Friday, August 27, 2010

First outdoor run in the Vibram Five Fingers!

Earlier today I ran outdoors for the first time in my Vibram Five Fingers. I ran six miles, and absolutely loved the experience!

What differentiated the run for me was the intense awareness that I had of the Memorial Park running surface, i.e. I was keenly aware of when I was running on loose dirt, crushed gravel or the occasional tree root. This awareness - which was never painful or jarring - led me to automatically adopt the key running form elements that otherwise required concentration to maintain, i.e. a rapid cadence (~180 steps per minute), somewhat shorter stride, a forefoot or mid-foot landing, and a slight forward lean from the ankles.

I had previously purchased my Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs) "Classic" model in May. In the intervening months I transitioned to them by migrating away from my former heavier stability shoes into other light weight and less supportive shoes, while simultaneously reinforcing the above-cited key running form elements. I found this practice and experimentation was most effectively done on the treadmill, as it offers many advantages for a runner who is working on their form elements, i.e.:
  • Minimizing visual and sensory distractions which otherwise interrupt one's concentration;
  • Providing a softer running surface than concrete or asphalt, thereby reducing the likelihood of developing an injury while in a vulnerable mode of transition;
  • Allowing easier and more consistent audio and tactile feedback of the 'proper' stride (i.e. when I lose concentration and/or become fatigued I hear a different sound and pattern from my footfall on the bed of the treadmill);
  • Offering a fixed-speed running surface - set between a one to two-percent grade so-as to make the effort equivalent versus running outdoors - which the runner can use to indirectly gauge their running efficiency via their their rate of respiration.
Launching me in this direction was my initial racing success in my Newton Stability Trainers roughly one year ago, as I was immediately gratified by a string of significant personal records which has continued since. These Newtons remain my prime racing shoes, and I will wear them at my forthcoming marathons in Chicago, San Antonio and Houston. However, intensely cognizant of the high cost per mile of running in the Newtons ($175 per pair), I searched for lower cost light weight training shoes with a similar minimal heel-to-toe drop.

This quest led me to transition most of my training miles away from my former stability shoes, the Brooks Adrenaline and the Mizuno Wave Inspire. Though well made shoes, they are relatively heavy (~11 Oz.), and possess a large (12mm) drop which encourages a heel strike and makes it difficult to land properly on the mid-foot or forefoot. Consequently, I purchased a pair of the ultra flexible soled Nike Free Run+, which I thoroughly enjoy as they provide a tremendous amount of comfort while strengthening the muscles of the foot. The Nike Free Run+ are light weight (~9 Oz.), and also have a low drop (though clearly not as low as the VFF's, which have a zero drop.)

Another excellent transitional shoe, which was recommended by Pete Larson in his tremendous running blog, is the Brooks Mach 12 Cross Country Running Flat, which similar to the VFFs have a near zero heel-to-toe drop.

Late last week, after three months of transition I felt that I was ready for the VFFs. While my initial run on the treadmill was largely successful I was forced to switch shoes after only four miles owing to chafing from the rubberized/cloth seam against my large right toe. Fortunately, prior to this morning's run I purchased a pair of Injini toe-socks which solved the chafing problem completely.

Vibram's website emphasizes the importance of transitioning appropriately prior to running in the VFFs. I concur, as I had none of the problems that some have reported (i.e. heel pain, pain on top of foot, or an extremely fatigued calf muscle.) Conversely, running in the VFFs provides a unique, nearly barefoot experience, but without its anxiety. I believe that other experienced runners who similarly take the time to transition gradually will also see their first VFF run as a real eye-opener.

Finally, on a related note suggest review of my prior blog post regarding the Evolution Running DVD which has proven in my running form transition, and a good blog post by Barefoot Chronicle's Jason Robillard which discusses the ongoing minimalist shoe movement.


  1. Shoe construction, and slope is a very interesting topic to explore.

    You've made a good overview.

  2. Newton Stability Trainers are my favorite shoe too. Great minds think alike.

  3. Way to go! I've done a handful of runs with the VFF's (my wife bought them for me as an anniversary gift) and I could definitely tell a difference in my running form.

    Keep up with the posts on how your transition goes!

  4. Chris/Adam - Glad you're both also enjoying your transition also towards more minimal shoes. To minimize your likelihood of injury keep your running form absolutely and constantly in mind, as it's critical that in shoes like the Newtons and the VFFs - which lack the 'traditional' running shoe's large heel - that you not heel strike.

    Andrew - I agree, and suggest runblogger's site as the most thorough in exploring these important elements, and the closely-related subject of running form.

  5. I'm currently committed to Brooks (as an ID member), but I'm intrigued by other options. When I return to running in a few weeks (hopefully), I may try to do some barefoot treadmill running to strengthen my feet. Not sure yet if I want to go to the expense of other shoes, but it interests me. Good luck with your VFF experience.

  6. Just found you - excellent blog. My experience with the Five Fingers is that (for me) they love Memorial Park. As for cement or blacktop, I prefer to go barefoot if I am going minimalist.