I have been doing a lot of running lately, at least as far as my standards go. I am in training for the BAA half marathon here in Boston on October 9th… and things have been going quite well so far. My body feels great while I am running and while I am running only 3-4 times per week, doing a couple of strength training sessions on the off days and stretching every single day, every time I go to run my body is not sore, fatigued or in pain. When I am feeling good about running I spend most of my time thinking about my form and paying attention to the feedback that my legs are giving me.
My most recent revelation is in regards to the form associated with a minimalist running shoes. I haven’t been able to muster the courage to go for a legitimate run in my Vibram fiveFinger shoes, but I have been using a pair of the reebok RealFlex shoes and to this point they feel good. My current thoughts with the minimalist footwear movement are that the shoes are actually really irrelevant. The bottom line is the form that a runner is using is what will determine the way the body is worked. Minimalistic footwear makes it difficult to run in a heel-first landing stride so the tendency is to land more in a mid-foot stance, but there is nothing to stop a person from running with this form in any footwear. I am learning from my runs that my body feels best when I am running in this way. The joints in my legs aren’t having to deal with a significant impact force and most of the shock absorption is being done with my leg musculature. The revelation I had while running this past weekend was that the imbalances that people have are much easier for the body to handle when the stress is put on the muscles versus the joints.
I am in the process of evaluating the running form that a runner uses running barefoot, with vibram fiveFingers and with traditional running shoes. When the video is edited we will have a better understanding of the optimal form for running injury free and what role a person’s footwear takes in that situation.
It has been a month now since I bought the Vibram FiveFinger shoes, so I figured it was a good time to reflect on some of the conclusions I have come to. I plan on continuing to incorporate wearing these shoes as often as it makes sense to and also to explore the option of wearing no shoes at all, so…. “stay tuned”.
When a person runs in a traditional running shoe, they usually land on their heel first. This transfers a stronger impact force up through the ankle, knee, hip and back than a runner who lands more in the middle of their foot (i.e. midfoot). This is one reason why there are so many proponents of barefoot running… less impact. When a person runs barefoot, they can’t get away with landing on the heel and therefore land more in the middle of the foot and almost “tip-toe” as they run. Running this way reduces the chances of certain types of injuries, especially bone and joint injuries but the amount of strength and demand on muscles that running in this style can cause a whole separate set of injuries, typically those involving muscles and tendons.
Another thing that I have learned is that maintaining the form required to land with a midfoot stance is a real challenge. The tendency while running barefoot is for your feet to spend as little a time as possible on the ground, which leads to a leaping and bounding stride. This is actually a very comfortable and fun form of running, the problem is that it requires a lot of energy and is tough for the average person to sustain. If your form starts to degrade due to fatigue, that’s the time that injuries happen.
Up to this point I can’t get away with putting the FiveFInger’s on to go for a short walk (never mind a hike or run) and expect my gait to leave my feet pain free. I have to consciously walk in a way that keeps my foot from pronating too much and my heel off the ground, and when my feet get tired I need to stop wearing those shoes quickly to prevent the musculature in the bottom half of my leg and foot from really tightening up on me. The best practice that I have come up with so far is to treat my fivefinger shoes as sort of “training wheels” for running. I use what I have learned from wearing them and attempt to duplicate a barefoot running form while wearing my traditional running shoes. This gives me the option to “rest” a little by using a heelstrike-first gait until I recover enough to continue running as if I didn’t have shoes on at all.
I have learned of people decreasing their injuries from running by skipping the traditional running shoe and going barefoot (or wearing the fivefinger shoes), but more often than not, I come across people who have been unsuccessful with integrating them into their lives and sometimes even end up with injuries. My advice to someone who is thinking of taking a minimalist approach to running footwear is to do so very, very gradually. Listen to your body and give your feet support when they need it. When you are wearing your “during-the-day” shoes, be sure that they are providing adequate support so that you will be able to spend a little time with very little support at all.
Mt. Lincoln, White Mountains
Over the 4th of July weekend, I had the pleasure of spending about 5 hours hiking above tree line in the White Mountains. There was a good amount of elevation gain with plenty of rocks and roots lining the trails from Mt. Liberty to Mt. Lafayette and I remember thinking: “I am glad I am not wearing my fivefinger shoes today!” Although they have a fairly substantial surface to protect the skin on the bottom of the foot, I was imagining that all of the large rocks combined with the big steps that I took going up and down would leave my feet feeling pretty sore. And at the top of Mt. Lincoln, I saw something I really didn’t expect to see: 2 hikers (a father/son duo I guessed) each wearing a pair of Vibram fivefinger shoes! At that point they had climbed up just less than 3,500 feet in elevation and were about 5 miles into a 9 mile hike. They had the same version (bikila) and even the same color, but their shoes were significantly more beat up than mine, and so were their feet…
steep and rocky
As for me, I did bring my fivefingers on the trip, they made great camp-shoes because they are lighter than my sandals and gave my feet a little “breathing room” while setting up the tent. I will say however that even some of the rocks and roots around the tent site made themselves known to the soles of my feet, I can’t imagine how the two hikers that I met on the trail were feeling right now. I would love to be able to run in my fivefingers some day, but I have absolutely no desire to wear them on a hike in the White Mountains!
