The Five Fingers - First few runs

Even if all the theories are correct and it is proven beyond doubt that we are supposed to run without any supportive footwear, the worst thing you could do is kick off your trainers straight away and really go for it naked. I've been running in a variety of Asics, Nikes, Brooks and Saucony's for 10 years. My whole running style is based on what I have under my feet. This isn't going to change overnight. Taking that support away from me for all my running will lead to injury very soon.

I feel like I am in a position when I can learn to run from scratch again. Whenever someone asks me about "starting" to run I suggest picking a distance you know you are comfortable completing, even if it involves walking. Say a lap of a local park or round the block. Then just aim to get round it, running as much as you can but walking if needed. This shouldn't be more than about 20 minutes. Then, maybe try it again in a few days and then again and again till you can run the whole lot. Then, try running a bit further. It's won't be long before you all of a sudden consider yourself a runner.

I'm now back to square one with the Vibrams. The key is to start slow and short, within half a mile I can understand why.

My first run was a half mile run to the supermarket. I was running on roads which is not the intention but I immediately felt like I was performing an alien action. I instictively started to run almost on my toes as making heel contact with the ground was really uncomfortable. I could feel every contour of the ground, especially those bumps on the pedestrian crossings. The half a mile to the shop felt like really hard work and I walked back (mainly due to the weight of the shopping).

After that I did a few run/walks in them, never more than a mile. The main thing that was holding me back was that these are incredibly difficult to get on. My toes didn't seem to want to seperate and trying to get my little toe in the little toe compartment was impossible. Has wearing shoes and trainers for all these years squashed my toes in? I got a size 10 (my trainer sized is 10.5, shoes are 9). I am not sure whether the ones I have may be a bit big. Maybe when I can get them cheaper I'll go for some size 9's.

I put them away for a while as I was doing lots of road running, then on Sunday just gone I missed a marathon in Kent (out of pure laziness rather than a hangover or illness). I couldn't be arsed running a long one that day but wanted to do something useful so I finished my MDS report and went for a second run (25 minutes) in these. My calves hurt a lot, like I was doing hill sessions and my knees ached a bit. I had to respect the fact that I was using different muscles with every step and over-doing it could result in damage. I finsihed about 3 miles and returned, feeling a bit achy but ok.

The next morning I felt like I'd done some hardcore hill sprinting session the day before. I could barely flatten my feet on the ground while walking in the house bare foot. My calves were killing me and I had to put on some trainers to ease the pain. Having done that I felt fine again and ran to and from work (about 18 miles), calves still sore but able to run.

Yesterday I upped the mileage and braved a third run. I use the word braved as this was in public view of everyone at the club. If it went wrong not only would I have to suffer the effort of walking back to the centre but also the humiliation. I did get lots of comments of looking like a gimp/hobbit/triathlete/twat. I loved them really.

Much of the Hyde park run is on hard path but wherever possible I ran on the softer trails, feeling everything beneath me. It was great, like having constant reflexology performed on me, not that I believe in that stuff. I started as I always do by running on my toes, overcompensating for not wanting to touch the ground with my heel. After about a mile I naturally eased into a mid-foot strike where my heel would contact the ground more but it felt comfortable. I could still run at a decent pace, around 8mm without any discomfort but bursts of speed felt unnatural. That may just be a case of getting used to them.

I was suprised by the grip these things offered. It was pouring it down with rain and some of the pavements were quite flat and slippy. They handled the corners well. At the end of the run I felt fine, calves still a bit sore but less so than 3 days ago. The next morning they felt better and the heel thing was not so bad.

So far so good then.....


How to Run Barefoot - From 

If you’re interested in trying out barefoot (or nearly barefoot) running, keep in mind that it will take your body some time to get used to it. Here are some tips from the experts to get you started.

