So lately I have been going back and forth between my VFF Treks and my old Brooks Defyance. It’s due to a combination of things: the weather, the cold, the long treadmill runs. I used to hate putting on my “regular” running shoes because, well, I hated them. They’re heavy and I can’t feel anything with my feet when I run in them. Lately though, I’ve noticed something. I actually feel ok when I run in them. I’m not doing anything exotic (intervals, fartleks, etc.) with them, just long slow distances on the treadmill or my shorter, typical runs outside if the snow is fresh and deep or wet and slushy.
Last November, while I was running my local half-marathon, my buddy Mike (he seems to be popping up every where in this blog) was volunteering. He had planned to run it but had injured himself a few weeks earlier during a 5K. He said to me after the race that he noticed that my gait was different from when we had first run together 10 months earlier. It really didn’t register with me, except for the fact that I was running in my VFF KSOs.
But this past month has me wondering. I did more running in my traditional running shoes in January than I had since June of last year when I started running almost exclusively in VFFs. It used to be that if I put in a certain number of miles in regular shoes, my right knee would start screaming for a break. Consequently, I would have to take a week off from running and I would turn into a grumpy old man. But this last month has been different. When I went back to do the math I was shocked to find that I had run well over 100 miles in January in my Brooks.
Yet, the knee is peachy.
Did the VFF’s improve my form or did time? I remember reading early on in my rediscovery of running that you can very often tell the difference between a beginner and an experienced runner by the length of their stride. The longer you run, the shorter you stride becomes because your body learns how to be more efficient. The shorter stride means a quicker turnover and a lesser likelihood of your limbs flailing and wasting energy. My stride is definitely shorter than it was in November of 2008.
I also read when I first discovered Vibram Five Finger shoes that running barefoot or with a minimal shoe like the VFF forces your body back to the way we are designed to run (not on our heels), which in turn, shortens your stride. In the VFFs you tend to land more on the flat or balls of your feet. Has running in the VFFs for the last 7 month altered my natural footstrike so I can run that way in any shoe? I may have to take a trip to visit my buddy Pete’s lab to find out.
In the meantime, I ponder: was it the shoes or time that has made me a better, more efficient runner. The shoes or time that improved my form and now allows me to run pain free.
As has always been my way, I will take the middle path and say that it is probably the result of both.