Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kids Seriously Over-embarrassed

These are my new running shoes. Except that they're not really shoes. They're more like rubber gloves for my feet. They're called Vibram Five Fingers, and are the KSO (for "Keep Stuff Out") model. The acronym also works for the title of this post, though, which is more to the point. I actually wore them to the Music Festival Honours Concert specifically in order to embarrass my children and they were effective to the extreme.

I read "Born to Run" a few weeks ago and it all made perfect sense to me: our bare feet were made for running. They have incredible natural bio-engineering in them -- arches and joints and nerve endings and natural flexibility -- all built for barefoot ambulation, and more to the point evolved to perfection for marathon-style "persistence hunting." Historically sandals or simple shoes provided some protection in cold climates and on very rough ground, and heels were useful with stirrups for horseback riding. Eventually, of course, they became part of a fashion statement.

But eventually, primarily within the last 40 years, we began raising the heel of our running shoes too and adding comfortable rubber/gel/foam/air cushioning underneath. This meant that running form changed. We began running with a heel-strike, i.e. landing on our heels rather than on the middle of the foot with its lateral and longitudinal arches and all the natural shock absorption and stability the foot as a whole is capable of. The heel is a round knob of bone and thick skin with no natural engineering for lateral stability or flexible shock-absorption. So it's not surprising that weird stresses from landing on that hard rounded knob began creating injuries in runners. Ilio-tibial band syndrome, shin splints, runner's knee. Here's a great video comparing natural running to running in cushioned motion-control shoes. Research shows that the stress on the knee is actually higher in runners wearing $100 shock-absorbing shoes than it is in the same people wearing nothing at all. Why? Because we run differently in expensive shoes. We run badly. Though this type of running form is considered normal now.

I am generally drawn to natural simplicity and even last summer, for reasons that weren't as much scientific as aesthetic, I began experimenting with barefoot running. However I got a nasty sharp thing buried in my sole at some point, so I bought some less robust shoes as a compromise. Then a few weeks later got the hip injury that was miraculously cured three months later by even more supportive and cushioning shoes. It seemed like a failed experiment.

But I think that I did two things wrong. First, I ran completely barefoot on trails without first conditioning my feet to outdoor barefootedness. And secondly, I did a lot of running in my minimally-cushioning shoes without changing my heel-strike.

So here I am again. I'm trying to learn to run with a mid-foot strike and a fast light cadence even in my Asics Kayanos, and then I'm using the sensory feedback I get through bare feet or the super thin Vibram Five Fingers soles to train the bottoms of my feet to feel the surface I'm running on and respond accordingly. So far I'm only running a couple of kilometres at a time in the VFFs. My calves are a bit sore from the extra work they do, and there are the inevitable almost-blisters that always come of getting used to a new running shoe. But the running itself feels light and comfortable. I'm hopeful. Hopeful that I can continue to create mortifying embarrassment for my children for years to come.


  1. AWESOME! I have so been waiting to see those pictures of them :) Seriously though, the separated toe thing and material between your toes doesn't drive you crazy????

  2. The separated toe thing feels weird for about two minutes when you put them on, and then again for a few seconds any time you think about it. But your body gets used to the feeling really fast.

  3. i really want to try these but the toe next to my big toe is quiet a bit longer than my big toe. i need to find a store i can try some on at see if they would work for me.

  4. I would love to be able to try them! I am very much a barefoot girl - I hate socks, let alone shoes. I like the idea of these but I'm not sure I'd like the separated toes. I'd really, really like to try them, though.

  5. Anonymous7:09 pm

    Great stuff! My neighbor wore hers to work...I don't think she runs at all, but was looking for more "natural" footwear. I haven't needed any because I've done my barefoot running on one of those rubbery outdoor tracks. I never did get into the running craze way back when because it always felt wrong...when I saw interviews with barefootkenbob I understood why. I don't know how much distance I'll actually ever cover, but it is fun. (My other "running shoes" are Crocs.)


