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After nearly 2 years, I have finally reached a balance when it comes to my funny little running shoes. As many of you know, I have been a proponent of the Vibram Five Finger shoe for almost a year and a half now. Part of my inspiration came from reading Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, part of it came from my good friend Mike (famous for his battle with the Cat in the Hat last April). The thing is, you may have noticed that I haven’t been talking about them quite as much lately. I haven’t been pushing them, proselytizing about them.

I realized recently that I went into this minimalist shoe thing, the VFF’s in particular, all wrong. I did everything one was NOT supposed to do, and I paid for it with pain, injury and worst of all, time away from running. If transitioned to properly, I believe that the Vibrams are one of the best things you can do for yourself, your feet and your running, on many different levels.

Let’s start with why they are good:

  1. They will push you to run with proper form – the thing about running barefoot is that you can’t be a heavy-duty heel striker. Even if that is what you have become, you are forced by the lack of heel protection to change your posture. If you try to continue to run with a heel-strike while barefoot, you’ll only end up hurting yourself…badly.
  2. If used properly, you will avoid injuries to your knees and hips – because you are forced into better posture, your knees and hips don’t take the extreme pounding they would normally take while running with a heel-strike
  3. You will run faster – because you are not hitting the breaks with your heels at every footfall, your momentum doesn’t get interrupted and you are able to maintain a higher speed.
  4. You will run longer – because of the maintained momentum, you expend less energy with each step, each yard, each mile, leaving you more energy to run farther.

Sounds pretty good. Sounds like a miracle shoe. Let’s go out and get a pair and start piling on the miles!

***

***

Yeah, you know what? That’s exactly what I did. I read Born to Run and I talked to my buddy Mike and I was sold, convinced, converted. I was ready to dedicate my feet to Barefoot Ted and Vibrams. So I went out and bought a pair of the VFF Sprints, took them home, hopped on the treadmill and ran 3 miles.

BANG! BANG! BANG!

That was the sound of my feet on my treadmill as I ran my first VFF run. It was so loud! But you know what? It felt great…for about half a mile. Then my shins started to hurt a little. The burning pain grew, but I was determined to keep going.

These were Vibram Five Fingers!

They were barefoot shoes!

Evolution had programmed and designed me to run like this.

The pain would go away, right?

RIGHT?

But no, the pain didn’t go away. In fact, it got worse. By the time I hit 2 miles my shins were throbbing and my calves were starting to bark.

I breathed a sigh of relief when I finally hit 3 miles.

MY GOD THAT WAS PAINFUL!!!

But the pain was nothing compared to what I felt the next morning.

You know that feeling you get the morning after a hard fought marathon? The kind of feeling that forces you to walk down stairs backwards? Yeah, well 3 miles in the Vibrams on the treadmill had pretty much done the same thing to me. For the next three or four days I hobbled, if you could even call it that. Walking was painful.

In all seriousness, I was ready to toss the shoes and call them an $80 mistake. I called my buddy Mike to bitch about them, but before I could say anything he asked how far I had run in them.

“3 miles,” I said.

There was a moment of silence on the other side of the line and then some mild laughter. He knew. He knew that I must have been in incredible pain.

“Dude! You shouldn’t have done more than a half a mile the first time in those things! You could really hurt yourself like that!”

“Well, you could’ve told me,” I said. He laughed and we moved on to other topics, but at that point I realized that I needed to give the Vibrams another chance. This time I would take it slowly and build up my mileage a little at a time.

And that’s what I did. Over the course of the next month or so, I built up my mileage until I was able to do 8 mile runs regularly in them.

This is where my next big mistake came. I loved these shoes so much, that I eliminated my other running shoes completely. I loved them and talked about them so much that my wife had this made for my birthday:

 

Yes, that is a Vibram Five Finger KSO Cake

The problem with that is when you wear the same shoe all of the time, you run a higher risk of repetitive motion injuries, and when you’ve spent a lifetime running in regular shoes, certain muscles and tendons have atrophied to the point where they are weak and brittle. I got away with it for a few months. I had developed a pretty decent stride, but my form still had a tendency to break down a little late in longer runs. I was able to fend off injury to my achilles’ tendon through stretching, but in the meantime, I didn’t realize what I was doing to the tendons on the top of my feet. About 5 weeks before I was to run my first marathon, I went out for a run and I got a sharp pain on the top of my right foot. This was not a “let me see if I can run through it” type of a pain. No, this was, “HOLY CRAP I HAVE GOT TO STOP RIGHT NOW!!!” kind of a pain. Being the intelligent person that I am I decided to try another 10 yards and nearly collapsed to the ground on the second stride.

