It's not just for Kenyans anymore!
March 23, 2007 10:36 PM   Subscribe

Once you go barefoot, you won't go back For many serious runners, the best running shoe is no shoe at all. Barefoot runners find themselves less prone to injuries such as plantar fascitis and ankle sprains, possibly because their feet get such a good workout. For those who would like to experience the benefits of barefoot running without the worry of road hazards like broken glass and cooties, Vibram Fivefingers are the next best thing.
posted by freshwater_pr0n (36 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting idea, but god those shoes look uncomfortable. Then again, my feet have 35+ years of not having their toes separated, so I might have some bias here.

I will say though, a couple of soccer players I know definitely prefer to practice barefoot, so there might be something to the idea.
posted by quin at 10:49 PM on March 23, 2007

I know I've been living in the Bay Area too long, because I took one look at those and thought "I need some". After the great Keen Purchase Frenzy of 2005 that I endured, I think I need to stay inside and wear heels for a while. Get back to my roots.
posted by padraigin at 10:57 PM on March 23, 2007

It's true for horses too!
posted by Rhomboid at 11:18 PM on March 23, 2007

Bought a pair of these for kayaking and beachcombing last year and fell in love with the barefoot feel. I work mostly from home now and spend most of my time barefoot and I’ve grown to hate wearing normal shoes when the occasion calls for it. I'd be interested in trying these.
posted by Tenuki at 11:33 PM on March 23, 2007

A [MI] for everyone who follows that Vibrams link: I'm one of those people who cannot run in shoes without seriously injuring myself, and I've run thousands of injury-free miles barefoot.

These Vibram shoes are seriously first-generation, and they have some design flaws that don't make them worth the price. Mine were wonderful while they lasted, but they didn't last.

Run barefoot, and carefully, until they've worked out the bugs.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 11:43 PM on March 23, 2007

I wear Nike "Free" 5.0 running shoes, but only in the gym. They're great, but on the flimsy side. I can easily see how these "shoes" might be like that too.

Barefoot is indeed my preference, but the Frees are a decent compromise - especially in a scenario where I must wear shoes (I.E. the gym).
posted by C.Batt at 11:46 PM on March 23, 2007

My dad trained with Arthur Lydiard in the 50s, around the time he was training Murray Halberg. They all wore plain canvas sneakers with thin rubber soles, pretty much like your hipster Chuck Taylors now - everybody did. He doesn't recall any stress injuries. That's anecdotal, of course. I would love to know if there is any hard research into this.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:01 AM on March 24, 2007

Freaky. Lydiard's site is still alive, even though he isn't.

Let Arthur Lydiard be your personal coach!
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 12:04 AM on March 24, 2007

Vibram fivefingers? Sounds like the kind of product that would be illegal in Texas and Louisiana.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:21 AM on March 24, 2007 [2 favorites]

I thought one of the big benefits of shoeless running was that it made you more attentive to the ground you run on. That, and not having to buy shoes.
posted by phrontist at 3:40 AM on March 24, 2007

Going to Disney at the end of April: I wonder if these would be preferrable "walking about" shoes to what I was considering buying (waterproof pseudo-sandals at Land's End).
posted by thanotopsis at 4:35 AM on March 24, 2007

Those Vibrams reminded me of the rainbow toe-socks that were such a huge fad when I was in middle school. God, those things were itchy torture.... and yet I dearly want a pair of those shoes. Talk me out of it, freshwater_pr0n. How buggy are they?
posted by maryh at 4:45 AM on March 24, 2007

The Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila won a gold medal in the marathon at the 1960 Rome Olympics while running the event barefoot.
posted by jonp72 at 6:38 AM on March 24, 2007

This piece makes a pretty compelling argument against modern running shoes. Convinced me to try the Nike Free as well.
posted by dickyvibe at 6:38 AM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Those do look cool. But for for those who, like me, aren't running so much as ambling or paddling a kayak, don't my teva-style sandals work just as well?

