Running in Vibram FiveFingers
March 30, 2010 8:09 AM   Subscribe

A question about experience with Vibram FiveFingers and other minimalist running shoes.

I want to know, if you have perfect, midfoot striking running form, what makes vibram fivefingers better then racing flats, newtons, or other midfoot shoes. If Vibrams are so great, why are they not being adopted by professional runners, Kenyan runners, or college runners?

Let me preface this by saying I have gulped the kool aid. I have run 5k, half marathon and I intend to run a marathon in them in June. I have trained over 350 miles of road/trail work on my pair of vibram KSO's.

Lately, I have been studying running technique, and looking back to the 70s, at Jim Ryuns sub 4 minute miles. He has great technique, midfoot strike and roll, and a slight lean forward. Things that, I admit, I thought were new with the barefoot shoe movement. I always thought heel striking was praised by distance runners, but I see that the people winning are midfoot striking. I compare to the Kenyans that are winning today, and they also run this way. Lean and midfoot strike.

Do KSO's help that technique? Do they help you learn the midfoot strike? If you already have a good midfoot strike, is it worth sticking with Vibrams?

I am especially interested in people that have real experience with Vibrams. Seems a lot of people have read Born to Run and gone out and bought Vibrams and have a strong opinion about them on the internet. But many of these people have not put real running time into the shoes when pressed for more information.

I am also interested to hear about people that run sub 7 minute miles in Vibrams. It seems when I get down around that barrier, the pounding on my foot becomes significantly greater. I wonder if real shoes would help this.
posted by ShootTheMoon to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
I have absolutely nothing of value to add other than I love my Vibrams.

Got them three weeks ago and can't seem to take them off.
posted by damionbroadaway at 9:01 AM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Minimalist running isn’t about setting records, or beating personal bests or any kind of competition. Minimalist running is about learning to run naturally, with less pain and injury, for fun and health.

A lot of people who have read Born to Run seem to focus on the barefoot running and miss a very improtant point of the Tarahumara culture. They don't love to win medals. They love to run. The big race at the end isn’t a race to win; it’s a friendly competition to build a bond among the racers. The Tarahumara that won the ultra-marathons in America didn’t join the races on their own. They were convinced by people who wanted to make them stars in the running world. The Tarahumara didn’t care about the glory and shoe companies didn’t care about endorsing them because they wore homeade sandals.

Cultures around the World have been running for thousands of years in minimalist footwear like sandals, moccasins, and thin soled shoes. It's the new thick soled athletic shoes that allow a heal strike and control feet and leg motion as well as the upswing in competitions that I think are causing so many problems. It's not just the shoes, it's the no pain, no gain, be number one, get the gold mentality that causes people to push through pain and make things worse by ignoring problems in the beginning.

KSOs help your technique in that it is very uncomfortable to land on your heal while wearing them. The same is true of Terra Plana EVOs. I own both of these shoes and lately have been leaning towards the EVOs, because they offered more comfort when landing. However, this isn’t neccesarily good in the long term as my left knee will attest. It’s gotten sore over the past few runs. I’m running too hard with the EVOs compared to barefoot, which is where I started.

A point that barefoot runners make is that running in thick shoes is like running in a cast that dampens biofeedback and contorts foot, leg and hip joints. You can push through the pain easier in a shoe than you can barefoot. The real problem comes from the repetitive stress caused by pushing through. In terms of running barefoot, when you feel pain, you stop. There is no pushing through. You then rest and let your feet and joints grow stronger over time.

If you are running in a shoe with a thick sole, you are letting the shoe control how your foot lands rather than letting your foot be in control.

Shoes also weaken your feet because they don’t allow the muscles in the foot to work the way they were intended. Instead, the foot atrophies and becomes weak. KSOs strengthen feet by allowing them to work as nature designed.

I haven't run any marathons in my KSOs or EVOs, but I have been putting in more miles than I ever have in shoes. I run slower barefoot and in minimalist shoes, but I run a lot farther.

You might want to look at the websites of Run Luau Run and A Run Supreme. Both of those guys put in a lot of miles in Vibrams.

If you are midfoot striking in other shoes like Newtons and it's working well for you, go for it. Just make sure you aren't sacrificing biofeedback just to go a little faster.

If Vibrams are so great, why are they not being adopted by professional runners, Kenyan runners, or college runners
One theroy is that the big shoe companies spend a lot of money to endorse runners, sponsor competitions, and donate equipment to colleges. They have spent billions on marketing for 30 years telling us we need them. Vibram is still new to the running game.
posted by studentbaker at 9:22 AM on March 30, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've been following this barefoot running stuff with a somewhat skeptical eye as I run in my cushy trainers. After reading some of the material I drew a conclusion similar to the one you allude to: regardless of what shoes you do or do not wear you must have proper running form or you will get hurt.

As for why elite runners don't wear VFFs, it could either be that they're overly conservative or they don't see an advantage. I wouldn't read too much into it.

It's worth noting that the elite runners race in racing flats, which are a far cry from the everyday running shoes. They're extremely light and have minimal cushioning. Barefoot running advocates often endorse that kind of shoe.
posted by chrchr at 9:33 AM on March 30, 2010

First of all, I think the main reason why vibrams haven't gathered as much popularity is because they're, well, ugly. That's the only reason why I haven't gone out and bought a pair for myself. I'm part of a large running group and I'd certainly get a lot of flac for wearing them.

However, I do have experience with minimalist shoes, and I hope to someday progress to barefoot running. I went from being a heel-striker to being a midfoot striker by wearing progressively minimalist shoes. I started off with heavy, Asics Nimbus types and moved to shoes that weighed less and had less padding over the course of around six months.