Something was dreadfully wrong.

After much testing and worrying, I was relieved to know I had not broken anything. I had a severe case of tendinitis however and the doctor ordered me to lay off the running for six weeks.

Hmmm…6 week, eh, Doc? I don’t think I can do that.

Why not, Luau?

Well, you see, I’ve got this marathon coming up in 5 weeks.

No, no you don’t have a marathon coming in 5 weeks. You aren’t going to run. Why would you want to run a marathon anyway?

I sighed after that comment, knowing that I wasn’t going to get anywhere with her. She realized that I was going to run one way or the other.

Ok, she said, I think you’re crazy for doing it in the first place, but if you are going to run it, you need to take the next 3-4 weeks off and then take it easy leading up to the marathon. The moment you feel pain in the race, you stop!

The moment I feel pain? I thought The marathon is about ignoring pain!

I nodded my head and said I would.

The truth is though, I did need to take time off. I could barely walk on my foot, much less run on it. Even swimming, which I did during those 4 weeks, was initially painful to do because of the tendinitis. All of this pain, because I jumped headlong, eyes closed into the minimalist shoe movement without taking into consideration that maybe my legs and feet needed some time to adjust.

So what’s my point? When I started wearing Vibrams, they were the fringe of the fringe. Most odd-balls looked at me like I was crazy. Now, almost 2 years later, the Five Finger shoe line has gained a foothold in the running shoe market. More and more people are willing to try them out. This increased use by an uninformed public has led to some injuries that are being reported by an uninformed press. The Boston Globe, among others, recently published an article about the dangers of wearing the Five Finger shoe. They only get the story half right. Yes, the VFF’s can lead to injury if the wearer doesn’t go about transitioning to them the right way. However, with a little patience, something that is lost in this age of immediate gratification, one can avoid injury all together.

If you are considering a move to Vibram Five Fingers or any other extreme minimalist shoe, I would suggest three things:

  1. Take your time – start slowly and with as few miles as you can possibly take. In fact, if you are using VFF’s for the first time, try a quarter or half mile and call it a day. You can finish your run in your traditional shoes, but don’t be fooled by the initial “it feels so good” feeling. It can only lead to trouble.
  2. Consider a transition shoe. Something that has a bit of a minimalist feel that still has some of the support and cushioning of a traditional shoe. Personally, I highly recommend the Saucony Kinvara. It is low to the ground, relatively flat, light as a feather, but still soft underfoot.
  3. Don’t go exclusively with one shoe. Try rotating your shoes. It doesn’t have to be a 50-50 split. You simply want to make sure that you are not putting the same stresses on the same spots every time you run. This will help you avoid repetitive stress injuries like I suffered right before my first marathon.

If you’re still here, hopefully it means you are still interested in going minimalist. I highly recommend it. It will make you faster and allow you to run longer. Just don’t go making the same mistakes I made.

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Today’s post is part of a Minimalist Running Blog Carnival. You can link to the round-up at http://www.strengthrunning.com/2011/02/minimalist-blog-carnival/ where you will find several links to other bloggers writing about different aspects of minimalist running. I hope you will click over and check them out.

Why do you run?

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In Greek mythology, the Sirens were dangerous bird-women, portrayed as seductresses who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island [wikipedia]. This past week I have been dealing with my own version of the Sirens. The weather has been generally delightful, my knee has felt fine, and my new Vibram Bikila Shoes, though wonderful on the elliptical, have been whispering run, run over and over again. Yes, as I work to make sure that my knee is healthy, the Sirens have been calling me to the road, tempting me to run.

For once, I am trying to be smart about it. I want to run. I need to run. But like Odysseus, I am strapping myself to the mast (the elliptical) and having my men (the DVR) row me through temptation. Though I have to admit I did run one mile (ONLY ONE!) with my buddy Josh (@bostoncardiovet) as he made his way through an uphill mile 11 of the Heartbreak Hill Half Marathon on Sunday.

