If you read my first post here, you already know that not only am I flat footed, but I’m in great shape (round IS a shape alright)! If you read that post, you’re up to speed but the short of it… work, life, put on weight, out of shape, snoring, got tired of it, time to change. There you go. That said, the first step I took after making the initial decision that it was time to do what I knew to do to be healthy and set an excellent example for my children, was to run out and buy a pair of running shoes. My orthotics had worked a large divot into my Brooks Beast running shoes and there were two considerations that went into my new purchase:
- My orthotics were old and I really didn’t want to spend the $300 to buy another custom pair but they worked so well!
- New information I’d gathered over a two-year period about a relatively new style “shoe” made by a company called Vibram (pronounced “vee – brum”) Five Fingers or “VFF” for short.
My orthotics were worn and replacing them is pricey on my current budget. What is more pricey is not being around for my children as they get older because I didn’t take good care of my heart with regular exercise and healthy eating. Still, there’s more than one way to skin a cat and the reading I’ve been doing about barefoot running and how our feet are actually made for it has been compelling, to say the least. To sum it up:
The theory of some in the barefoot running community espouse the ideology that our feet have arches and no shortage of muscles and conventional running shoes which were made to support a “heel-to-toe” strike keep those arches and muscles from doing what nature intended them to do… support our weight (and a forefoot/midfoot strike) as we walk, run, jog or skip. According to what I’ve read, conventional running shoes and the heel-to-toe strike are destroying our feet, knees, shins and hips. That’s the abridged version. For the full version, check out a Harvard study done here. The jury is still out on how credible the science is in terms of how it relates to just how bad conventional running shoes really are for our feet so I won’t go into that in great detail. I’ve provided additional resources at the bottom of this post so you can decide for yourself.
Now, on to my purchase. After reading the research from Harvard and deciding on Vibrams, it was time to decide which model I’d buy. They offer several for men, each a jack of all trades, but all having something unique which makes them better suited to a particular activity. The pair I would buy would have to be able to handle everything from the road to the woods so I opted for Vibram’s TrekSport. The soles of the TrekSport are rugged enough for off-road use with an aggressive pattern on the balls and heel and some claw-like cuts built into the toes. I went to my local REI and picked up a pair after being properly sized and pretty much haven’t taken them off since. They didn’t actually have the color I wanted (the tan colorway) but I’m happier that I bought the black for now as they go with everything (in and out of the gym). They are so very comfortable and they really fit my temperament to a tee! When I was a little kid, my mom used to call me Bomba the Ape-Man because I was always running around the house (and outside) in my drawers and though I can’t do that anymore as an adult, I have a certain affinity for being barefoot and close to nature as decent society will allow me to be.
I have to say that after almost three weeks of running on them, I have no shin splints, I have no knee pain, I’ve cut minutes off my mile run (and counting) and I’m down albs. Now, obviously, the weight loss is as much about my eating properly as it is my cardio routine but my cardio routine is being enabled by my ability to burn fat while building my aerobic/anaerobic capacity running. Let’s be clear about one thing though, these shoes are no magic bullet. The reason I’ve shaved time from my mile and have no pain is because I’m running different as I wear these shoes. I’m running somewhere between a balls of my feet and midfoot strike and though I’m still adjusting, it really feels natural and fast! We’ll see how things go long term but I’m rather enamored by these minimalist shoes. It’s like having the ability to walk around barefoot everyday, all day and I’m loving every minute of it! Fortunately I also have the type of “day job” that allows me to be able to wear these kind of shoes in the office. As of the writing of this post, I did push a little hard and knot my Soleus (lower calf muscle) but it was nothing that a massage and some electric stimulation couldn’t work out. It did show me that I have a muscle imbalance left over from my days of serious martial arts training… my left leg has been fine, now problems but my right calf has had a harder time of it. I believe this is due to me favoring my right leg for kicking much of the time. I trained both, but I can definitely see that the right definitely spent more time on the heavy bag than it did on the ground supporting my kicking with my left.
If you’re looking into a pair of Vibram Five Fingers, I suggest one VERY IMPORTANT thing to keep in mind: GO SLOW! You will be running in a manner which your body isn’t used to. Despite however many years you’ve been wearing shoes, you’re now faced with the prospect of doing something completely different so don’t expect that you’ll be doing 5k runs in a month. It’s like I told someone recently, “go slow or injuries will slow you down.”
For more reading on the subject of barefoot running, check out these posts/discussions as well:
http://www.podiatry-arena.com/podiatry-forum/showthread.php?t=48566 (Make sure you read pages 2 & 3 of this discussion for great counterpoints so you get a well rounded look at both sides of the argument)