I also have a special love for Janetha since I’m a Utah girl too. Unfortunately, we didn’t know each other when I lived there and I’ve since been transplanted to North Carolina. But hopefully someday we’ll be in the same state. Better yet, neighbors.
Today I’ll be sharing my experience about running in Vibram Five Fingers (VFFs). I’ve been running for over 10 years; the first five years in Mizunos, the last five in Asics. Last July, I started running in VFFs.
I wanted to try VFFs because I have been dealing with running injuries for years and had heard from others that minimalist running helped reduce their injuries. When Ashley from The Edible Perspective raved about her VFFs, I decided to finally get my own; I trust that girl’s opinions considering she researches everything.
The most common question: So, how do you like ‘em? I don’t like ‘em. I LOVE them.
Which VFFs do you run in? I run in the Sprints. There are many different models depending on what surfaces you’ll run on and if you’ll use be using them for other activities.
Does it make your feet hurt to walk on the ground in VFF? No, not at all.
Do you have to run differently? Yes. I’ve always been a major heel striker (see blurry, pixelated – sorry! – picture below) and now have to run up on the balls of my feet much more. I’m not running on my tippy toes, but more like a mid-foot strike. And consequently, I’m developing toned calves for the first time in my life! Score!
Does it feel harder to run that way? Surprisingly, no. It’s much less jarring on my body and I feel like I look like the runners I’ve always envied…you know, the ones who look so light on their feet? I pretend I’m a Kenyan runner now instead of a clomper.
What about injuries? My running injuries have nearly all disappeared. Last year while training for a marathon in standard running shoes, I developed issues with my SI joint (located in the lower back/upper butt area). Even after months of physical therapy, I could still feel the ache in my SI joint after a couple miles. However, I haven’t felt ANY pain in my SI joint since I’ve been running in the VFFs. If I’m not training appropriately (e.g. too much mileage too quickly, not enough recovery, not enough stretching), I’ll start to ache like any runner in any shoe does, but I blame that on a poor training regimen, not the VFFs.
I think the change from being a heel striker to a mid-foot striker is probably the main reason for the reduced injuries. Being a heel striker was pretty jarring to the SI joint area. I’ve also struggled with IT band problems for over 6 years, and haven’t had any issues since switching to the FiveFingers. Do you have to wear VFF to be a mid-foot striker? Absolutely not. But I had tried for years to change my form and couldn’t until the VFFs forced me to.
Do your Vibrams provide good arch support? There is very minimal arch support as you can see below. The bottom is a sort of rubber, flexible sole. However, I have read multiple studies about people who had flat feet and wearing VFFs drastically improved their arches. Their feet strengthened from wearing VFFs and the arch of their foot developed; they claimed you can “build” arches if you have flat feet and that flat feet are a result of not properly utilizing your feet. Make sense? But, obviously, check with your doctor since this is all hearsay and I have no personal experience with it.
What if I have weak ankles? Same thing as arches…studies have been done that running barefoot helps strengthen ankles and also reduce foot injuries such a plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendon issues.
Do you still run in your normal running shoes? I did at first (alternating runs or switching to my Asics after 2 miles or so just so I could get in some distance) but rarely do anymore. I tried to wear my Asics on a treadmill run last Saturday and my ankles and knees started to hurt, and it just didn’t feel comfortable running in the “big” shoes. I switched to my VFFs and finished my 7 miles in those.
So how do I get started? I started wearing them as much as possible, just walking around the grocery store or whatever. Also, I’m always barefoot in my house so I think that helped build the muscles in my feet…running in VFFs uses the muscles in your feet in a different way than traditional running shoes. When you want to start running in VFF, take it very gradually to avoid injury, particularly stress fractures in your feet and arches. I followed this schedule (approximately):
○ Week 1: run ½ mile, 3 times a week on non-consecutive days; I ran Monday, Wed. & Sat)
○ Week 2: increase each run to 1 mile, following same schedule
○ Week 3: increase each run to 2 miles
○ Week 4-6: mid-week runs are around 3-4 miles; I stayed at this distance for a while just to continue to strengthen my feet and calves
○ Week 7 and on: mid-week runs stay 3-4 miles. I also started to add one mile to my longer runs on the weekends, progressively increasing until I hit 11 miles before running a half marathon in them in December.
In the beginning weeks, when I wanted to run longer, I switched to my Asics after the initial mileage in the Vibrams.
What’s the furthest you’ve run in them? 13.1 miles. I ran a half–marathon in them last December. And it was the first half–marathon I’ve run where I didn’t deal with IT band issues during training or on race-day. (Note: It took me over four months to build up to that mileage in VFFs. I didn’t want to hurt my feet so I added mileage very gradually to avoid injury.)
Have you used your VFFs for any kind of strength training? I was very nervous about strength training in VFFs. I wore them for about a month before I did strength training in them since doing squats without a lot of support under my feet freaked me out. I now do all my strength training in them and actually feel that I have much better balance. (I do 99% of my strength training in a Body Pump class which is all free weights and balance is key with free weights.)
Do you run in them in the winter? Yep. I wear Injiji socks with them, which are socks designed for wearing with VFFs. But just like any winter running, you gotta be careful about ice and slippery roads.
Can you run on the treadmill in them? I do. I know some people don’t like running in them in the treadmill but it doesn’t bother me.
What about blisters? Well, yeah…gotta be honest, sometimes I get pretty wicked blisters when I wear them without socks. The blisters are never painful though – it’s not like blisters like a pair of new shoes that rubs the wrong way. I really never know I have a blister until I take them off and see a blister – usually on my heel or up by my toes. I wouldn’t let that deter you though, because you can slip on a pair of Injiji liners (thinner socks) to eliminate the problem. I just haven’t bought any yet.
Do people still want to be your friend when you wear them? Oh yeah. People like me more because they are just so dang sexy. ;) It’s kind of like having a dog; you suddenly have people stopping to talk to you all the time.
Your feet will be sore. It’s kind of weird. They don’t necessarily hurt, but they get sore after runs. If you experience pain, definitely take a few days off!
Try to land lightly. You naturally will anyway, but try to make it a conscience effort, especially in the beginning.
I wear them without socks most of the time. However, when it’s really cold and I’m running outside, I wear Injiji socks. f you are going to wear socks a lot, you may want to go up a size in the VFFs since I have a pretty hard time getting mine on over the Injijis.
Question for YOU: What’s your favorite distance to run? I love 7 miles. It feels like a decent long run, but it’s not so long that it takes tons of preparation or takes up my whole day. When I’m not training for a race, I usually seven miles for my weekend run.
*Remember, I’m not a doctor or running coach, but am just sharing my experiences. Please check with your own health professional before making changes to your exercise routine and always consult a professional for injury diagnosis and treatment!