Review - Vibram FiveFingers KSO Footwear

2/04/2010 09:55:00 PM

So I was listening to the "Running with the Pack" podcast today during my short run today and the hosts started talking about listening to a guest speaker at a recent running event. The speaker happened to be Christopher McDougall, the author of "Born to Run", a New York bestseller and a must read for any serious runner. It just so happened that I had read that book a few months ago and that my running buddy Richard just returned it to me after reading it on one of his recent business trips. I figure now would be as good a time as any to write my own review about my experience with barefoot running in Vibram FiveFingers KSO.
On a recent run I had told Richard about my attempt to create my own energy gel from scratch and he just kind of acted surprised that I did not try the Chia seeds recipe that McDougall had discussed in his book as one of the super foods for runners. Anyway, it reminded me that while I did not try the Chia seeds recipe right away, I did do something else immediately after I finished reading the book. I went out and bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSO. As some of you already know, McDougall writes extensively about a number of different running topics in his book and barefoot running in particular. I found a selection of FiveFingers at a small local store that specialized in unusual footwear and clothing. While I did not have any preexisting foot or knee problems or other reasons to change my approach to running, I figured it would not hurt to add a different element to my ultra marathon training.
When I put them on for the first time, it took some time getting each individual toe tugged into its own pocket. But once my feet were placed correctly inside the FiveFingers, it felt good. You can almost wiggle your toes one by one. I was ready to try them out. However, I should have probably chosen a different time than 3 weeks prior to my first 50K. I also should have been a lot smarter about the surface and the distance I chose for my first trial. I wasn't. I ended up running my usual route at the time, which was a 4 mile loop around the local university campus. The surface happened to be mostly concrete sidewalks with a couple of short grass sections mixed in. I had originally planned to run a short 2 miler at a very slow pace. However, when it was time to turn around at the halfway mark, another runner was slowly passing me on the other side of the road.
I am sure some of you already know what happened next. I am just a guy and as such, I can't help but speed up when someone tries to pass me on a training run, just like in a race. I can't explain it; it's just the way I'm wired. However, I have heard that this is not uncommon, especially among guys. I'm not proud of it, it just happens sometimes.
Back to my review. As a result of this, a short 2 mile barefoot trial run turned into a speedy 4 mile run, amplifying the effects of it fourfold. I hate to admit it, but I am a heel striker. Whenever I say that, I feel like someone admitting that he wet his bed. I don't know why, but I've read so many articles pointing out how bad it is for you to hit the ground with your heel first and how much slower you are and how it extends the time of your feet on the ground and how it makes the impact on your joints so much worse, etc. that I started to feel like I was doing something wrong. I never understood how people could strike the ground with the middle of their feet. Maybe I am missing something here, but the arch of my feet is too high to be hitting the ground. So that leaves striking the ground with the balls of my feet (forefoot striking) which is what I did once I put on the FiveFingers. I basically tippy-toed for 4 miles on my (almost) bare feet. Not a good idea. Unless you don't mind completely shredding your calves, which is exactly what I did. I had serious pain in my calves for almost three weeks. I ended up having a sports massage therapist work out some of that muscle pain after a half marathon I ran as part of my training. He pointed out the fact that my left calf was much worse off than my right calf. Luckily, the symptoms subsided just in time for my first 50K.
To summarize my review, while I do not plan to do any serious barefoot running, I do plan to reintroduce it again into my training routine once it gets warmer outside again. However, this time, I will start with a very short distance and I will select a soft surface. Barefoot running, here I come...well, sort of.

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