Barefoot Running
Experiment with Vibrams

There is a thought in some running circles that modern trainers are no good for our feet, and that the trainer is the source of all running injuries. To overcome this the manufacturers are developing 'Barefoot' trainers. These are trainers with the minimal cushioning and support to try to return our feet and running style back to 'as nature intended'. The most striking of these shoes are the Vibram Five Fingers range of shoes. These are basically gloves for the feet with toe pockets, a thin rubber sole and a mesh upper - nothing complicated there. The sole is to stop glass cutting the feet. There are other 'minimalist' shoes but these are styled more like trainers.

I have been curious about these since I first saw them and eventually bought a pair and this page is what I have found out from wearing them.

The first thing to note is that all the reviews I found about them are very positive, no one finds problems with the shoes. This is unusual - in normal running shoes some people will love a brand and model, others will hate them and much prefer another make or model. For all the reviewers to love a shoe is unusual.... could Vibram have a very active marketing department just writing reviews online?

Anyway I am skeptical as to the claims and this is why I wrote this, as a log to show how I found them. My goal for using these trainers initially is to race a 5km race


So what do people say?
Well the thing that stands out most is that you should start of with running short distances - a fraction of your normal training distance in them (the Vibram website says this too), this is to allow your muscles to strengthen after being 'under developed' with wearing other trainers, and also if you have the wrong kind of feet: "If you have an extremely flat foot, you will need to work into wearing your FiveFingers® gradually, as your muscles will need time to adapt and strengthen". Second quote from them "As with any new sport or activity, Vibram recommends you consult your physician or a medical professional to see if ChiRunning or Pose Method running in Vibram® FiveFingers® is right for you. It may not be appropriate for people with severe pronation or supronation" - good advice to see your doctor, not so sure then if you overpronate.

Vibram FAQ section of their website:
MY FEET HURT AFTER WEARING VIBRAM® FIVEFINGERS®. IS THIS NORMAL? A minor adjustment period is normal while you are breaking in your feet. This should disappear after a week or two of use. Remember to break your feet in gradually to minimize discomfort.
I WAS TOLD I WAS A PRONATOR. I WAS ALSO TOLD BY SOME EXPERTS TO BUY CERTAIN TYPES OF SHOES FOR MOTION CONTROL. CAN VIBRAM® FIVEFINGERS® HELP ME OR SHOULD I STEER AWAY FROM THEM? For some pronators (people whose feet tend to flatten during full weight–bearing exercise) Vibram® FiveFingers® will be too much of an abrupt change in biomechanics. We always recommend what we call a micro progression into FiveFingers®. The too–much–too–soon phenomenon can be a problem for anyone's foot. In the case of heavy pronators, FiveFingers® might not be a wise choice for weight–bearing activities. Pronators will definitely benefit from some focused rehabilitation and foot–specific exercises before wearing any minimalist footwear

Hmmm so take it slowly the manufacturer is saying, otherwise it will hurt you

Reading the reviews suggest that once your feet are strong, over time these trainers are good at preventing muscle injuries... but they ignore bone injuries such as stress fractures. OK man was meant to run without trainers of - but he was also meant to run of softer ground that concrete or tarmc (asphalt) - add cushioning to the shoes to let them protect the feet from modern roads.

Last thing I have read is that they are not really good for longer distances such as the marathon


With this in mind I bought a pair of Vibram, bright orange to give them a go. I was recovering from a calf strain so any additional damages should have shown up quickly with the damaged and weak muscle. I was also building up for a marathon 6 weeks later

Phase 1
This is where I try the trainers out, have a few easy runs in them and learn how they work
Typically my runs were a warm up in standard trainers, then 2 or 3 mile in the vibrams, change back to trainers and run home

What did I find
I was half expecting to be crippled after the first run over soft mountain bike trails but was OK. My plan is to not run on consecutive days in them
Small rocks and large stones are painful to stand on - never noticed that with other trainers Initially concentrating hard where my feet are landing rather than my running style because of rocks Mine (orange Trek Sport) are quite grippy in drier mud but lack the grip of trail shoes in the wet stuff. Getting the trainers on initially are interesting - getting the toes lined up and they are always too loose when I start running - but the velcro strap makes it easy to tighten quickly. They feel odd between the toes Initially runs with these are slower than an equivalent in normal trainers The day after the first few runs my heels felt bruised showing the impact they actually take A couple of runs and my calf muscles felt tighter than I would expect Grass gets caught between the toes - so I end up with a tree in my feet when I get home

So far with the first phase there is no injury jumping out at me but I can't say whether this was to do with the shoes or my normal state of affairs - I don't get injured much

Phase 1 ended with a 10 mile long run which there were no particular bad points. The toes were tired at the end, and the heals felt a bit bruised. This run was a couple of minutes a mile slower than a normal longer so I am not sure whether I would only have had a couple of pains if I was going faster.

Between phase 1 and phase 2 I took a break from the Vibrams for a few reasons, one was races. I got three 10k PB's within a few weeks - not sure why, could this be attributed to the vibram training or the club training sessions? I don't know. Vibrams might strengthen the leg muscles allowing me to push off harder and then go faster, and they might have changed my running style in subtle ways for me to be more efficient, but I don't know that


Phase 2
This is where I am starting to wear the shoes more regularly, every other day on my 2 to 6 mile run home from work. Starting phase 2 with no injuries and well refreshed after a drop in training but a few weeks of hard races and a couple of PB's

Route is along pavements which should make for faster running, so far normal trainers allow me to go faster (perhaps cushioning springing energy back to my legs? Vibrams leave your feet stopping dead on the ground at the moment