Having typed that, I will admit to being tempted. Here' a concern, though: I have one big toe toenail that is weak. Damage from a childhood injury leaves it partially soft and my toe is sensitive to pressure. Would these things' toe-pockets help or hurt this situation I wonder?
posted by mmahaffie at 6:42 AM on March 24, 2007

There are many runners who have feet that are not "neutral"--a term used by podiatrists and those runners require orthotics to make their feet better positioned for the stress of running. One theory of he free footers is that the problem goes away once you adjust to No shoe and then you no longer will need the orthotics. However, some sports podiatrists who gave this position a chance seem now to believe that those runners with feet that require orthotics are ill served running without them.
posted by Postroad at 6:45 AM on March 24, 2007

Those fivefingers are an affront to me, and my syndactyl brethren.
posted by scruss at 6:46 AM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Tiny dumb question: how did the Vibram people manage to trademark the color Canary Yellow?
posted by kittyprecious at 6:48 AM on March 24, 2007

What about joint injury to the knees and hips? As a girl, it seems like that's where most of my problems occur... I know women have different mechanics than men due to differing proportions, joint angles, etc... any ideas about how this kind of running would affect a female runner?
posted by tentacle at 7:01 AM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

They're no J. J. Casuals (scroll down for the video from SNL).
posted by at 8:45 AM on March 24, 2007

I've had a pair of Vivo Barefoot shoes for almost two years, and must say it has been an "interesting" experience wearing them.

You quickly learn to love how you can feel everything under your feet as you walk down a street, but you also have to change how you walk or else your shins really take a beating (and this from a guy who is happy to walk 20km a day). Sadly, they (and our own feet/legs) aren't really designed for the smooth hard surfaces we tend to encounter.

The Barefoots came with instructions on how to run wearing them, but you want to do that on something other than pavement or concrete, trust me on this.

These days I mostly use them as house shoes in the winter (or to make a quick run to the depanneur. In the summer I'll use them as a more stylish replacement to sandals/filp-flops. I certainly do appreciate the gain in tactile feed back and freedom of movement. Final verdict? Fun to experiment with, hard to switch to.
posted by furtive at 8:48 AM on March 24, 2007

Let's not forget The Barefoot Hiker.
posted by furtive at 8:50 AM on March 24, 2007

Just read the piece mentioned by dickyvibe, and it does seem to make a convincing argument in favour of barefoot-ish running.

*glares at his expensive pair of nike running shoes* Darn it.
posted by nihraguk at 10:53 AM on March 24, 2007

I have flat feet, so running without shoes would be a really bad idea. (It's bad enough on the beach.)
posted by oaf at 11:16 AM on March 24, 2007

Barefoot running is probably great for people with excellent biomechanics (or even just passable ones) who grew up walking and running barefoot a lot so that their mechanics and physiology were able to develop and adept as their bodies matured. Especially if said people lived someplace where cement and other extremely hard surfaces were not the norm.
Also, in the rush to make and market running shoes, companies do indeed over-design their products. The added bulk and cushioning often results in a less stable foot-strike and can cause injury problems and an unnatural gait, so there's been a big cult of "minimalism" going on in some of the recreationally competitive running circles.

After observing the trend for a while, it seems to have sputtered out with a lot of the people who jumped on the minimalist and barefoot bandwagon since they've seen no marked improvement in their performance or their ability to stave off injuries after making even the most well-researched and gradual shift from regular trainers (everyday training shoes) to wearing racing flats (minimal, very lightweight shoes normally reserved for racing when every once of weight counts) or running barefoot for every session.

My own mechanics preclude me from ever being able to train properly without a relatively stable shoe (I'd been told by countless doctors that my biomechanics were terrible and I should choose a different sport and keep my running to a minimum of 10-15 miles a week at most, until I found a great podiatrist who created some orthotics for me that allowed me to have a long and successful stint as a competitive marathoner, training at 70-90 miles per week for a number of years) so I do bring some bias to this argument.

It seems probable that the invention of decent (not overly built-up) running shoes has allowed many more people to run high mileage and train more intensively than they would be able to before if the only options were still either running barefoot or in very basic, hard-soled training shoes, given the genetic hand they've been dealt and the man-made environments they live in.

Overly "high tech" shoes aren't really designed for the mechanics of running, but are produced to appeal to the general public who are attracted to "new" and "best".

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to train alongside a number of past and present Olympians before I left the sport, and almost all of them did (and still do) wear basic trainers for easy runs and long runs, ultra-lightweight trainers or road flats for hard sessions on the road or trails (tempo runs, pick-ups, road intervals, etc) and reserve truly minimalist shoes for racing and track workouts.

In addition, however, to strengthen their feet and improve their mechanics they will often do barefoot strides on the track's infield a couple of times a week. I don't know of any professional runners (although I am sure there must be some out there) who log very many more miles barefoot.

