This week – General runs, Eastleigh parkrun and minimalist running

Have had a few good runs this week. The first on Monday was a long slow run; 8.75 miles. Followed that with 6 miles on Wednesday and then a short run (2 miles) on Friday in preparation for today’s Eastleigh parkrun.

Have worn my Vibram FiveFingers all week during my runs. Absolutely no side effects at all (e.g. no blisters, calf ache etc).

Vibram FiveFinger KSOs

Vibram FiveFinger KSOs

For the Friday and today’s run, I was using the latest Runkeeper Pro beta. A few new features although no necessarily the ones I’d been hoping for. Maybe next time. It’s clear that the main focus in this release has been ensuring compatibility with iOS4 which is due to be available on Monday (21st June). The other features are certainly addressing some of the user’s wanted features but they aren’t killer features.

Today’s parkrun at Eastleigh was good. Just shy of 100 participants took part.

Eastleigh parkrun start line

Eastleigh parkrun start line

I’d set myself the target of completing the 5K in 26 minutes (target pace 08:22 mins/mile) and with the help of Runkeeper, managed to keep to this target for the whole race. I did have some slow sections during the latter 2.5K but managed to accelerate towards the end to finish in 25:57. 3 seconds ahead of target. A new PB. That means an improvement of WAVA age grading performance of almost 2%. Very pleased with that. I do think that I can shave 30-40 seconds more off which would be great.

If I were able to get to 25:00, that’d mean a 4h marathon time estimate. That would be amaizng!

In terms of my ‘minimalist’ running, I feel as if my form is getting better and better.

Am almost finishing reading Chris McDougall’s ‘Born To Run’ which makes a strong argument for ‘barefoot’ running. I personally don’t think things are quite so black and white in the ongoing debate between shod or unshod running.

Chris McDougall - Born to Run

Chris McDougall - Born to Run

In my view, heel striking is not good as I believe that it can lead to injury (e.g. ankle, knee, shin injuries). Normal running shoes encourage heel striking due to their thick, padded heel as landing on the heel with this ‘protection’ makes the landing feel more comfortable. However, that ‘protection’ simply isn’t protection enough.

Running barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes such as Vibram FiveFingers isn’t necessarily the answer to injury-free running. It/they simply act as a ‘tool’ to encourage running with a better form. Running in ‘normal’ running shoes doesn’t prevent you running with a good form, it just makes running with a bad form feel better than it would without all the padding and support the shoes provides.

Barefoot or minimalist shoes make you run better almost organically. You can’t (or wouldn’t want to!) heel strike simply due to the fact that it hurts. You have to land on midfoot (or forefoot) instead. Your cadence naturally increases and your steps are lighter. Anything else hurts.

Prior to changing my running form (with the help of Vibram FiveFingers), when running in normal running shoes, I could feel every thud of the heel as it hit the floor reverberate through my body. On some days, especially when tired, the ‘thud’ gave me a headache and knee pain was an inevitable consequence. By changing form, none of these issues occur.

Could I have changed my form without Vibram FiveFingers? Most defintely. In fact, having read about Chi Running I thought I was improving my form. However, I realised I was fooling myself when I wore the VFFs and realised I’d still been heel striking.

Interestingly, in the last couple of runs I’ve been using a metronome track with Runkeeper whilst running. The track plays a tick sound at 180bpm and without really releasing it, I was already running at that cadence.

In summary, I’d say that many recreational runners can improve their running and reduce the chance of injury by focusing on improving their form. It’s not necessary to ditch your normal running shoes to do this but minimalist shoes act as a great tool to naturally adopt the right form.

Next run Monday 9 miles slow.

ALERT – Fake Vibram FiveFingers and where to buy FiveFingers in the UK!

Blog post updated 30 June 2010

As a newcomer to the joys of ‘barefoot’ running, I’m interested to see which UK ecommerce websites are stocking this must-have product. I’m sure I’m not the only one.

This blog post provides details of how to spot fake or counterfeit Vibram FiveFingers and where to buy legitimate Five Finger products in the UK.

