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Saturday Gear Review: Vibram Five Fingers

Posted Feb 11 2012 7:00am
The debate has raged in the running community for some time now.

Barefoot or shoes?

Here's my two cents: It doesn't matter.  It's all about you and what works for your body.
The reason I say this is because the research has found that running injuries are more often linked with how we land on our feet while running, not by what we are wearing.  This highlight of a recent article in the NY Times sums it up best:
"All of the Harvard runners wore shoes, and most, as Dr. Lieberman says, “wore different shoes every day of the week.” Some ran in well-cushioned shoes and became injured, while others did not. Likewise for those who usually ran in minimal racing flats. Some got hurt; some did not. And forefoot striking, over all, was not a panacea. Many of the forefoot strikers were felled by injuries.
But in general, those runners who landed on their heels were considerably more likely to get hurt, often multiple times during a year" (emphasis added).
The article also mentions that any transitions in stride should be made gradually, and notes that if your current stride is working for you, don't fix it.
Vibram Five FingersI am like many runners out there who have tried the Vibram Five Fingers.  These shoes are neat as a conversation starter in the grocery store, but something about the lack of padding caused me to develop a case of plantar fasciitis.  I built up gradually, added miles sparingly, and did everything else I was told to do to acclimate to barefoot running.  It didn't seem to matter.  I would stop wearing them for a few days, go back to normal shoes, and the PF would go away. I'd put the VFFs back on a week or two later and could barely get around the block before the pain in my arch flared back up.
I could only use them to impress the ladies...
This post is not meant to blast VFFs.  Rather, I mean for this post to convey the message that everyone is different and everyone must find what works best for them.  VFFs don't work for me (except as a fashion statement) but I've seen plenty of other people running around in them.
My experience has been that switching my stride from heel-striking to forefoot-striking, regardless of the style of shoe, has made an incredible difference.  I don't get injured nearly as often, and my overall post-run soreness has decreased dramatically.  It took a while to get used to, but now that I'm a convert I'll never go back.  I've found that I like minimalist-style shoes, mainly for their low weight, but they have to have some padding or else I get PF.
The last three paragraphs took me about four years and plenty of heartache/pain/cash to learn.  I think I'm in a good place now running-wise, and I know what I like and what my body can handle.  If this post does nothing else, I hope it can serve as the slightest bit of hope to anyone out there who has, or is, struggling with running and injuries and finding what works for them.  No product is a silver bullet, listen to your body and it will tell you what works.
It all comes with time and patience.  In the end, the reward is worth the perseverance.
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