So far so good. The knee is on the mend, I’m maintaining cardio health and I can see the road just a week away. But as that day approaches, the Sirens’ song gets louder and more beautiful. The temptation to go back just a day, maybe two, early is very strong. Would it really hurt to go back to running just a day early? Probably not, but why take the chance? Right?

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Yesterday I picked up a pair of the new Vibram Bikila. They weren’t supposed to be in the stores until this morning, but when I called to find out what time they thought they would be coming in, I was told they had just received a small shipment. They had received one pair in my size. I asked the salesperson to hold on to them and that I’d be there in 10 minutes.

I was there in 5.

The moment I slipped them onto my feet, I knew this was going to be my new favorite shoe. I have run in Vibram Sprints, KSO’s and Treks. All were great for running in, but these Bikilas fit nice and snug. They feel fast. I jogged lightly from one end of the store to the other, “testing” them out. I really didn’t need to…I just wanted to show them off. Now that they were on my feet, I didn’t care if someone else with my foot size showed up. I mentioned to the salesperson that I was happy that I had called because I knew had I waited until this morning, I would have been told that they had just sold the one pair they had in my size. These shoes are selling like hotcakes. On Thursday, CitySports put about 150 pair up online. They were gone in 20 minutes.

I brought them home and showed them to my family. They were unimpressed, and quite honestly, I guess I could understand. I never was into the Air Jordan craze. I never understood the hysteria. Now I do. I’ve been itching for a pair of Bikila since I first heard about them. The fact that I could play with but not purchase them at the Boston Marathon Expo killed me.

Anyway, after dinner I went for my first run in them.

Over the course of my 3 mile run, I took them over a variety of terrain, including road, sidewalk, grass and brush. The Bikila performed perfectly in all conditions. The only place I might hesitate taking them is on truly off road terrain, but quite honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised it they handled that decently as well. During my run I was able to feel the ground beneath as well as I could in my Sprints, but still get some traction like I do in my Treks. One of the reasons why I had switched to Treks in my long runs had been the fact that after 5 – 6 miles in my Sprints I would often feel the bottoms of my feet heating up a bit. That doesn’t happen in my Treks (at least not in runs 26.2 miles or shorter) and based on the feel of the Bikila, I don’t anticipate that happening with them either.

As I mentioned earlier, these Vibrams feel fast when you put them on. These truly feel like a second skin to me, unlike my previous Vibrams that in comparison, feel like loose fitting gloves. The tread on the Bikila is like a cross between the KSO’s/Sprints and the Treks. Thick enough to feel like you’ve got some traction and protection, but light enough to feel the road completely. As I went out for my run, I told myself to go slow. My legs are still recovering from my 2 Marathons in 2 Weeks Adventure and I had originally planned on waiting until Monday to start running again. Of course, with the Bikila in hand, I wasn’t about to NOT run. So I went out with the intention of running a slow 3 miler.

These shoes don’t want to go slowly. Your feet just want to go in them and mine did. After starting off with an 8+ minute mile, I covered the last 2 miles in 15 minutes, without any realization that I was running that fast. Had you asked me to guess my pacing, I would have told you I ran 8 minute miles the whole way. For those of you who are not runners, but have made it this far in my review, a 30 second difference per mile is NOT insignificant. It is huge.

When I arrived home, I didn’t do my usual routine of ripping off my shoes immediately after the run. I had to leave them on. HAD to. That’s because not only do they feel fast, and not only do they have the perfect balance of tread on the soles, they are comfortable. I mean cozy! The feet feel great in them. If I wasn’t moderately self-conscious, I would wear then 24/7 – from dropping off the kids at school, to going to the grocery store, taking the kids to their various activities – I would wear them everywhere – and then I’d run in them. Unfortunately, I am a little shy when it comes to wearing them for anything but running, but that’s a Luau problem, not a Bikila problem.

I feel bad for my other Vibrams. I haven’t worn the Sprints since last fall, and the KSO have only been pulled out a couple times over the last few month. I thought I had found my perfect Vibram in my Treks. They are a great running shoe, especially during the cold winter months up here in the Northeast, but they too are about to be relegated to being a back-up player. The Bikila’s have taken the best from each of the previous models and improved upon them. These shoes were obviously made with the runner in me in mind. The Bikila are truly the runner’s Vibram Five Finger shoe. I am sure you will feel the same.

My new favorite running shoe – The Vibram Bikila!