There are two main issues you may encounter when trying to buy Vibram FiveFingers (or Five Fingers) in the UK:

  • stock may not be available in the size you want (check the sizing video for important information)
  • the European Vibram site doesn’t make purchasing very easy
  • the Vibram site doesn’t clearly identify stockists outside the US

However, if you do a search in Google, you’ll find many, many sites selling (what appear to be) Vibram FiveFinger (VFF) products.

The trouble is that many of those sites are selling fakes/counterfeits whose sole intention is to fleece you (and potentially steal your credit card details).

You have been warned.

How to avoid fake or counterfeit Vibram FiveFingers

Do you want to avoid being scammed? If so, take a look at these pages:

In summary, a site is likely to be the supplier of fake products if:

  • the URL contains the phrase ‘vibram’ or ‘fivefingers’ (apart from http://www.vibramfivefingers.com!)
  • the retailer provides no contact information
  • the colours or materials don’t match the ranges shown on the official VFF website
  • 20% or larger discounts are offered
  • product photography includes packaging (VFF don’t provide those photographs)
  • fabrics and materials look different from the range shown on the VibramFiveFingers.com website
  • the site has poorly written product descriptions or low-res product images

Also, many of the products listed on eBay as Vibram Five Finger products are fake or counterfeit. My recommendation is DO NOT purchase VFF products from eBay. Period.

Here are some of the sites listed in Google’s UK results which are believed to offer fake or counterfeit VibramFiveFingers (please note that many of these use sponsored ads to try to appear more credible):

  • buyfivefingers[dot]com
  • vibram-fivefingers[dot]net
  • vibramfingershoes[dot]com
  • vibramfivefingersuk[dot]com
  • fivefingersbuy[dot]com
  • shoesfivefingers[dot]com
  • vibramfivefingersbuy[dot]com
  • vibramwebsite[dot]com
  • sellvibramshoes[dot]net
  • TradeTang[dot]com/FiveFingers
  • vibram-shop[dot]info
  • highvibram[dot]com

Where to buy Vibram FiveFingers in the UK:

There are several UK sites selling real Vibram Five Finger products. They include:

For US visitors, please check out the following legitimate sellers of Vibram FiveFinger products:

However, prior to purchase, please ensure that you’re happy that the website you purchase from is legitimate.

More ‘barefoot’ running (with some VFF advice)

My last two runs (Monday and today) have been ‘barefoot’ (e.g. not actually barefoot but in my Vibram FiveFinger KSOs).

Following the blood blisters I got from the Eastleigh parkrun on Saturday, I decided to give my big toes extra protection from rubbing by covering them in stretch fabric strapping. It seems to have done the trick in that the blisters have got no worse and in fact seem to be healing ok.

I really think I’ve found the right form now. I read somewhere that it should feel as if you’re running across hot coals and that’s the feeling I’ve been getting.

Had a friend of a friend interested in VFFs and sent her some advice. I’ve copied it below in the hope it’ll help others:

Interested to hear that you’re interested in VFFs. I was lucky enough to win some KSOs a month or so ago and have been using mine for a couple of weeks.

Have to say that they are quite different to the running shoes I’ve been using. Not only in looks (they look very odd with the toes!) but also the fact that they have so little padding underfoot.

I’ve read quite a lot about barefoot running with and without ‘shoes’ and it’s clear to me that there are benefits of using some of the techniques that barefoot runners employ. In fact, when running barefoot or in minimalist running shoes like the VFFs, you almost automatically adopt a ‘better’ running form (shorter stride, landing on mid/forefoot rather than heel, faster cadence/turnover, light landings). In fact, you feel as if you’re using a technique that you’d use if you were running over hot coals. Anyone that’s pro-barefoot will say that today’s running shoes encourage heel striking and that can lead to injury.

As I say, I’ve been running with VFFs now for a couple of weeks. There’s lots of advice to say that you should transition slowly and I agree wholeheartedly. I ran 1 – 2 miles for each of my first 3 runs. I then did a 5 mile run and ended up with a big blister on one heel. At that point, I decided to avoid getting more blisters I’d invest in some toe socks (Injinji do some which are available from various places including LoveThoseShoes.com). That stops any rubbing (as there’s no/little padding in the VFFs, there’s plenty of opportunity to get sore spots, hot spots and blisters).

