A few months ago I purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers barefoot running shoes. And I am absolutely loving them! Here’s why:
1. Running barefoot is natural.
Barefoot running has garnered lots of attention lately due to the mega-bestseller Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. Barefoot running shoes have tripled in sales in recent years, and top athletic companies like Nike and Adidas are declaring barefoot running the next big thing.Why?
Well, simply put, your feet are a marvel of biological engineering. They are designed to adjust your stride, distribute your weight, and minimize the impact on your joints – on the fly. Unfortunately, when you encase them in modern running shoes, your feet lose contact with the ground, they don’t adjust, and they aren’t free to do what they were made to do.
For me, running in my FiveFingers just feels right.
2. Barefoot running reduces injuries
Conventional thinking says, running shoes are designed to provide cushioning and prevent injuries, right? Well, according to McDougall, despite supposedly huge improvement in shoe technology, 70% of all runners get injured every year, and this number has not decreased in decades. Interestingly, running injuries were very rare until the invention of the modern running shoe in 1972. McDougall claims there is a direct correlation between running shoes and running injuries.
So then why do all the running magazines advocate the super expensive, super advanced shoes?
Follow the money. As Michael Hyatt writes, “Running shoes are a $15 billion industry. The companies that make these shoes are not going to admit that their product is the problem rather than the solution. These same companies advertise in the running magazines. The magazines can rate the various shoes and write reviews, but they can’t challenge the whole premise behind the shoes without flushing the bulk of their revenue stream.”
I am not trying to knock regular running shoes. All I know is that when I was training for Comrades in 2010, I was plagued with ITB problems (a common running injury), despite paying big bucks for orthotics, in-soles, and the best shoes money could buy. Since I’ve been running in my FiveFingers I haven’t had a single twinge, and I can actually feel my gluteus medius muscles getting stronger (proven to help ITB syndrome).
3. It’s the best of both worlds
Of course, because I run predominantly on paved roads, I still need some protection from stubbing my toe, or getting cut on sharp rocks or glass. Running in the Vibram FiveFingers is as close as you can get to running barefoot and still have some protection. It’s the best of both worlds. They provide the physiological benefits of going barefoot with the advantage of having some level of armor against the elements.
4. They are cheaper than regular running shoes
I bought mine brand new online and had them shipped to South Africa for a total of R400. That’s less than half the price I paid for my traditional running shoes! You can buy them straight from the Vibram Store, as well as variety of other online stores, including Amazon.
5. They look weird
I cannot deny it – they are absolutely hideous. My wife calls them “gorilla shoes”. But, while this may be a negative for some, I actually don’t mind. I’m not one to get embarrassed easily, and I actually find them to be a great conversation piece.
6. They last (I hope)
So far the longest I have run in them is 10k, but they seem to be holding up really well. In my old shoes I used to wear the heel out really fast, but because FiveFingers force you to run with less of a heel-strike and more of a forefoot-strike (which has been proven to reduce impact-related injuries), I have not noticed any uneven wear and tear.
Will I stick with them? Only time will tell. I am contemplating running Comrades again in 2013, so we’ll just have to wait and see how they stack up against the increased weekly mileage and longer ultra-distances. But so far so good.
7. They strengthen the right muscle groups
All the literature I’ve read, including Vibrams own website, cautions you to start out slow with the FiveFingers. Even if you are a seasoned runner, your feet have essentially been encased in casts for years. This means that many of your muscles which normally help to stabilise and make micro adjustments have atrophied. But it also means that it forces you to strengthen those critical muscle groups.
Initially the arches of my feet and my achilles tendon had to work a lot harder on runs, but after a few weeks of training, my muscles seem to have adjusted and strengthened, and my gait has definitely improved.
8. There are so many different models
I bought the Bikala LS as they seemed to me the best choice for those who predominantly run on roads, however, there are many different models aimed at a variety of different sports, needs, mileage etc.
The only negative of FiveFingers I can see is that they are terrible for people with webbed feet.
Seriously though, if you are a runner, I think the FiveFingers merit serious consideration, particularly if you, like me, have been prone to injuries and tried everything else. If you are still not convinced, I would urge you to read Born to Run or Barefoot Running Step by Step.