I think it may be time we got this out of the way: I run in barefoot shoes. This is probably merely a curiosity to those who don’t run, but for runners it can be a controversy. All I know is that I’m sold. I can’t go back to normal shoes. Here’s the story: Micah and I got the Vibram FiveFingers Classics almost a year ago. I had a severe case of pregnancy at the time and was a little bit nervous about switching things up when my center of gravity was still in flux. But Micah couldn’t wait another second and they were buy-one-get-one half off. So we couldn’t pass them up. The plan was to “ease” into running in them. You know, take them out for a mile, see how they felt, then maybe go two miles the next time, then three, until our feet were “adjusted.” Ha. We took them out for a two-miler the first time and somehow couldn’t put on normal running shoes after that.
For the uninitiated, the Vibrams are meant to give you the feel of running barefoot while still protecting you from rocks, glass, thorns, etc. They are essentially callouses that you put on your feet. The idea is that your foot knows how to run and is made to support your weight and all the activities that are part of being human. Barefoot enthusiasts say that normal running shoes undermine your foot’s structural integrity and prevent your feet from being as strong as they could be. Normal shoes also alter your stride in a way that makes you more vulnerable to injuries. Apparently, even with all of the advancements in running shoe technology, injury rates for runners have not improved. However, studies about barefoot running are, I believe, mostly anecdotal. You can count my husband among the anecdotes. Before we got the shoes, Micah would get pain and tightness in the backs of his legs, but not any more. His feet and legs were ready for the barefoot experience and his pain is gone.
I’ve had a bit of a rougher time with it. Initially, I had pain on the top of my feet, in the middle near where my toes connect. When we’d start a run, it would hurt. The farther into the run we got, the less it hurt. By the end of the run, I was fine. But the next day, it would hurt. I kept at it through the rest of the pregnancy, thinking that it was just the muscles, ligaments, tendons, whatever being strengthened and eventually it would get better. And it did, but only after I birthed Manchild 2 and started running again and making a concerted effort to change my stride from the heel strike to a fore-foot or mid-foot strike.
It took a week or so, but I no longer had any pain (but, oy! did my calves get sore — the hurt-so-good kind of sore). On top of that, I have started to run faster than I ever have before. I’m not ready to credit that entirely to the FiveFingers, but I do think they have helped. And then there is the issue of my enjoyment level. I really like running in them. I really like running more than I ever have before, which I do credit to them. It’s easier for me to get out the door when I’m wearing them. I have no idea. Maybe it’s because the hardest part of getting out is lacing up your shoes, and these don’t have any laces.
Of course it isn’t all roses and sunshine. My feet are still sensitive enough that if I step on a sharp pebble it can be pretty painful, and last week I got my first thorn in my toe. And I’ve had a few hot spots and a few blisters, mostly on the tips of my toes. But I love the feeling of my feet being free and cool and light. I love that they don’t cost as much as the normal running shoes that I used to have. I love that you can wear them until they are in shreds without worrying about the padding wearing down. The benefits definitely outweigh the costs as far as I’m concerned.
So there you have it. Take it or leave it.