The other downside of the new running form is achy calf muscles. Even after only running in them for 10 minutes, my calf muscles screamed for a day after. It’s amazing how a relatively insignificant change in where you land on your foot can use different muscles. After about 4 – 5 runs and I’m now not getting any pain.

One thing I’ve noticed is that when I revert back to my normal running shoes (for a run over 5 miles for example), I am able to adopt the ‘improved’ running form and don’t land on my heel. When I do, it’s amazing just how comfortable all that padding feels though!

Prior to using the VFFs, I’d upped my weekly mileage and was starting to get achy knees. So much so that I had to resort to Ibuprofen before going out for a run. However, since transitioning to VFFS, I’ve not had any knee pain at all! It’s almost magical!

So, would I recommend VFFs. Yes, definitely! You’ll get some strange looks. That doesn’t bother me. You’ll hopefully not get any injuries (especially if you transition slowly) or at least should get fewer injuries. You may get some blisters, sore spots etc so be aware of that. Your feet may harden a little too (as they’re not enclosed in lots of cushioning).

Some final bits of advice is related to purchasing them and sizing. There’s a massive problem at the moment with fakes and fake sites selling them. There are some issue with stock and there are few approved retailers in the UK. http://www.LoveThoseShoes.com, http://www.purefootwear.co.uk are definitely legitimate. Anyone offering 40+% off or cheap Vibrams are fake.

In terms of sizing, make sure you following the sizing guide on the Vibram FiveFingers website or the YouTube video at http://www.youtube.com/vibram5fingers#p/a/u/0/Tuuzpz7q0LU

Hope that helps! Feel free to ask me any other questions!

Next run is Friday for a 4 mile easy run.

Last couple of runs

Have had a pretty good couple of days running. 🙂

Friday’s run was 5 miles. Although I wa really tempted to use my Vibrams Fivefingers, I knew I’d end up taking a backward step in going the whole distance in them. I therefore decided to use my Saucony running shoes instead. It was the right decision.

During the run, I had a good midfoot strike and running form. It’s clear that transitioning to ‘barefoot’ running is improving my form. Very little in the way of heel striking and little pain (knee or calf) post run. I did feel a hotspot on my right big toe but this didn’t seem to amount to anything.

Saturday’s run was my 2nd parkrun at Lakeside, Eastleigh. It was my first race in my VFFs and it went pretty well. It was pretty warm though and that’s a strength zapper. Felt comfortable during the first lap 2.5K) and easily kept a food running form. For the 2nd lap, I slowed a little at first and started to feel hot spots on both big toes.

For the last 1.5K, I upped the pace gain and made it round in just under 28 minutes. Was hoping this was enough for a PB but unfortunately I missed that my 8 or 9 seconds. Ah well, there’s always next time!

The hot spots turned into blisters (actually blood blisters). Ouch! Hopefully, they won’t return for future runs.

Next run Monday.

Another ‘barefoot’ run

I’m now into week 2 of using my Vibram FiveFinger KSOs. The furthest I’ve run in them is 5 miles. That really was too long and I ended up with rubbed areas on both feet and a large blister on the heel of my left foot! Transitioning slowly is definitely the only way to get used to VFFs and enjoy the experience. After overdoing it, after each run, I’ve had sore calf muscles. Walking stairs has been particularly painful for a day or so after.

However, today, I felt as if things were improving. Firstly, I bought some Injinji Performance Micro toe socks and tried them out for the first time. These wick moisture away from the foot and therefore reduce the likelihood of blisters. Fortunately, I’d had a few days out of the VFFs so the blister on my left heel had completely healed prior to today’s run so that was hopefully not going to return!

The socks feel comfortable if a little oversized. I’m sure they’ll shrink a little over time and become a little more snug.

Today’s run was 3 miles (as per my half marathon schedule). I decided to do the whole run ‘barefoot’. Also had some new music to listen to! Made a change from listening to the same old tunes every run!

Overall, the run went well. Found that I found the right form very quickly (landing on forefoot with knees slightly bent, quick turnover and short stride) and found it pretty easy to stick with it. No heel strikes at all and minimal pain of any type since completing the run. Even my calves aren’t screaming!! One thing I couldn’t keep up was bringing the foot back to almost ‘kick butt’. Will keep working at that though.

Next run Friday.

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!