Five fingers in fourteen days?
May 25, 2012 4:21 AM   Subscribe

How long do you need to "convert" to Vibram Five Finger or other "barefoot" shoes for distance running?

I'm about 3/4 through a 12-week program to take me from a 5k runner to a half-marathon -- I have two and a half weeks left in the program, but the half-marathon isn't until the end of June.

My old shoes, which were 5-year old Nike whatevers, just died (really, *really* died), and I'm curious about the Vibram KSOs and Komodos.

I have the luxury of finishing the "ramp up to the half-marathon" program with a couple of weeks to spare. So if I picked up the barefoot shoes now, would jumping back a couple of weeks in the program and trying to retrain with the barefoots be enough time? Or is adaptation a very slow process?

I know YMMV with these sorts of things -- I'm already running at about 75% ball-of-foot strike, 25% heel strike, so I suspect I might be a little more oriented towards barefoots already. But your insight would be appreciated!
posted by Shepherd to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (19 answers total)
Personally it took me about 8 months to convert my style of running from heel striking to front to ball of foot striking to the point where I was happy to run a half marathon in the latter style. And this was using light weight "road racer" running shoes with a little more forgiving than VFFs in terms of their cushioning. I suspect that individuals will have quite widely varying rates at which they can transfer according to their weight, weekly mileage and leg physiology. To me a matter of weeks to adapt to new footwear, a new running style and the extra distance as you head towards the half marathon sounds rather short.
posted by rongorongo at 4:38 AM on May 25, 2012

When I switched over, I dropped my mileage significantly and wasn't up to pre-conversion distances for several weeks. Since you're scaling up your distances now, that might be a tough adjustment.
posted by itstheclamsname at 5:11 AM on May 25, 2012

Take it slow. As you're changing form and putting more emphasis on new muscles, a risk is tendonitis, because the tendons take over, at the end of a long run e.g., what the muscles are too weak/tired to do during the transition. Pay a lot of attention and don't over-push. I've found it's a nice change, though.
posted by spbmp at 5:52 AM on May 25, 2012

Seconding itstheclamsname - you're in the process of ramping up your mileage right now, with two weeks to go before your first half. It's going to be difficult enough just getting used to a new pair of shoes in time; I don't think I'd make the switch to Vibrams right now.
posted by Mooski at 5:55 AM on May 25, 2012

Ah, bloody hell, I read you wrong. I still don't believe there's enough time to make the switch, though.
posted by Mooski at 5:58 AM on May 25, 2012

I would definitely look to see if there is a barefoot running group in your area, especially to see if there are clinics/coaching you can get. Too many people injure themselves when switching. It's harder than most people think.
posted by melissam at 6:07 AM on May 25, 2012

I'm a lifelong toe-striker (like, the heels of my shoes don't even get dirty), and I'm barefoot any chance I get, but I still found I had to make significant adjustments to my running jogging stride when I switched from Saucony Kinvaras (a lightweight traditional shoe with a 4mm drop) to NB Minimuses (a "minimalist" shoe that still has a lot more cushion than VFFs).
posted by mskyle at 6:13 AM on May 25, 2012

Maybe 3 months to get back to same distance and speed as with traditional shoes.
posted by crocomancer at 6:20 AM on May 25, 2012

In my and my partner's experience, about a year. Taking it slow helped us avoid injury.
posted by medusa at 7:19 AM on May 25, 2012

Have you considered getting a pair of no-drop running shoes for now? They give you a lot of the same benefits as a minimal shoe (ie forefoot striking), but it's not as sudden of a transition to a total minimalist shoe. The no-drops are much more forgiving to run in than total minimal shoes. You can probably finish out your training schedule with the no-drops with just the 1-2 week transition time you want.

If you really want to switch over to a Vibram or more minimalist shoe at the end of your training schedule, you'll have a much easier time than if you went from traditional shoe straight to them. You'll still need to drop back on mileage, but probably not as much.
posted by astapasta24 at 8:48 AM on May 25, 2012

I don't think two extra weeks is nearly enough time. I'd think 6-8 weeks to get back to your current level of effort is an aggressive / bare minimum target.
posted by Lame_username at 8:50 AM on May 25, 2012

Not enough time, in my opinion. Really you should spend the first week in Vibrams just wearing them to work - and that, probably every other day. Stress fractures are no fun.

You could get something like the Nike Free 5.0s, though - or even the 4.0s if you can find them. (Or a similar shoe from another brand - Skechers now makes some, even.) They have the advantage of flexibility and foot-strengthening, but they still have a reasonable amount of padding. I did that for about two years before going all the way to Vibrams, and it was a fairly smooth transition.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:02 AM on May 25, 2012

I love running in the Vibrams, and I was able to get back to my normal milage in about two months. BUT, I was doing frequent barefoot runs on grass before I switched and my normal milage was far below yours. Even with those factors, my calf muscles still had a long way to develop. It wasn't until about six months after I got them that I even tried to run more than 3 or 4 miles at a time.

You should take a look at the heel rise on the shoes that you are using now. If they are relatively flat, you might have an easier transition. But no, I don't think you have enough time.
posted by oryelle at 10:46 AM on May 25, 2012

Well, that's a very strong consensus! I'll get myself through the half-marathon on more standard shoes (or look for some intermediate-drops), and focus on trying the Vibrams when I'm done the race and have more flex in my schedule to adapt.
posted by Shepherd at 11:46 AM on May 25, 2012

To be honest, one month out from your first half I wouldn't even be terribly comfortable switching to a different type of shoe (like a low-drop heel, for instance). But I'm probably more paranoid because I changed up my shoes a few weeks out from a race once and had an absolutely miserable time. Maybe something like the Brooks Pure Flow which is more minimal, but still a long way from barefoot. Good luck with the race!
posted by Lame_username at 1:30 PM on May 25, 2012

A heads up on the Nike frees and going the intermediate route. I had an older pair of Nike frees (7.0?) an switched to new ones (4.0?) and noticed the difference in drop even between those two. Be a little careful with a race coming up and buy what you need now and what you want later.
posted by raccoon409 at 3:02 PM on May 25, 2012

Two to four months, according to my physical therapist, but of course some people are much faster and some much slower to adjust (and some people shouldn't be wearing minimalist shoes at all).

By the way, I know a PT who specializes in helping runners change to minimalist shoes; you could always try that route.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:49 AM on May 27, 2012

Follow-up question, if I may: If I continue my "main" running in "regular" shoes, and build up to short 1-2K runs in the Vibrams on my off days, will I be adjusting to the Vibrams or just confusing the dooley out of my feet?
posted by Shepherd at 5:46 AM on May 28, 2012

That sounds fine, although you may discover that you don't like running in your old shoes pretty quick. I think going for an intermediate shoe would probably be better overall, but as long as you aren't jumping into serious mileage right away, you should be ok.
posted by restless_nomad at 10:16 AM on May 28, 2012

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