Saturday, August 20, 2011

Daddy's Silly Shoes

I finally joined the Vibram Five Fingers shoe club Sunday. I was putting off the inevitable, I suppose, as my running around barefoot eventually resulted in torn callouses on the bottom of my feet that I was unaware that I had. Apparently, years of wearing steel toed flight boots had left a few manageable callouses on my big toes and inside of the balls of my feet. My barefoot run on the road after a rain a few weeks ago resulted in tears on said callouses similar to tearing a callous whilst kipping pull-ups at a CrossFit gym. I guess I was just so in the moment on my little run, that i didn't realize I was toeing off too much. I had been sprinting in the grass for a while, and wanted to top off the workout with an extra mile mostly to test my feet on the road. It felt amazing to get out and run without my shoes. Such a freeing experience, and my form was effortless. I felt like I was floating.

I switched to the New Balance 100 almost 2 years ago, and still have the same pair. They are just now starting to show signs of wear after 2 years! The follow-up, the NB101 will be a purchase soon, but I may look into getting the 8mm drop cobbled out to a zero drop, or start cutting and filing the rubber down, Anton Krupicka style:

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Well here I am now. I Finally purchased a pair of the VFF's. Call me a late adopter. I am so late on the scene of barefoot footwear. Forgive me shoe hipsters. VFF's are sooo 2009. I just couldn't justify paying so much for something so ugly. They are so stupid looking, in fact, that my 18 month old little girl laughs and giggles at "Daddy's Silly Shoes." She doesn't have the verbal agility to make her words sound like mine, yet, but she sure has the tone down. She bushes and giggles as if to say: "Dada! those aren't shoes. They make your feet look like monkey feet!" Leave it to a toddler to bring things into perspective.

However, they have a very functional purpose. I have been trying to break these in slow, but it's difficult to not just take off on a jog everywhere. The standard recommendation is to cut your running volume to 10-20% of your normal distance for the first week, with a 10% increase each consecutive week. I spend as much time as possible barefoot, including on my workouts already, and I run in a fairly minimal shoe as it is. I've been focussing on my running form for over a year now on every run. I make sure to kick my shoes off and do barefoot sprints when i can, and i run barefoot on the beach quite a bit. I didn't think this wold be a painful transition. HOWEVER, the calf pain this first week has been painful. I cut my distance and speed down a lot, since it's impossible to go to a full 10% of 20 miles a week without riding in a wheelchair. I tested it out with my normal 5K on the road with the intent being to stop as soon as I felt any fatigue, and walk. I made it to the 2 mile mark lighter and faster than any other run I have had. I didn't even feel like I needed to stop at the 1.5 mile turn around. No lung cramps, extremely relaxed, It was hot and humid, but I just kept running. I stopped at 2 miles only because I was concerned about the break-in period. It hit all at once. One minute I was running free, feeling like Prefontaine (moustache and all), and then full stop the next. I walked back the next mile, and by the time i was back at my crew trailer I was feeling the tightness. I skipped the run the next day in favor of a bodyweight workout to push my weightloss protege through, and capped it off with a short jog to work on form. I was sore, but not to the point of barely being able to walk. The next day was a lifting day, and at one point I had to remove the shoes due to the cramping from wearing the shoes. Simply being barefoot was brutal, but it was worse with the shoes on.

Here is a video from RunBlogger showing the calf muscle contraction during a run with VFF's

This leads me to a conclusion: The VFF Break-in period isn't necessarily from the muscles in your feet being atrophied from years and years of being shod, but in my case at least, from the unatural position of the toes being held in more of a splayed position. While running unshod, your toes splay out and spread looking for ground. The big toe is the driver, and the little toes are the stabilizers. The VFF's facilitate the splaying out, but when you relax and try to grip the ground, there is a resistance. This puts the pinky toe in an awkward position, and the small muscles incorporated in the movement get worn out from having to hold the toes in a splayed position. The break in period is to acclimate your legs to this new dynamic.

Now it may be the case, that as the sole breaks in, my toes will be able to relax on the upstride. I haven't got that far yet,as this pair of KSO's only have about 4-5mi on them with some weight training and some tree climbing. It has to be said that so far, I am not unhappy with the purchase, and the shoes live up to the hype. I would like to give the ZEM360's a try as well, but that will have to be in the near future. I did get out today and run a "follow-the-leader" style circuit around the camp today, and afterward worked on my MovNat skills in the liveoak tree out in front of the crew trailer. After a rest day yesterday, my legs feel fresh and ready to go. So far, so good. I can say I will be wearing the shoes a lot in the future.

ALSO: I can say 2 more things slightly related. 1. I conquered a branch in the tree that I dubbed my "MovNat" branch. I have been using this branch to try and work on my natural movement sklls. I today, for the first time, went from a dead-hang in to the tree via a muscle-up, and then down over another branch. 2. I am definitely NOT too old to climb trees.


  1. I can't wait to try VFFs too! Maybe this coming spring... Glad to see they are working well for you so far - interesting how they are broken in.

  2. Your blog is awesome and I want those Vibrams! I tried a friend's pair, but just to walk around in. Felt good. Right now I'm trying to find somewhere to buy them, which is harder than you might think because I live in China. They'll be somewhere, though!

    1. Damn! China!? I wouldn't even know how to get anything there. Maybe purchase them in the states and have someone send them to you? Amazon? not sure.

      Your Tumblr is intriguing. I love all the maps. Thanks for checking out my blog!


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