My first iteration of minimalist shoes helped considerably when moving from heel-striking to midfoot striking, just because of the fact that they were more pliable and it didn't feel like I had to fall forward to run on my toes. I don't know if this is just hindsight (I've tried wearing my old shoes again after spending time in my new ones) but my old shoes had such a huge heel it was almost imperitive that I hit the ground first with it. Moving from heel-striking to midfoot striking still took a lot of conscious effort, but the new shoes made it considerably easier.

I used to experiment a lot with running barefoot while still in my hugely-padded shoes- while running, it felt like someone was taking a jackhammer to my foot. Now that I've gotten to shoes that are basically racing flats, barefoot running feels natural and I feel like I have more control, and it doesn't feel like my feet are pounding on the ground anymore.

I currently train and race in Asics Gel Hyperspeed 2's, running mile times well under seven minutes. While not in vibrams, my feet feel fantastic.
posted by pyrom at 9:33 AM on March 30, 2010

I run in my vibrams, and I love them. My natural gate is faster, lighter, and I can run further than in my heavy trainers.
posted by Freen at 10:10 AM on March 30, 2010

My natural gate is faster, lighter, and I can run further than in my heavy trainers.

oooo this. Two caveats: you do need confidence or cartoon-speedy-legs to go out running before dark with them, and you can also feel the ground more, and its pointy and squishy bits.
posted by whatzit at 10:38 AM on March 30, 2010

Like damionbroadaway I just wanted to say "wheeeeee vibrams!"
posted by Iteki at 11:03 AM on March 30, 2010

Nthing "Wheeeeee Vibrams!" I love mine because my knees don't hurt when I run in them, unlike regular running shoes. I'm not overthinking the performance benefits, because no knee pain = better performance, far as I'm concerned.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:14 PM on March 30, 2010

I'm extremely skeptical of barefoot running. It's a fallacy to think that if something is more natural than it is automatically good for us.

My misgivings aside, The Science of Sport did a good objective series of posts on the topic:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
posted by corpse at 12:59 PM on March 30, 2010 [3 favorites]

It's a fallacy to think that if something is more natural than it is automatically good for us.
It's not just about it being more "natural," it's about our body parts having evolved to do this specific activity without clunky shoes.

This is not exactly what you are looking for: I can't run in regular running shoes. I have a knee injury from my dancing days. My knee gives out and I literally am on the ground before I can even realize what happened. This doesn't happen in my vibrams. I don't run sub-7 minute miles, though, because I like to push my distance, not my speed. I know that I walk and run all kinds of wrong because my joints are screwy, but I don't have foot, ankle, knee, or joint pain when I jog/run/and hike in barefoot style shoes. Also, I enjoy the fact that without padding, if I get wet or dirty, I can hose them off and they'll dry out.

Vibrams last a lot longer than traditional running shoes because you don't have to worry about all the padding wearing down. I guess people who get all their running shoes paid for or donated by sponsors don't really put this factor into consideration as much as people who run as a hobby.
posted by ishotjr at 3:16 PM on March 30, 2010

I don't think there is a substantive difference between Vibrams and racing flats, etc.

I got into the whole thin shoes running thing. Then I had to stop for six months because of the capsulitis I got in my foot...

A really great comment on the whole barefoot running thing was written on Mefi by a phsycial therapist and multiple marathon-winner here, it's really worth a read, and great about separating the hype from the science. (spoiler: there's no proof that either type of shoe is generically good for people or bad for them. Different runners have different needs).
posted by smoke at 4:12 PM on March 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've tried them. They feel great but don't last for shit if you're running on roads/sidewalks. (Mine lasted all of two months.) I use some $25 Saucony racing flats now that last 6-8 months at a pop.
posted by ferdinand.bardamu at 9:07 PM on March 30, 2010

Check out this related thread. Particualrly the answer from former marathon world champion and physical therapist Mark Plaatjes.
posted by afu at 11:55 PM on March 30, 2010

I run in vibrams on concrete about 15 miles a week. It's been two or three months and they have no visible wear.

I'm using them as an intermediary to running barefoot. I'd been running on Nike Frees for a long time, and I'm usually barefoot anyway so foot strength wasn't the issue, rather it's the actual toughness of my feet. The sole is very thin, and you can feel the roughness of the gruond, bu less so than if you were completely barefoot.
posted by cmoj at 10:50 AM on March 31, 2010

A buddy of mine just did the Copper Canyon marathon... he races the Tahumari indians all that stuff. Came in 6th... the guy who won -- the Indian -- he wore shoes and totally felt it was to his advantage. My friend, he experimented with barefoot running and still does it from time to time, I'm sure, but the punishing trail conditions in our neck of the woods really make it hard.

Here's the deal with running: no one knows what will actually work for you, so you're going to have to experiment. Running long distances barefoot or semi-barefoot isn't something you just do, you have to build up to it. There's no reason you can't both run in shoes and run in vibrams...

Personally, I have a small genetic mutation -- 2 webbed toes(!) -- that keep me from trying the vibrams, but I'm sold on the minimalist shoe thing. I wear the New Balance MT 100's and I think they're fantastic. If I was doing more road than trail, I'd pick up some cheap racing flats... but also, I worked up to 'em, particularly for the longer races. I ran several races in Brooks Cascadias and still miss the protection they provide...
posted by ph00dz at 6:22 PM on March 31, 2010

I fell in love with Vibram Bikilas this summer but have discovered that one on my toes is giving me trouble. I suspect that I broke it as a teenager and it never healed properly. I won't be able to continue using them unless I can open up the seam on it. Otherwise, I just love the sensation of running along nearly barefoot and it's helped my knee pain.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:43 AM on October 5, 2010

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