Last July I came home with a pair of Vibram Five Fingers. You can read all about that fun experience. I had no idea then that it would turn into such a love affair and that we’d be celebrating our 8 month anniversary today.
If you’re contemplating packing up your pride to run in shoes that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, will stop to ask you about, read on. Maybe my experience can help you. If you pick your running shoes to match your running clothes and shop at J Crew and Banana Republic, well, might not be for you.
You know how relationships are supposed to have five stages: the honeymoon, the disillusionment, the power struggle, the stability, and the commitment phase? Well, running in Vibrams has been exactly like that, but in reverse.
The Commitment Phase
When I bought my VFFs, I had just run two 1:54 half marathons and was feeling really fit. I was training towards a 1:45 and the furthest thing from my mind was starting over. But I knew it was just a matter of time before my body started grumbling. So my transition plan was to run a mile a few times a week in my VFFs, then switch back to my normal shoes for the remainder of my run. Then I could keep up my mileage and fitness.
Every time I switched back to “normal” shoes my shins and knees complained pretty loudly. After only two days my transition plan instead became to never run in “shoes” again. For the next few weeks I went from running 20+ miles per week to 3.
The Stability Phase
I resigned myself to running around the block. And I was running a 12 min/mile pace. But I kept plodding along with a smile on my face and in just a few months time I was back to 6 mile long runs and 12-15 miles per week. Most importantly, my body felt great! My shins, knees, and hips were happy to be running. My feet got stronger. My calves definitely got stronger. It was quite an interesting transformation.
The Power Struggle Phase
I’m now frustrated with running – I want to race again! How about a 5k? That’s short… I can run fast again. I NEED to run fast again. These shoes weigh 2 oz, I must be fast! I’m sure I can sign up for a bunch of races and match or beat my old times with just four months in the Vibrams. Maybe I can eek out a 10 mile run this weekend. These 5′ers are killing me!
The Disillusionment Stage
I enter the Jingle Bell 5k dash in December to practice some speed work. I’m so excited for my first VFF 5k!
It goes badly. Badly is a understatement. Halfway through my calves were literally screaming and my feet hurt. I ran a disappointing 28 min race and could barely walk the next day. I threw my Vibrams out the window of my Jeep. I hated them. I wanted to go back to my old shoes that carried me to lots of fast races. What was I thinking? People can’t run in these things!
The Romance Stage
Ok, maybe I over-reacted. You can’t just jump into a 5k race after running 12-min miles for months and expect to run your old pace. Maybe some people can, but definitely not me. I drove back and begrudgingly picked my Vibrams off the road. I just needed to understand them more. I felt guilty.
All they’re doing is telling me exactly how far and how fast I can run. They’re not letting me get away with over-doing it or not listening to my body. And despite the setback, I’m running easier and pain free. I simply need patience.
Fast forward a few months…
With 8 months of solid running, a handful of 8-9 mile runs under my belt, and one 11-miler two weeks before, I run the Inaugural Pasadena Rock n Roll half marathon on February 19th in a shocking 1:59. I have a fantastic race and most importantly, have no pain or discomfort at all. It’s unbelievable! I’m not even sore the next day, which is a first for me.
And the moral of the story is…
We all get a bit too buried in technology and information. I’m a technologist, I know. We can’t run without our watches telling us what pace we’re going, what heart rate zone we’re in, what threshold we’re doing, etc. We read reviews endlessly looking for the “perfect” solution. I spent hours researching the pros and cons of Vibrams. I had VFF evangelists tell me they’re the only way to run. I had shod runners tell me Vibrams are a one-way ticket to complete foot destruction. At the end of the day I realized that the only thing that matters is how I feel. And in these shoes, I feel amazing. I can run without pain. I feel like I’m on wheels! And when I go too far or go too fast, I know it.
So far my only problem has been keeping my feet warm enough for longer training runs in cold, wet weather. In case you hadn’t heard, it does get chilly and damp during Seattle winters. I started wearing Injinji socks, but they only help for a few miles and 6-7 seems to be my limit. I heard rumors that Vibram is engineering some type of warm, waterproof shoe. I can’t wait!
As far as sage VFF advice goes, I’d say if you’re contemplating giving them a try, do it! Just ease into them and take it easy. You’re using lots of new muscles! And most importantly, listen to your body. I’m not 100% sure they work for everyone and I’m far from a VFF evangelist, but so far they’ve allowed me to run injury free and I haven’t been able to say that at any time in my life. Every time I run in them I’m shocked how amazing they feel, how much fun it is to feel the ground, and how running, even on concrete, feels so much better than in “normal” shoes. They’ve completely transformed my whole running experience! And yes, you really can run a completely pain-free half marathon in them!
So happy 8-month anniversary Vibram! And here’s to many more!