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I need YOUR contributions to a project that I’m working on. Interested?

All you need to do is send me a paragraph or two telling me why you run and/ or why you think others should run. E-mail it to me at “runluaurun at gmail dot com” (written out so the bots don’t start sending me spam).

If you can, please include a picture of your favorite running shoes and tell me what kind of shoes they are. Also, please let me know how you would like to be referenced (real name, nickname, pseudonym, etc) just in case this project actually ever sees the light of day.

The more responses I get, the sooner I can put it all together, so please don’t be shy about forwarding this to your running friends and spreading the word.

Thanks!

Luau

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Last Sunday I ran the Eastern States 20. In the words of a twitter & dailymile friend, Josh (@bostoncardiovet), it was a blast…a huge, 15mph blast of headwind for about 80% of the race. That said, it had to be one of the most fun races I have ever run.

***

It didn’t start that way. For the 11AM race, I was up at 5:20. I hadn’t realized when I signed up A) just how far of a drive I had to get to the buses taking us from the finish to the starting line and B) that the buses would be leaving so early. Unfortunately for me, my father drilled into me the need to be early to any transportation you may be trying to catch. In the end I could have probably slept for another hour or so and still have been okay. As sleepy as I was though (or maybe because of it) I felt pretty relaxed riding the bus to the start.

We arrived at Traip Academy at 8:30.  8:30 for an 11:00 race.  I found a corner of the gymnasium where they were holding us and settled in for a wait.  As the minutes slowly ticked by, the nerves began to slowly build in my stomach.  The only other time I had run 20 miles or more was 5 months ago at the Manchester City Marathon.   That one didn’t end pretty and the ugliness started way before 20. I reached into my backpack for my water bottle to fiddle with the handle.

That’s funny, I thought it was in this pocket.  I reached into another pocket and then another.  No water bottle.  CRAP! Nerves turned to mild panic.  What the Frak am I going to do?

One of the things I love about my online running community is that there is a true sense that we are all in these races together.  I tweeted something along the lines of Oh crap! Forgot my water bottle in the car. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Within seconds I got a response from my buddy Pete (@oblinkin), who I have met just once in the real world mind you, telling me to calm down, water was on the way. That’s right. Long story short, he tweeted another twitter friend, Alett (@petfxr), who he knew would be driving Josh to the start. Turned out she had an extra water bottle.   Nerves began to settle.

A little before 11 we all mosied down to the start. I chatted with a few runners who were curious about my funny looking shoes. I tried to find the dailymile and twitter friends that I thought might be there but had no idea what they looked like.   I checked and rechecked Runkeeper and my headphones, twice (right, that’s four times). Check.

5…4…3…

I pressed start on Runkeeper.

2…1..Go!

I started to run with the crowd, waiting for the nice voice to come through my headphones telling me that I needed to start the next 0.5 mile interval.  Nothing! I tried raising the volume on the Oakley’s.  Nothing! As I continued to run, I took my iPhone off of my arm to reconnect my headphones,  Runkeeper and my music.  After two minutes of running in this fashion I finally got sound coming through. I looked at my watch to see how far off Runkeeper’s time and my stopwatch’s time were going to be.

00:00

CRAP!

I started the stopwatch and tried to focus on what I had ahead of me.

After the initial technical snafu, I settled into a groove. About a mile in I heard my name called behind me. It was another dailymile & twitter friend, Brad (@bradbirkel). He was running with a friend, experimenting with negative splits. As I pulled away, I knew he’d eventually catch me. I didn’t realize at the time just how helpful his catching me would be. In fairly short order I fell in with a group of runners that I’d stick with for the next 13 – 14 miles. We varied in shape and size, and if I’m going to be honest, we were running at a pace that was a bit faster than my original plan. My goal at been to run about a 7:30 – 7:45 pace for the race. This group was clipping along steadily at 7:07. Every couple of miles I would do a body check. Head, lungs, stomach, butt, legs, feet. Check, check, check, check and check.

From nearly moment one however, the wind was in our faces. The instant we hit the coast, I felt myself get pushed back. Holy Crap! This was not going to be easy. Our pack dwindled down to about 7 or 8, tightening a little as a group. We instinctively took turns leading the group, but the wind was harsh no matter where you were. This group of runners was more talkative than any I had raced with before and again, my Vibram’s became the topic of much conversation. How you like those? Don’t your feet hurt? Do you get knee pain?