  • Start slow, with quarter-mile runs at most, and build up very gradually.
  • Listen to your feet. Don’t try to run with the same gait you use in shoes — shorten your steps and land on the forward part of your foot.
  • Keep your head up and your body vertical. Your feet should be hitting the ground almost directly underneath you, not in front of you.
  • Ankle and calf strength is key to avoiding injury, so consider Ferber’sfour-week barefoot strengthening programbefore you start (.doc).
  • Keep barefoot running to no more than 10 percent of your weekly regimen, especially at first.
  • If you’re running completely barefoot, run on a mix of soft and hard surfaces to give your feet time to toughen up.

Finally, don’t try this if you suffer from diabetes or another condition that would affect your ability to feel and respond to sensations from your feet.

“Like any part of your body, you have to build up very, very slowly,” says Lieberman. “If you really pay attention to your body and build up slowly, you’ll be fine.”

For more advice and information, check outBarefoot Ken BobandBarefoot Ted’s websites, as well as the barefoot running forum on theRunner’s World community site.

Vibram Five Fingers Test - Barefoot Running

It is easy to fall in love with the idea. Man has run and run for 4 million years and only recently have we shoved large chunks of foam under our feet. These blocks of rubber are the cause of all our injury woes. The foot has evolved over millions of years, as has the rest of our bodies to cope with all the stresses of running. In fact that is how we gained advantage over the other primates from which we evolved, our abilities to run for hours and hours, days and days and chase animals to exhaustion. It is a wonderful thought and one that will give me some great rocks to hurl at those idiots who constantly ask me "isn't it bad for your knees?" and so forth.

However, it might not be that clear cut. The world isn't the same place it was a million years ago. There was no tar mac or gravel paths. Were humans really supposed to run around all day or is that just a conspiracy to discredit Nike? Didn't these super runners of a million years ago die before they were 30? And I can't believe that the answer to our running woes involves wearing a product that sounds like a sex toy.

I first heard (and saw) about the Vibram Five Fingers when Christopher McDougal came to speak about his book "Born To Run" to our club. The book endorses this theory that humans were runners. Or that running made us human. I could easily get carried away with the idea, I'd love to be able to say to people that running is perfectly natural. It would save me a lot of time. "Why do you love running?" They'll ask. "Why do you love sex?" I'll reply. 

An article appeared this week in Wired magazine, rather sloppily written and poorly referenced but containing many of the arguments for (and in the comments - against) the idea that we should be running barefoot, and indeed running lots and lots.

The main points of the argument are;

  • Humans have been on their feet for 4 millions years and only in trainers for about 40 years. We managed to survive up until now? What has changed?
  • Children run quite freely in barefoot and don't get injured. That is because they are running as nature intended
  • Humans actually scored an evolutionary advantage from being able to run long distances, running other animals to exhaustion. In contrast humans are really poor sprinters in comparions to anything with 4 legs and most things with 2 legs
  • All these "developments" in running shoe technology have not stopped masses of people getting injured
  • The foot is actually an incredibly efficient piece of evolution, build with impact dissipation and spring mechanisms that adjust perfectly to each step whereas trainers force an unnatural large stride, heel strike and mask the foot from responding to the ground

The counter arguments mentioned in the comments

  • Little research has been done in this area, certainly not enough to draw conclusions on. The experiment to discredit the need for cushioning looks shaky at best
  • There is not sufficient fossil evidence that humans really did run as much as suggested, or at all. This is still all conjecture
  • Even if we did run as much as is suggested, humans only had a life expectancy of 30 back then. Human bodies may be designed for 30 years of running, but not 90.
  • Pavements and tarmac did not exist a million years ago. Now it does, and feet were not built to cope with such hard surfaces
  • They make you look like a twat 

I am currently reading some of the articles about this. I've not yet formed my own view but am excited enough by the thought to go out and buy a pair.

I want it to be true, I really do and I know I'm biased in favour from the start. Nevertheless I'm going to try and stay objective as I test these things out. What's the worst that could happen? Apart from being told that I look like a twat?