Running ‘barefoot’ with Vibram FiveFingers – First experiences

A few weeks ago, I was lucky enough to win some Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs). Shortly after, they arrived. I wasn’t sure which model I’d won but was pleased to see that they were black KSOs (KSO = Keep Stuff Out).

I’ve been interested in ‘barefoot’ running for a little while after having read about Chi running and how running barefoot could lead to better running technique and, more importantly to me, less injuries.

Since starting running, I’ve had a few injuries which have left me out of action (for running at least!) for a week at a time. Firstly, there was a sore ankle and then more recently a sore knee.

There is a growing body of research that points the finger at modern running shoes as being one of the main causes of running injuries. Most injuries are caused by heel striking (hitting the ground with the heel first) which causes the load to be passed straight back up the leg causing ankle and knee problems.

Barefoot running requires a different running form whereby the runner lands on the balls of the foot with a forefoot or midfoot strike rather than a heel strike.

There are a few ways you can run barefoot. The first is to go completely unshod. However, this requires a great deal of nerve and will most likely result in very sore feet (mostly due to debris in the runner’s path). The alternate approach is to use miminalist running shoes. There are a number of different manufacturers producing these; notably Vibram (pronounced Vee-brum) and Nike with their Free range.

In the UK, Vibrams are pretty difficult to get hold of and, in fact, this is the same across most of the world. Much of the recent press coverage has lead to a worldwide shortage and it would appear that Vibram have struggled to meet demand.

According to lots of useful websites and articles, you should transition slowly between running with normal running shoes and either going barefoot or with minimalist shoes. Many recommend only running for 5 – 10 minutes per session for the first week and gradually building up. Even with this gradual transition, tales are very sore calf muscles are plenty.

With this knowledge in mind, on Wednesday, I donned my new KSOs and headed out for a 10 minute run. I was careful to try and land with the fore/mid foot and this worked well for about 5 – 8 minutes. Then, one of my heels started dropping. The impact was clear and acted as a good reminder to concentrate on the foot landing. I did find it easier to fore/mid-foot land on my right leg rather than my left. I’m not sure whether that’s because that’s my dominant leg or whether my sore right knee and the desire to not make it worse made me subconsciously avoid landing on my heel.

I ran for another 5 – 7 minutes and then decided to swap back to my Saucony running shoes. As soon as I put them on, they felt really comfortable. However, as I started to run, I could feel that I was really heel striking in them.

Soon after completing the run, I started to feel my calf muscles tighten and get sore. No matter how much I tried to stretch them, the pain didn’t subside. OUCH!! The good news was that the knee pain I’d suffered in previous runs really didn’t seem too bad. Certainly not as bad as it had been after previous recent runs.

Undetered, I decided that I’d try the VFFs again this morning. I had every intention of running for 10-15 minutes and then changing into my running shoes. However, that was a bit of a faff so I ran and ran and ran. 5 miles in fact. Again I noticed that after a couple of miles, I struggled to always land on the fore/mid-foot. So as to not overdo it, I interspersed running and brief walk ‘breaks’. I was pleased to feel no knee pain at all during the run. However, by the end of the run, it did feel a ‘heat’ spot under my left heel and also some rubbing spots on the inside of each foot where the KSO’s strap attaches to the side of the shoe.

In terms of calf soreness, it’s no worse than after the short run on Wednesday which is a good sign. It’s clear there’ll be a blister on my left heel before very long and a couple of layers of skin have been rubbed off my right foot in one spot. Will use a plaster to prevent that running in future.

Have a long run scheduled for Monday. Will most likely stick with running shoes for that run but try to take the VFFs out on Sunday to get my feel (and legs) more used to them. Plan to wear them for the Eastleigh 5K ‘parkrun’ on June 5th. Not sure I’ll get a PB but should be an interesting run!

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