The conversation kept me occupied, but only kept the demons of Manchester at bay for so long. As we passed miles 10, 11, 12 I looked ahead to 16. That was where I hit my initial wall in my one and only marathon. I was keeping up with this group, but the wind was starting to wear on me. At 15 I got hit with a cramp in my side. I tried to power through it, ignore it. My group started to pull away and I began to hear footsteps behind me.

No! No! NO!!! Pass! Don’t be passed!

At 16 I hit a wall. Well, not quite a wall, more like a wall of jello. I was still moving, but man it was hard. I felt my pace slow. I watched as my group went around a corner and out of sight. I thought for a moment of trying to catch them but really had no choice but to let them go. The goal of this race was to finish this race between 2:30 – 2:40 with what felt like was enough gas to go 6 more. I let them go. As my pace slowed, I got passed by a guy wearing his Manchester City Marathon shirt. This guy had probably passed me around this point in that race. I growled at myself.   Don’t lose this guy. You don’t need to catch him yet, but don’t you frakkin’ lose him.

About a quarter-mile from 18 I felt a reassuring pat on my back. It was Brad.

“Looking strong buddy!” he said. I told you you were gonna catch me! Brad kept moving along.  He would finish the last 3 miles in 18 minutes.

That pat on the back may have been Brad’s hand, but I felt the running gods give me a little push.  2 miles to go Luau.   It’s go time!

I shortened my stride and quickened my pace just a touch. I slowly, ever so slowly began to reel in MCM Shirt guy. We made the final turn into the last 2 mile stretch. It was right along the beach and when I tell you that the wind nearly blew me down, I am not giving the wind its due. Another dailymile friend (Jamie) was manning the water station at 18. He yelled something like “Go Luau!” I grabbed some drink and kept chugging along, staring down MCM Shirt guy.

The wind gusted. I hit back by speeding up. With about 1 1/2 to go I passed him. I kept pushing. I didn’t want to be the guy who passed someone with 1 1/2 to go only to get re-passed at the finish.

The wind had taken my determination personally and doubled up. I yelled at the top of my lungs. I hate this headwind!!!

“PUSH!!!”

What was that?

“PUSH DAMMIT! GO!”

I briefly looked over my shoulder. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him. I could hear his footsteps.

“YOU GOTTA GO MAN! LET’S GO” He didn’t have to ask me again. I broke into a dead run. The pedal was pushed to the floor. I was pulling him and he was pushing me. But his footsteps were getting closer.

Suddenly I heard a trio of female voices, “Run Luau RUN! Go Daddy!” My family, who was supposed to stay home because of the distance and cold, had shown up, and just in time. I waved at the girls, found a little more speed and closed out the last 1/2 in an all out sprint. After I crossed the finish line, I turned around to find the guy who had pushed me through. We hugged, chatted for a minute and then went our merry way.   I found a few of the people who had been in my original pack and discovered that I had in fact closed some of the distance on them in the final couple of miles.

I felt pretty good. I  knew I had 6 miles at an at worst 8:30 pace still left in me. I did the math. 51 minutes. I checked my time. 2:25:45.   20.21 miles.  51st overall out of 705, 44th of 374 men, 10th of 124 in my age group.  2:25:45.  I did the math again.

55:14 to get to Boston.

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As excited as I was at my time, one of the best highlights of the race came just a little while later as I played on the beach with my family. I looked up to see Josh finishing strong. I waved and cheered and then the wife suggested I run him in. I ran up to the sidewalk and went stride for stride with my friend who I was meeting for the first time for the last quarter-mile. What a great way to meet in the real world for the first time.  It was also great meeting a fellow Vibrams runner, Andy Marx, the Grand Llama of TMIRCE.  I hope to meet up with them some Saturday this summer.

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The Vibram Five Finger KSO (Keep Stuff Out)

“You gonna run this whole race in those?” -A concerned fellow runner at the starting line of the Chilly Half Marathon

I do not run in conventional running shoes. My shoe of choice is the Vibram Five Finger, currently the KSO (stands for Keep Stuff Out). I have been running in the Vibrams (sometimes called VFF’s) exclusively now for almost five months. My old Asics and New Balance running shoes have been relegated to the back of the closet, pulled out only when I have to do yard work, which my wife will attest is not that often. Why do I choose to run in these funny little excuses of shoes? These “foot gloves”?