  6. oooh, those look like the next best thing to being barefoot. Love it!!!

    And, I'm thinking that you could up the embarrasement factor if your next pair were the royal blue chamo! ;0)

  7. Anonymous10:16 pm

    Unusual to say the least! Interesting to hear that one is NOT supposed to land heel first - I didn't know that. I'm off to watch that running video now.

  8. Oh, I hope you share your journey here. I've been eying these shoes for a month or so and am very curious about them. Since January I've been walking a 5K almost every day and am now moving to running some of it. My toes are getting calloused where they rub together.

    So, please share your experiences. I will stay tuned.

  9. Neat info. I used to hike a great deal in barefeet and loved it. It feels wonderful.

  10. Sorry this is so long but I have a friend who is into barefoot running and this what he just posted on facebook.

    Here is a summary of what I've found with minimalist running:

    1) Transition slowly and don't expect to immediately run faster, longer, and without pain.
    Take it slow and increase your speed and volume slowly. I'm now realizing that even after five months, I think I still have a ways to go before I can take full advantage of the switch.

    2) I run with a 5-10 rpm faster cadence.
    I think the lighter weight allows you to run at a higher cadence then with shoes.

    3) My knee and shin problems went away.
    My existing problems went away, and no new problems have shown up except for the foot issues described above. For the last two years, I couldn't do our triathlon club's track workouts more than every now and then because they really seemed to stress my body. So, far I've been able to make almost every track workout since January and run HARD during them.

    4) Running is more fun.
    It is definitely more fun to run, especially when you can run barefoot.

    5) I'm faster uphill and slower downhill.
    On hilly runs, I'm probably still slower than my peak with shoes, but I feel like that that will change.

    6) I have more stamina.
    One of the first most obvious things I found was that I had more stamina at the end of a run and also the ability to accelerate over small hills. Also I'm not as bothered with bigger changes in running , like running significantly longer or with more climbing than usual.

    7) I have more developed calves.
    This type of running uses your calves more. Your calves will scream at for the first few weeks. My calves are bigger than they have ever been (I don't normally have much for calves).

    8) The stuff with shoe "stability" is a bunch of crap.
    I am amazed at how stable my feet are when running with no shoe support. I have never had any issue with twisting my ankle while running without regular shoes. I've actually had more issues with twisting when wearing shoes.

    9) Running can be painful on rough terrain.
    Using my Vibram Five Finger KSO's are not enough protection for running on lots of sharp gravel and rocks. For this sort of terrain, I'll have to find something "less minimal" that has more protection for the ball of my foot. I have had fine success on less rocky trails, streets, and the track.

  11. Kelly Gilsenan3:47 pm

    I read your blog sometimes and I have to leave a comment on this because I have had a pair of KSOs since September and I absolutely love them! I don't normally run, but I love them so much that I've started running in them recently. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!

  12. Fascinating post! Very interesting to me! I broke both my tibial plateaux in 2001 and had a tibial plateau transplant in 2002 and had to be non-weight bearing for 12 months. Rehab has been slow. I just barely started last year and finally regularly last fall. I noticed that on my right leg (the transplant leg) I didn't want to land on my heel naturally. A friend coaching my running kept telling me to land on my heel and move through my foot. I should have trusted my body! I already run in a pair of minimal support shoes but I'm really going to think about my stride now. Such a timely post! Thanks!

  13. Anonymous6:11 pm

    I heard an interview on CBC with the author of that book and was very intrigued. His arguments made sense to me, although the shoe guy also made some sense, too. It just wasn't something I had the mental energy to get into but I'll be reading with interest. I'm starting to get knee pains again and just bought new shoes a while ago. They were the same brand and model as my last pair, which were great, but newer. It's frustrating to rely on regular running shoes as you spend $$$ only to find out in a couple of months that they aren't right for you and now you have pains.


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