(This was begun several weeks ago, just before the swine flu dropped into our house like a quiet bomb. That is why there is some distance between the first and second article.)
In this, the second installment of Get Your Kicks, or whatever it is that we call this thing, where I tell you what you should be wearing on your feet, we discuss the Vibram Five Fingers. Discuss isn’t the correct word, obviously, because so far this is pretty much a monologue. But play along with me and we’ll see where this goes.
Last time, I mentioned that the Brooks Launch was arguably the shoe of the year. In terms of sales at Rogue Equipment, yes, the Launch is currently number one. But in overall buzz and hype, and certainly in questions asked, the Five Fingers probably wins out. Also in sarcastic comments. And raised eyebrows.
The Five Fingers was developed in Italy five or six years ago. Many of you will know Vibram as the maker of the outsoles of your hiking boots or casual shoes. The name Five Fingers, I’ve been told, comes from the Italian for “five toes” which is the same as for “five fingers.”
They’re the weird, ballet slipper looking shoes with individual pockets for each toe that you see around here and there. It seems that I always see someone wearing them in Whole Foods. Just the other day, I counted nine people wearing them on the Lady Bird Lake trail. Nine. Not including myself. So, ten, at least.
The idea behind the VFF is that it brings you as close to being barefoot as you can be, bringing you closer to a natural mechanical and neuromuscular state while running, without actually screwing up the new pedi. The science behind it does hold water, despite everything we’ve been told regarding shoes and support/stability/cushioning for the last 20+ years.
Initially, just getting the things on your feet takes some effort. The smaller toes don’t want to get aligned properly and you have to fuss and fiddle for a minute or so to get all the toes placed in the correct pockets. But once they’re on right, and after a moment or so of the unusual sensation of having something between your toes, there is the feeling that your doing something wrong or sinister or (even better) childlike.
The first few days of wearing them, my feet and legs were tired. Really, really tired. Tired like I just stood in line for eight hours for Texxas Jam tickets. Not nearly as bad as the post-marathon feeling, but maybe an untrained half marathon feeling. But once you adapt to them, the sense of freedom and play is unmistakeable.
I would recommend for most that if you are going to run in them—and you should, if only for a mile or two, just for the experience—that you ease into them, let your body rewire and recalibrate, rather than just put them on and knock out ten kilometers or whatever. The first time I ran in them, I ran maybe a mile, maybe a bit less. After about thirty seconds, my body had mechanically adapted—my stride was shorter, my steps lighter, I stood much more upright. But the thing I noticed greater than anything was that I wanted to keep running, I wanted to run more. So I only ran a mile or so the first few times, because I’m older and wiser and am thankful to be able to run, and I certainly didn’t want to screw that up. Soon I was doing easy thirty minute runs two or three times per week, with no real discomfort. After one of the thirty minute runs, I did notice that the tips of my toes had been sandpapered nicely, and were quite tender. But by the time I put them on again a few days later, I’d forgot that already. And now I wear the Injinji socks with them, so I should keep most of my skin.
And so, pre-swine, I was running two to three times per week, very easy, for an hour at a time. Two things come to mind when I wear them: One, that I want to run further and faster than I probably should; and, two, that the day after I wear them, I notice that my lower legs—calves, ankles, arches—feel really strong, snappy, almost refreshed. And near the end of each run in the VFF, I’d noticed that I was still as upright and relaxed as I was in the first ten minutes.
Honestly, if you can get beyond the look, I see no real reason why you shouldn’t try them…if only for the experience. The benefits you receive are both instant and long term—a sense of childlike freedom and play and the manifest strengthening of the body from being closer to a natural state while in motion. Probably most people would only wear them around as a casual shoe, since the feeling of running barefoot is antithetical to everything we’ve learned up until now, but even then, likely you’ll notice how much stronger your legs feel, albeit with a more subtle learning curve.
Very, very few things in running shoes excite me. I am old and jaded. But the Vibram Five Fingers are so out there, so crazy, so unusual…they…just…might…work.