The ToeBags (or, Why Vibram FiveFingers Aren’t Evil) (or, There Is No Miracle Pill)

If you’re anything of a running nerd like me, you’re probably aware that Vibram has received some dubious press of late, vis-a-vis a class-action lawsuit that went against them a few weeks back.  They are one purveyor — probably the biggest — of those barefoot-style shoes, the ones that look like fancy socks.  (My wife and I call them the Toe-Bags.)  They’re cashing in, hard, on the minimalist trend that’s coursing through the running community like an electric shock through Frankenstein’s monster.

Toe-Bags.  Little bags for your toes.
Toe-Bags. Little bags for your toes.

Apparently Vibram made some claims about things their non-shoes can do without proper science to back it up.  And that’s not cool.  Sorry, if you’re selling a thing, it’s not okay to tell me that your thing can turn me into the ubermensch, make me able to leap tall buildings and sharknado like that, when it does none of those things.  If you’re doing that, as a company, shame on you.


Vibram’s guilt in this goes only so far.  Because while it’s not cool for a company to make unrealistic claims about their product, neither is it cool for the consumer to gobble it up wholesale like some goldfinger Pac-Man wannabe chomping down power pellets.  Sorry, that tic-tac doesn’t give you superpowers.  Those ghosts will still fargo you up.

I’ve not read all the literature on the claim and the lawsuit and the fallout, and I’m not going to, because I don’t have to.  This is just the latest iteration of the miracle pill scam.  We (and by “we” I mean, generally, Americans) want the miracle pill.  We hate ourselves.  We’re too fat, we’re too out of shape, we’re not smart enough, we can’t get it up.  But achieving those things is hard.  It’s hard work, goldfinger it, and if there’s one thing we hate more than ourselves, it’s working hard for something.  So we seek out the miracle pill.  The miracle pill promises to cure all our ills.  Lose weight.  Increase brain power.  Keep it up for four hours.  What’s that?  They actually have a pill for that?  Son of a beesting.  Four hours?  Really?  Okay, I’m off track.

Thing is, the miracle pill can’t do any of that sharknado.  (Except, apparently, for the little blue pills.)  At least, it can’t do it by itself.  Maybe the diet pill can help you lose weight (and I mean really lose weight, not just flush it out through your butthole only to have it come back next week when you rehydrate), but only if you also correct your diet and exercise.  Then again, if you’re going to correct your diet and exercise, do you really need the fargoing diet pills?  The fish oil might improve your memory and synaptic response (or whatever, I don’t brain science) but that’s only helpful if you’re filling it with useful information and using it productively, which you aren’t if you’re watching infomercials about monster-fargoing fish oil.

So Vibram makes a claim that their shoes (if you can call them that) can benefit you in any number of ways: straightening out your running form, strengthening the muscles and tendons of the foot, correcting your posture, curing your fargoing cancer.  Okay, maybe they didn’t claim one of those.  They aim those claims at runners especially, who see that stuff and say hey, that sounds great, I have terrible form, I have weak muscles, I have horrible posture, sign me up!  And one of them (or more likely, many of them) go and fargo up their feet.  Then the runners go and sue.  Hey, this is America, game on.

Except for one thing: you forgot to use your brain.

Disclaimer: I own two pairs of these things and I love them.  Love love love them.  In fact I will probably make another post soon about the reasons I love them (I planned to do it in this post but I’m already going long and I know I personally don’t have the attention span for wait I need some ice cream brb

Ahem.  So I own some of the “shoes” in question.  In the packaging, there’s a note from the company that says, in a nutshell, “hey, be careful, these are not your average shoes, take your time and don’t rush into using them or you might hurt yourself.”  But this is America!  I run twenty miles in a week, I can handle your petty non-shoe!  So off you (and by you I mean I) go, and you run two miles of a 3-mile loop in them and then have to hobble home because your lower legs are literally engulfed in flames.  Your calves feel like they’ve had an acupuncturist working on them with chopsticks because hey holy crap, you actually have to engage the achilles to run in these things.  The balls of your feet feel like you’ve exfoliated them with a cheese grater because they’ve taken the impact of your body about 2000 times per mile (I actually don’t know how many steps I take in a mile, because I don’t numbers).  Then you turn your brain on and say, “huh, I guess they were right, using a shoe completely different from anything I’ve worn in my life might require a not-insignificant period of acclimation and adjustment,” and then you work out a regimen which slowly integrates them into your routine until your form adjusts and your stride changes and the whole way you run changes.  Or you go and sue the company that made the shoe.  You know, whichever works for you.

So even though the company is offering partial refunds to anybody who owns a pair, I personally won’t be seeking one.  I didn’t get them because I thought they were a miracle cure which subsequently failed to cure me.  (Incidentally, they were a gift.)  I used them because I wanted to give them a try and see if I could learn something from them.  Guess what?  I did.  I learned that you can’t run in Vibrams like you run in a regular shoe and expect not to get hurt, any more than you can take your shoes off and run completely barefoot like you run in a regular shoe and not get hurt.  I learned that the way to run that “feels normal” only feels that way because it’s the way you’ve run since you started running and never stopped to think about it.  I have a new “normal” way to run, and the way I used to run feels alien and insane to me now.  Vibrams are one small part of a massive equation that got me there.

If you turn your brain on and pay attention to what’s going on in the world around you (which includes your own body) then that kind of crazy sharknado will happen all the time.  You won’t blunder through life in a haze of your own stupidity and entitlement.  You won’t feel like everybody out there owes you something for not fixing all of your problems immediately and without ramification.  You’ll feel the changes in the breeze, adjust the sails, and find a new course.  Maybe not a better one, but at least one that isn’t fighting to go the wrong way.

Vibrams aren’t a miracle shoe.  There is no miracle shoe.  There is no miracle pill.  There is no spoon.  All there is, all there ever fargoing is, ever, for all time, is your mind and the way you perceive the world.  That’s it.  If you think that anybody in the world owes you something because your perception of the world got screwed up, no amount of lawsuits is going to fix you.

I feel I may have made this little tree into a freaking rainforest.  Point is, either buy some Vibrams and enjoy them, or don’t buy Vibrams and don’t enjoy them, or buy Vibrams and don’t enjoy them.  Learn from the experience or don’t.  JUST LIKE EVERYTHING ELSE.

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