignoring the evidence and continuing to do what you "know" you can do is just a way to get hurt.

Back to the VFF's: I do have both the trail version (with the kangaroo hide uppers) and the standard version. The trail version is a good deal warmer and does provide slightly more protection. I understand there are other more normal looking shoes from other companies that are minimalist. I haven't seen them. There are other shoes with more protection that should d work once one learns to run well. Many shoes force you run in a certain way. Not many are neutral, and none will work for everyone.

[Re the other ones:… is one example, that actually looks like a fairly normal shoe -W]