Going the distance with Vibrams.
August 21, 2009 5:15 AM   Subscribe

Are Vibram Fivefingers up to the task of handling longer, half-marathon-length runs?

In recent months, I've been running in a pair of Nike Free 5.0s, a running shoe with minimal padding. I'm wondering if it's time to take the plunge into the barefoot running experience of Vibram Fivefingers.

I'm well aware that upgrading to VFFs places certain demands on the newbie. I'll start with distances of 1 mile or less, and slowly work up from there. Ideally, however, I'd like to ramp up to 13 miles in a month or two, and use the VFFs as my primary running shoe.

Has anybody tried VFFs for longer distances, such as the half-marathon length of 13 miles? Please give me your from-the-front-lines report on injuries and aches and pains (or lack thereof).
posted by Gordion Knott to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
50-mile ultra completed in VFFs

The Nike Free isn't as minimal as you'd think so the switch may be a bit jarring. If you land heel-toe, that will change very, very fast.
posted by Loto at 5:51 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I am not a runner, but I have taken extensive hikes in my VFFs, including one 8 mile trek through Queens on various debris strewn concrete and asphalt surfaces. The VFFs stood up to it just fine, although I had to shake out pebbles a few times.

You'll definitely need to train your body for running in them though.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:06 AM on August 21, 2009

The folks over at MarksDailyApple dot com are huge proponents of VFFs and there are lots of people over there on the forums that could give you personal experience.
posted by CathyG at 6:22 AM on August 21, 2009

I have VFFs and enjoy them for walking and cycling around the city and on trails. The sole is very durable, and they'll hold up for a long time even on concrete and gravel. They are completely unpadded and you must use a barefoot gait whether walking or running.
posted by seanmpuckett at 6:26 AM on August 21, 2009

Early into acclimating myself to the VFFs, I walked ~8 miles on pavement. It was pretty rough, but not unbearable. These days, while I don't think I've done that much distance on pavement in one stretch, I don't think I'd mind doing it -- my feet have HTFU'd.
posted by wrok at 6:42 AM on August 21, 2009

The shoes are certainly up to it. You may or may not be. I've run a 100 miler that "Barefoot" Ted also ran. He ran 80% of it barefoot, on paved road shoulder. He put on his VFFs late in the race. So it's totally doable.
posted by OmieWise at 6:48 AM on August 21, 2009

Oh, here is a link on his blog.
posted by OmieWise at 6:48 AM on August 21, 2009

I picked up my VFFs about a month and a half ago; I'm currently at the 8-mile mark for running in VFFs, and I have every intention of finishing my first half marathon in them come October. One quick suggestion I have, though, is that if you don't already have socks for your shoes, you should really look into them. For me, it cuts down pretty significantly on blistering, and makes the shoes a joy to run in!

So, to answer your question, yes, it's totally doable. Good luck with your half marathon!
posted by DiamondGFX at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2009

I should note that I did have a few problems with pains on my right foot (and a particularly nasty blister up near my toes in the center of my foot, mostly from running more forward). I wouldn't suggest jumping large amounts of distance at a time; if you're gradual with things, you'll be fine.

I experienced all sorts of "growing pains" since the switch; sometimes in my calves, but mostly in my feet. That being said, my long battle with shin splints is over (my form is WAY better after just a month or so of running in VFFs), and my knee has stopped hurting.
posted by DiamondGFX at 7:35 AM on August 21, 2009

The transition from Free 5.0s to VFFs is pretty shocking at first. My calves got tore up the first time I took my VFFs out for a short run. The aching started a day after the run and stayed for a couple days. Start slow, but I'm sure you could easily do a half marathon in them once you've acclimatized.
posted by elsietheeel at 7:40 AM on August 21, 2009

I run 6-10 miles pretty regularly in my VFFs.

Be aware that VFFs will not solve all of your running problems or make running easier.

You said that you are going to take it slow, but take it really slow. Running in VFFs can bruise your feet and it's terrible to run in shoes or in VFFs with bruised feet. I would suggest just walking around the in the VFFs or buying some FeelMax shoes and walking around in them for a week or two. Then run a half mile out of a 5 mile run in VFFs. Next run if you feel good do a little more in the VFFs. Give yourself a month or so to switch over.

Good Stuff:
  • After transitioning to VFFs my shin splints almost never hurt.
  • My hips and ankles hurt less throughout a run in the VFFs.
Bad Stuff:
  • I get blisters and hot-spots pretty regularly in my VFFs. I put some athletic tape on the old blisters and hot-spots to help a little bit. Make sure not to use lots of tape or tape super tight or you will end up running funny.
  • My calves get sore and tight in a way that they didn't running in regular shoes.
  • My feet hurt if I do an entire run on hard packed dirt, pavement, concrete, brick, etc. Especially when you are starting out run on grass or other soft ground. I try to run on the softest surface that is available (grass>dirt>asphalt>concrete).
  • If you step in a very shallow puddle or wet ground or grass your feet get wet. The shoes do dry quickly though.

posted by gregr at 9:07 AM on August 21, 2009

Oh, also VFFs are terrible on pine straw or loose dry leaves. They are pretty slippery.
posted by gregr at 9:10 AM on August 21, 2009

I've been running in VFFs for a few months. My normal run is about four miles, and the farthest I've gone at once in them was eight miles. The first three or four runs, I had serious calf soreness for the next few days, but that's pretty much gone now. Start shorter and slower than you think you need to, and you'll probably be fine. My only other problem with them is the ends of my toes get a little sore right after a run. But even that's really nothing worth even mentioning, particularly -- I just wish the toes were a little smoother inside.

I never had any problems that led me to barefoot running, I was just curious. The only thing I had was occasional sore knees if I sat down for too long at a stretch, and that actually seems to have gone away. So it either made no difference or a slight improvement.

Also, they're a blast to sprint in. I don't know if it's the lightness or just how tightly they fit your feet, but kicking into a full-out sprint in the things makes me feel like Scooby-Doo with rotating blurry legs that don't touch the ground. They've actually led me to integrate a lot more interval sprinting in my distance runs, because it's too much fun to resist.
posted by rusty at 11:41 AM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm not a runner, so YMMV...ha...ha...(has no one made that joke yet?), but I love my five fingers, wear them everywhere, and they have held up better than any expectation I ever had. Highly recommended.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:06 PM on August 21, 2009

echoing previous posters: you're feet will be the issue, not the shoes. VFF are coming out with a tougher model (see second description) if you're worried about shoe wear, but your feet will need tons of training.
posted by markovitch at 8:22 PM on August 21, 2009

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