Minimalist Running: A Year’s Worth of Knowledge and a List of Things I’ve Learned
The first post we ever published here at 2 Fat Nerds talked about the Vibram Buying Experience. Today I wanted to give a full review of my transition to minimal footwear, after a year of trial and error.
The Line Up
Since switching to minimal footwear, I now own three sets of shoes.
The Vibram Treksport is my go-to running shoe. I've logged over 350 miles over the past year, and they are still good to go. They have held up amazingly well, and I have been extremely happy with them. The treads are starting to wear out on the bottom from all of the road running we do, but that's about the only real wear on these. Because there is no padding, that is not an issue; really, until my feet start slipping all over the place, I'll keep using these as my primary training and racing shoe.
One thing to note, they make all different styles of Vibrams, and picking the right one for you makes a difference!
Merrell Road Gloves
Merrell Road Gloves have been my standard non-training, every day shoe. I initially bought them to train in, but after a few runs I vastly preferred my Vibrams. Because these aren't toe shoes, I started using them everywhere else. This was my initial transition to totally minimal footwear.
I have had a bit of an issue with the Road Gloves that I wanted to mention. The side mesh on my left shoe has actually worn out and now has decent-sized holes in them. My wife pointed out that I've worn them nonstop since March, and it makes sense that they would wear out, but for a $100+ shoe, I thought I'd get a little bit more life out of them. Pretty disappointing.
Merrell Slant Glove
Merrell Slant Gloves is the newest addition (as of last night!) to my arsenal. I got these mainly to wear to work, as my Road Gloves with holes are no longer quite work appropriate. I wanted a minimal feel that is more dressy than typical athletic shoes. They fit pretty snugly with socks, and at first I thought I should get a bigger size. But I think after using them for a couple of weeks, they will loosen up and be just right.
They were also on sale, as I think they are older models. I think Merrell now brands these type of shoes as Merrell Barefoot Life, or something hippy like that.
The most important, and often controversial, subject about different types of running shoes is injury prevention or causation. I wanted to say upfront that it hasn't been a magical, without-pain transition to minimal running. I've certainly had my share of bumps and bruises.
The first and foremost issue was a very sore Achilles tendon. When we initially made the switch, we started out very slow. Mainly because I was out of shape, but also because we had read the instructions and were working to strengthen our feet and muscles. Achilles tenderness was a pretty common occurrence for the first few months, but eventually it became a nonissue.
Secondly, I had a nice bout with Extensor Tendonitis, or a really, really sore top of foot. It hurt to flex my toes or to walk. This was about three to four months into training, when I started pushing longer (3- to 4-mile) distances. I now know from reading and lectures that this is caused by the angle at which my foot strikes the ground. The angle with which I was hitting the ground was too sharp (I was hitting mostly on my toes), and this causes those tendons to be overworked. A good midfoot strike cured that issue for me completely within a few weeks.
Thirdly, now that we are pushing longer distances, my recurring fight with my illiotibial band has re-presented itself just in the past few weeks. It should make for an interesting half marathon this weekend! The important thing to note here is that this is not an injury caused by shoe selection, I've had this issue for years, dating back to my original running days five years ago.
I am happy to report that running in Vibram's is still as fun as ever. They are so light weight they are hardly noticeable, and it is still a lot of fun to feel every rock (like the one last night that stopped me dead in my tracks), stick, and dandelion in our path. I highly recommend them if you are looking for ways to make running more enjoyable.
It is also still hilarious to me how many people will stop and ask us if we really run in those things . . . as we are running in them. I smile and say, "Yep, this pair has taken me 350 miles!" and keep on going. It just makes me happy for some reason.
Other Things I've Learned
Vibram Five Fingers really aren't good for riding bicycles. Don't do it.
Vibram Five Fingers still aren't appropriate for the work place, the grocery store (unless you are running to and from the grocery store), restaurants, and pretty much any place other than when you are working out.
Snow isn't too bad. It is the ice-slush that you have to worry about. There is nothing more painful than running in ice-slush.
You will actually be one of three people at an official race wearing Vibrams. The other people are always my wife and a fifty-something overweight guy.
Dandelions are the bane of my existence. I'm not friggen kidding. They hurt when they land right in between your toes.
Stepping in dog waste does in fact squish between your separated toes.
So, with that, I plan on continuing my minimalist-footwear experiment. Look for an update next year, same time!