Yesterday was a beautiful Easter Sunday, and in the evening my husband and I got out without the kids and went for a five mile walk on a trail near our home. We both wore our Vibram FiveFingers. My husband started running in the FiveFingers after reading Christpher McDougall’s Born to Run over a year ago. He owns a few pairs of the Vibram FiveFingers and had gotten up to running about four to five miles in them. The chronic persistent knee pain he had most of his adult life disappeared, and he was starting to think the minimalist shoes were the answer. Then he got a stress fracture. He has not been able to run in three months and might not be able to get back to it anytime soon. Was it the minimalist running?
I have my own experience with minimalist running. I love the concept. To me running is about as pure a sport as you can get, and so the idea of running with less was immediately appealing. Like James, I eased into running in the FiveFingers, walking at first, and then running just a mile at a time until I got used to it. One time I went four miles in the FiveFingers and seriously paid for it the next day. My calf muscles were screaming at me! To be honest, though, I haven’t totally gotten used to them yet, and I only run in them every few weeks. What I have discovered, however, is that even the small amount of running that I have done in the minimalist shoes has improved my foot strike, and therefore has helped to keep me injury free.
Anyone who has run in minimalist shoes knows that you can’t heal strike (land on your heal first) for long before growing very uncomfortable. Minimalist shoes force a more natural mid-foot strike when we run. So when I run in the FiveFingers, I have to run with a more natural stride. Since I started wearing the minimalist shoes, I have tried to think about this “mid-foot” strike whenever I run (no matter what shoes I am wearing).
There are lots of opinions out there about minimalist running. A great website to visit if you are interested in the minimalist concept is Christopher McDougall’s site. On the other hand, there are some, like physical therapist Alan Tyson, owner of Architech Sports who say that while the concept is fine, the surfaces that we run on today make minimalist running unrealistic. Stress fractures, like the one James is trying to recover from, are the result of trying to go minimalist on concrete and asphalt, according to Tyson. Running on dirt, grass, or trails in FiveFingers is one thing, but most people have to run on harder surfaces, and that is when problems arise.
James and I still like our FiveFingers, and we saw a few others wearing them on the trail while we walked yesterday. Are you a proponent of minimalist running? Have you tried the Vibram FiveFingers? How about the very light shoes like the Nike Free or the Saucony Kinvara? What have been the results? Please share your story!