PS- for I_am_joe's_spleen! How lucky your dad was to train with Lydiard! My coach trained with him for a while after college as an 800/mile/5k runner and Lydiard had him doing what was considered very high mileage for middle-distance runners at that time. That experience was what he drew on when designing a marathon program for me. Lydiard was and still is one of the most respected coaches because his theories seemed radical at the time, but have been proven to work extremely well for many athletes and his manuals for training are still referred to constantly. By the time my coach was in New Zealand with Lydiard's group, some big improvements had been made in the soles of those shoes.
posted by stagewhisper at 12:02 PM on March 24, 2007

Sorry. I can't image how this is good for you. Not in the long run.

I have been working out barefoot in martial arts for a couple of decades. Now sitting here at 44 Years Old... It's not that great for you. The risks eventually outweigh benefits. I developed fascitis FROM the impact of working out barefoot on hard floors. If I ran bare foot on top of that? Jesus. My knees are bad enough now.

It's best to mix it up. I will do a few kicking rounds and jump-rope barefoot then do the same with mat shoes and cross trainers. I will grapple bare foot of course.

Sparring barefoot all the time it just plain stupid. Especially with any kind of real hard contact. I can't count the number of toes I've broken and small bone fractures I have sustained.

A few months back I came down wrong on my ankle - my foot caught in the seams of a mat - it was hard. From standing I saw the BOTTOM of my own foot turned up at me. That bad. I can't tell you how much that hurt. It's the first time ever I have felt like crying from a MA injury. My confidence in my base - my feet - is now permanently shot and I will be training in shoes likely from here on out. If I had had shoes on it would not have happed at all.

AS for MA bare foot? IF your interest is self defense... you get mugged or something... you're going to have shoes on, right?
posted by tkchrist at 12:37 PM on March 24, 2007

Not if they mug you in your martial arts gym.
posted by allkindsoftime at 2:08 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

Just remembered that we called those old canvas shoes "sand shoes". There was a standard pattern that you could buy from Para Rubber right up into the 90s, but I can't find them any more.

I think I will try a little barefoot running. I did grow up going barefoot all summer. As kids when we did PE at primary school we went barefoot. Nobody I knew wore specialised sports shoes (apart from rugby boots) until I hit secondary school in the 80s.

stagewhisper - I must admit I was surpised when Dad told me that he trained with Lydiard. This was when he was still a teenage schoolboy, training for cross-country and long distance races. I think Lydiard was still working out his system then, but definitely long slow distance and hill work were already prominent. Certainly Auckland has a geography that suggests such a programme.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:39 PM on March 24, 2007

I have to admit, since I bought my first pair of Crocs last year, I haven't worn any other shoes for just plain walking around - caymans for shorts and endeavor for wearing with jeans. No other shoes are as comfy anymore.

I'm not at all a runner, but these are very intriguing to me. I go barefoot at home and wherever I can in the summer, so it would be nice to try them out.
posted by gemmy at 4:35 PM on March 24, 2007

Not interested ... barefoot running gave me plantar fascitis.

Thank you genetics for feet that are so flat they make little sucky noises when I walk on linoleum.
posted by Dillenger69 at 7:05 PM on March 24, 2007

I used to make fun of my mom for her Crocs until I had minor foot surgery... those shoes saved me. I couldn't walk at all for a while, and then only if I had the Crocs on...
posted by at 8:21 PM on March 24, 2007

Happy Feet blog. Society for barefoot living.

The look of the Vibram Fivefingers is wonderful, sort of like techno paws.

Thirding the extraordinary comfort of croc style shoes, foam clogs. Payless Shoes offers them half the price (about $15) of other brands and I think their foam is softer too. I could not have gotten through the agony of neuropathy in my feet during and after chemo without them and basically wear only foam clogs now unless formality requires otherwise. Never experienced anything so nice on the feet compared to foam clogs. Apparently the original foam clog company is Waldies.

That said I was curious about the $250 a pair Masai Barefoot Technology shoes. I tried them on at a shoe store and they felt great. Has anyone else tried them?
posted by nickyskye at 11:31 PM on March 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

My vibram fivefingers assert subtle pressure to pull my toes towards my heel. Even though they're correctly sized, there's no way this is good for me. I was disappointed--figure it's a 1.0 thing.
posted by Phred182 at 1:22 AM on March 25, 2007

Walking barefoot on hard, dirty city streets just seems dumb to me.

Crocs are the most comfortable shoes ever. The newer styles are also a bit less cloddy.
posted by Sassenach at 1:26 PM on March 26, 2007

For those with Nike Free lust in this thread. I've had two pairs, the first went back after it fell apart after a week. The second was a sensitive snow flake of a shoe, falling apart in exciting new ways. They were comfortable though.
posted by drezdn at 8:20 AM on April 4, 2007

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