Back in March when I was still running in regular running shoes, I was just finishing up a treadmill run when I decided to end with an uphill climb. I pushed the elevation up to about 5 or 6 degrees and within about 5 seconds I felt a pop and a sharp pain behind my right knee. I immediately lowered the incline back to zero and tried to continue running. I lasted about 5 or 6 steps and was forced to stop. It was my first real running injury. I had read that every runner eventually suffers a setback, but I had convinced myself that it wasn’t going to happen to me. I tried to shake it off and run the next day, but I couldn’t get more than 100 feet. I thought about running through the pain, but I knew that this wasn’t one of those injuries. I had run through some foot and ankle pain early on in my rediscovery of running, but I knew that pain was merely my body acclimating itself to the idea of running. This was different. Something had popped. I took about 10 days off but was back at it in relatively short order. I didn’t want to take too much time off because I was training to run the Run To Remember Half Marathon on Memorial Day Weekend. Still, every time I’d hit close to 35-40 miles in a week, my knee would ache to the point of causing me to limp noticeably. Something wasn’t right.

I went to the doctor who asked my why I was running. I thought that was kind of a funny question coming from a doctor, but I went on to list the various health benefits of running, both physical and mental. I also mentioned that I was training for a half marathon. She looked at me with a funny look and then said, “you know, we’re not made to run like that.” I nodded and said nothing. “Your gonna run this thing anyway aren’t you?” Again, I nodded and said nothing. She decided to send me to a specialist to figure out what was wrong with the knee and get me back on track. One specialist, an MRI and a lot of poking and prodding later, I was told to switch to rowing. When I said I had signed up for road races not rowing races he told me to stretch three times a day every day and if anything happened while I was running the race to stop.

I paid how much for that advice?

I cut down on my miles in the weeks leading up to the race to avoid the soreness and the race came and went. I was pretty happy with my time (1:40:47).

It was around this time that I set my eyes on the marathon. I started to think that maybe, just maybe, I could qualify for the Boston Marathon. My time in the half was nowhere near good enough, but quite honestly I hadn’t followed any kind of training program. If I stuck to a schedule I was pretty sure that I could get it done. I poked around online looking for various programs. Every one I looked at made me groan. They all gradually built to at least 35-40 miles a week. It was also around this time that my good friend Mike told me about some funny shoes he was wearing every once in a while when he went running. He told me their name. The Vibram Five Finger shoe. Sounded almost dirty. I looked at them online thinking he was crazy.

A couple of weeks later he suggested that I read a new book that had recently come out called Born To Run by Christopher McDougall. I used to be a reader. But with the arrival of kids and the variety of things that kept me busy, I had stopped reading books for what seemed like ages. But this book was about running, my new found passion.  We were going away on a short vacation soon and I would need something to read by the pool. I started reading it a few days before we left and couldn’t put it down. By the time I plopped myself down by the pool I was nearly done with it. The story itself was fascinating, but it was one particular character and a section on the science of why we run that grabbed my attention.

According to McDougall, the science behind why we run is that we evolved that way. Boiled down to its simplest terms, early man did not have the strength, speed or natural weapons to be able to kill its meal. What he developed was endurance. He would essentially run his prey to death. Running in a pack, he would jog after his target, which would sprint away and rest. He and the rest of the runners would simply keep jogging after it. The cycle would continue over several hours (about the time it takes us to run a marathon) until the prey would collapse from exhaustion. At that point,  he would jog up to the collapsed animal and kill it with ease. This way of tracking and eventually killing an animal is called persistence hunting. The hunts could last 20, 30, 40 miles, but inevitably, man would get his prey (and therefore a well deserved dinner). There were no running shoes back in the day. These early humans ran on the shoes nature had given them…their feet. Which brings me to Barefoot Ted.

Barefoot Ted was one of the more entertaining characters in Born To Run. The short story is that after years of running in pain and spending more and more money on more and more expensive shoes (I think his last pair had springs on the bottom), he finally got so fed up that in the middle of a run, he took his shoes off in disgust and ran home barefoot. Halfway through his run home he realized something. He was no longer running with pain. He has essentially run barefoot ever since. Occasionally when the terrain gets rough, he will slip on a pair of Vibram Five Fingers.