I was fondly remembering the childhood days when I would hop on my bike to go out and ride around with my friends. I even remember not caring if I was wearing shoes or not. I would often ride my bike barefoot without really giving it a second thought. Today I thought twice about it. I set out to wear my fivefingers while I rode my bike downtown this morning and it was barely better than riding barefoot. Not really too big of a surprise there I suppose, the shoes didn’t give much comfort when pressing down on the pedals. Maybe they will be good to use in the woods…
Ouch!... there are spikes on those pedals!
In order to get to the point where I feel comfortable running in the fivefingers, I need to be able to walk in them. After walking in them on Day 1 on concrete, I figured the next step would be to walk for a while in the grass and to make sure that that feels good. Today I walked for about 20 minutes on the grass and my feet did feel good, however in the hours following the walk, my feet felt as though they really wanted more support than they usually do.
This process has led me to my first revelation regarding these shoes… If I am going to spend any significant time walking (or running) in the fivefinger shoes, I am going to plan on spending the rest of the day in a well supported shoe with my Aline insoles in them. My feet do tend to hyperpronate (my arch collapses and ankle turns in) so maybe that is playing a role in how sensitive my feet have been to this point, but I guess I can’t do too much about that… unless by wearing these shoes I can “train” my feet to be stronger. I am getting the feeling that this is going to be a LONG project.
As a reward for all of my “hard work” yesterday, I decided I needed to spend a little time at the beach today. I wore the fivefingers from the car to the beach and walked along the beach for a little while to see what these shoes felt like on the sand. It’s pretty close to being barefoot, however, my toes wouldn’t grip into the sand the way I am used to, and I really like the feeling of the sand between my toes. I guess if you were at a beach with a rough surface (especially under the water) these shoes would be helpful. Overall, there is not too much of use in wearing a shoe that is trying to simulate a barefoot experience when you could just as easily not wear shoes…
"Barefoot" at the beach... kind of
Today was a great day, I was part of a clean up effort at a friend’s house and my only job was to powerwash… just about everything! I wore the fivefingers for a couple of hours while I walked around the grassy yard powerwashing the house and returning the patio to it’s newly installed condition. The feet felt great walking around on the soft grass. It’s certainly different feeling all of the contours of the ground while wearing shoes.
These shoes cleaned up great with a quick spray-down and dried within a couple of hours… so they’ve that going for them… which is nice.
Today I wore my fivefingers during a 30 min. workout at the Fitcorp Copley gym with trainer Ron Abecassis and I must say, it felt pretty good. We did a lot of functional movement strengthening exercises using a variety of fun gym equipment. Maintaining a plank position felt great on the feet because my feet had the freedom to actually get a good stretch on the plantar (bottom) aspect of the foot… much more so than when I have worn any other type of athletic shoe. Doing a front lunge with a twist was certainly more of a challenge than it usually is because my feet had to maintain my balance without the support of a more rigid sneaker. My feet were much more engaged in the process of balance and generating force for my movements and in order to do that, I had to concentrate more on my form… which is always a good thing. I am planning on wearing these shoes again during a workout. For one there isn’t the continuous and repetitive stress that I could imagine with a long walk or a run, and it forces you to be more conscious of what your feet are doing while going through all of those motions. Now if I could just get over how ridiculous my feet look in the shoes, I would be all set!
I took yesterday completely off from wearing the fivefingers and today my foot and ankle feels back to normal. It was quite strange the way that my foot reacted after that first day, the only potential reason for that happening that I can think of is that my right foot was already under a bit more stress than usual (for reasons unknown) and I just didn’t feel it. Today I have worn them while walking around the house for an hour and my feet feel good. I have been very conscious of walking as if I didn’t have anything on my feet, mostly concentrating on not landing on my heel at all. Stretching out the bottom of my foot feels really good too, I will continue to do that.
I was just sent the following links that are short videos about the topic of barefoot running. The first video is about some of the tribes in Mexico that are incredibly proficient at running long distances for very long times and theorizes about how they can be so successful. Very interesting stuff, thanks Jon!
The second video is a short talk by Christopher McDougall the author of “Born to Run” which has become an anchor for the barefoot running movement. His ideas are thought provoking and interesting, although there are portions of his talk that the skeptic in me has trouble buying into. Either way, he is a good speaker and presents some very interesting topics of discussion.
Taking out the trash!
Today my feet haven’t felt very good. I have had some pain in my right midfoot that feels like a joint related pain, kind of sharp and pinching that comes and goes only with certain movements. I have also had similar ankle pain and even a little dull-achy pain in the lower portion of my right leg. I have been wearing the Aline insoles all day because the support on the bottom of the foot makes it feel better. It is tough to imaging that wearing the fivefinger shoes for an hour the previous day was the cause of this, but I am not sure what else it could be. Maybe the shoes gave me a false sense of security walking up the street and I wasn’t careful enough with my gait. Today I am not going to walk around barefoot, even in my house. I have worked on the muscles in my lower leg and the bottom of the foot, and iced my ankle for 10 minutes and I feel like that has helped. I have worn the fivefingers while I am sitting on the couch writing this blog and watching the Red Sox game, but that is about it… better luck tomorrow!