I’m sure you’ve heard about them, maybe even seen a guy or a girl wearing them with pride, despite their weird appearance. Yes, the controversial Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs), the barefoot shoes that bring people down to earth. Literally. I’m a vivid advocate of barefoot walking , a proud owner of two pairs of FiveFingers and a furious monster, when someone with their feet imprisoned in thick heavy shoes is trying to convince me about how bad my Fives are without ever trying them on.
Why I love them so much? I remember I have always enjoyed being barefoot. As a kid, when playing in the backyard, I got rid of my shoes whenever possible, and I was running around watching carefully for bees. I loved getting my feet dirty, it was part of summer, part of holidays and carefree childhood. I even loved how my parents told me off for going to the house with my dirty feet, forcing me to walk through our basement full of spiders, where I had to wash my feet first in an old scary bathtub. I keep doing the same thing even as a grown-up every time I go home for summer holidays (and my mom keeps yelling at me for bringing dirt into the house).
FiveFingers for Functional Training
When I started with functional training, I felt that shoes didn’t allow me to fully use my potential, which resulted in being extra clumsy particularly during balance and stability exercise. My toes were wigling inside my fitness shoes attempting higher stability when jumping on Bosu and balancing on weighted balls, yet no better grasp, no extra support. That’s when I decided to give VFFs a try. Together with my friend, who immediately became my toes shoe buddy, we ordered a pair of KOMODO TrekSport each, perfect minimalist choice for fitness. I remember the celebratory moment, when I put them on for the first time and they felt so comfortable and natural! I haven’t worn any other shoes for my workouts since then. My stability improved immediately, I felt how all of a sudden I started using so many “new” muscles in my feet, my posture improved and everything seemed easier. Even my famous clumsiness improved and I felt like a spider-woman, like a strong lighthouse in stormy ocean. Until I fell once again. 🙂
I started light running 2 years ago. Running without any ambitions,I took running as a mean of being outdoors and moving a bit, or just to warm up before workout and add a new movement to my training. As I went up from 2 km at the beginning to leisurly 6-8 km, I felt my joints hurting, knees weak and tense and lots of small abrasions and blisters all over feet. I was uncomfortable and hated my shoes, so when my Fivefingers arrived in autumn, it was a clear choice.
In January this year I started running a bit more, challenged by my colleague to attempt the Brussels 20 KM in May. I had two conditions – I would have only done it as long as I felt I wouldn’t have hurt myself, and I would have run in my VFFs. Compared to my previous good weather/very short distance running, Komodos had to undergo a big stress test. I ran in winter in minus 5 degrees on different surfaces. I had to start slow because my calves were not used to so much impact, but I was so happy because I could tell that I was completely in control of my posture and my knees and hips didn’t hurt at all.
I can only recommend the toe shoes for running, particularly if you run on softer surfaces. Longer distances on asphalt can be uncomfortable and cause blisters on big toes (which I find the same with regular shoes on, where it also adds knee and hip pain). It takes a long adjustment and transformation period, due to complete change of running style from heel-strike to front-strike. That causes that calves carry out most of the work and impact goes to the front of the foot, but after the long-unused small inner muscle groups awaken after periods of being stuck in hard shoes with meaningless support and padding and cushions, one feels like flying along the trail, like having springs instead of legs.
VFFs passed my big test with flying colours. Indeed, I ran the Brussels 20 km race with them on, and I finished it with time better than I expected. Throughout the race I met another VFF enthusiast, who didn’t hesitate to Hi5 with me… and then disappeared ahead of me. Well, I still have to train to work on my speed. 🙂
Hiking in Toe Shoes
I got my second pair of VFFs just recently, as I started hiking extensively and after 25 km in regular hiking bootsI suffered terrible pain in my feet, discomfort and blisters. I am convinced my shoes were right, I paid a lot of attention when buying them, seeked advice, tried various types and broke them in. It didn’t work. In April I received a pair of just launched Spyridon MR (Mud Runner) developed for trail running. They are stiffer than Komodos (those are very versatile and bring you as close to earth as possible) and protect the feet well on roughed surfaces. I broke them in on a 20 km off trail hike with various surfaces from large stones, fallen branches and trees, to mud and sand. I almost cried with happiness when at the end of the test I felt no pain, no blisters and received lots of attention. 🙂
I haven’t worn other shoes for hiking since then, the longest distance walked was about 35 km with backpack on. Upon my passionate talk during one of our hikes, my friend, who is training for Oxfam 100 km trailwalker in August, bought a pair of MudRunners as well, and I have already received a few very excited emails from her. I am sure that she will be comfortable for the entire 100 km and 30 hours of walking.
Changes to my Feet
After heavy usage of barefoot shoes for already 1,5 year (wearing them daily) I can see that my feet have changed. My arch got higher and lots of small muscles are visible especially after longer hikes. Whether running or hiking, I feel that I engage my lower abs way more to maintain correct posture, which prevents lower back pain. Posture maintenance comes very naturally, when wearing Vibrams. I have no joint pain and low back pain is minor. Appears only after longer distance. Knee feel tense only when running down a long hill. I am working on my technique in this case.
You probably want to know, if I am ever cold and how I deal with wetness, when using VFFs outside. I was wondering myself in winter when running with the super slim Komodos in below zero. As long as I was moving, I was fine. I always came home with my feet warm. I didn’t run in snow, though. (Vibram came out with Lontras just last winter, which are waterproof and warmer designed for real snow training.)
Whenever my feet get wet, they stay warm and comfortable as long as I keep walking/running. My most favorite surface is surprisingly soft mud! Yeah, I get my feet wet instantly, but it somehow feels so soft and comfy. Kinda like a spa mud treatment for free!
I am more and more convinced that I will end up with FiveFingers Lontra for winter runs and hikes. FiveFingers are like a tattoo -one feels almost rebelious with the first pair and always ends up buying more. They are addictive, cool and keep us firmly down to earth!
I would love for you to share your experience and thoughts on these controversial babies. DDo not hesitate to ask any questions, if you are considering buying a pair. I will gladly share my insight in the comments below.
Thank you for reading and don’t forget to live loud!