When I read that, I thought, “maybe Mike’s on to something.” As soon as I got back from our short vacation I went out and bought a pair of the VFF Sprints. That night I hopped on the treadmill and ran three miles in them.

It was one of the most painful things I had ever done. My shins hurt. My calves hurt. My ankles hurt. All that hurt was nothing compared to the next day when I could hardly walk. I called my buddy Mike and he laughed.

“Of course you hurt! You’re using muscles, ligaments and tendons that you haven’t used since you were a kid running around barefoot! You’re not supposed to run more than a mile the first time. It’s like learning to run again.” Gee, thanks. Nobody gave me a copy of the manual. I put the VFF’s away for a couple of weeks. I kept running in my regular shoes and the knee pain persisted. Finally I tried the Vibrams again. This time I ran easy. I did about 3 or 4 miles, but I did them slowly. They felt great. Over the next couple of weeks I built up to about 6 miles per run. I realized that my knee pain was essentially gone. Now, I won’t lie to you and say my knee was completely better. Every once in a while, if I stood just so, it would hurt. But for the most part, the pain was gone. I decided to follow in the steps of our ancestors, Barefoot Ted and my buddy Mike and go barefoot style completely.

When my marathon training reached its peak, my knee was fine. It would bother me a little now and again, but never to the extent that it had before. I am convinced it is because of the shoes.

Now there was a downside to switching to the VFF’s and not giving the transition its proper due. From everything I have read since one should take several months to transition permanently to the Vibrams.

I took two weeks.

I did not give the tendons in my feet ample time to strengthen. On the morning after what was supposed to be my second to last long run (a 19 miler), I woke up with a pain on the top of my right foot. I was afraid I had suffered a stress fracture. My doctor was convinced of the same and said I needed to take 6 – 8 weeks off. No running.

“But I have a marathon in 4 weeks!”

“Uh, no, you don’t. You need to take 6 – 8 weeks off”

“I’ll give you 2.”

“You’re going to run this marathon no matter what I say aren’t you?”

I nodded. I had spent the bulk of the summer training. I didn’t want to do all that training for nothing. She called me an idiot and told me to lay off for the two weeks and then get back into it slowly. I met her halfway by finding another marathon that took place two weeks later (Manchester). I took four weeks off and then eased back into the final two weeks.

Even after the grueling run at Manchester, the pain in my right foot has not returned. I am now convinced that it was tendinitis caused by my overly rapid transition into the VFF’s. From what I understand, wearing the Vibrams allows a certain amount of toeing off that you wouldn’t be able to do barefoot. This has been known to cause some tendon pain on the top of the foot in those who don’t take the time to transition properly (like me). All that said, almost 3 weeks later, I am running pain free and I am convinced that I am going to stay that way. I don’t foresee myself ever going back to regular running shoes.

If you are thinking about switching to the Vibrams, I would strongly suggest that you do it slowly. Maybe even find a transition shoe like the new Nike Free’s or the Biom running shoes to act as a bridge. Your feet will thank you. If you still think people are crazy to be running in these shoes, I would ask you to consider this. For millions of years we have run either barefoot or with thin sandals on our feet. Even up until the 1970’s we were essentially running in shoes that offered very little support or cushion.

Our feet were strong and sensitive – able to relay information quickly to the brain and allow us to adjust our footfalls rapidly. The modern running shoe has essentially taken them out of the equation by wrapping them up in a protective cocoon. Our feet have given up their job to all the cushioning and support supplied by the cozy blanket wrapped around them. They have fallen asleep…they’ve become soft.

You want to run like you did when you were a kid? Like you didn’t care about anything other than the wind in your hair and the laughter in the air? Wake your feet up. Vibrams are the vehicle to get you back to the joy of running…just do it slowly. No one, not even your feet like to be jarred awake!

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I need YOUR contributions to a project that I’m working on. Interested?

All you need to do is send me a paragraph or two telling me why you run and/ or why you think others should run. E-mail it to me at “runluaurun at gmail dot com” (written out so the bots don’t start sending me spam).

If you can, please include a picture of your favorite running shoes and tell me what kind of shoes they are. Also, please let me know how you would like to be referenced (real name, nickname, pseudonym, etc) just in case this project actually ever sees the light of day.

The more responses I get, the sooner I can put it all together, so please don’t be shy about forwarding this to your running friends and spreading the word.

Thanks!

Luau

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