I wrote yesterday about Vibrams and why I’m not going to apply for my portion of the class-action suit against them (and why you shouldn’t either, for that matter). But I got so angry and sidetracked thinking about how dumb the whole situation is that I didn’t have the time left over to talk about why the VFFs are awesome. Nope, not just awesome, why the VFFs are my favorite shoe that isn’t a shoe.
For the uninitiated, Vibrams are a shoe that — in their most recent iterations, if not in their original design — strive to simulate the feel of barefoot running by way of stripping all the cushioning and support out of the shoe, leaving only a thin, flexible sole to protect your tender underfoot against the sharps and sticks of the road or the trail. Purists will argue that there is no substitute for barefoot running outside of actually running with no shoes at all. I’ve tried it, and I will probably continue to experiment with it, but for my money, Vibrams strike a nice balance between going full-on barefoot hippie and the bloated market of motion-controlled, shock-absorbent padded sensory-deprivation chambers we call modern running shoes.
Okay, I’m not here to open the debate between barefoot enthusiasts and fancy shoe aficionados. There are forums for that, and I fully know and own the fact that I haven’t bothered to do the kind of scientific research that would hold up in any sort of court. What I have done is run in conventional running shoes off and on for about ten years and experimented with barefoot running and VFFs for about a year. In that time, the VFFs have become, as I mentioned before, not just my favorite running shoe, but my favorite shoe, period. Here are some reasons why.
1. They are freaking comfortable as haberdashery. You won’t find a more lightweight shoe, which is not something I would have given a second thought to a year ago, but even the lightest of lightweight conventional shoes now feel heavy on my feet after the VFFs. I feel as light on my feet as a ballet dancing bear when I can wear them, and it just makes me feel good.
2. They teach you about your running mechanics. This is more of a running nerd thing than an average person thing, but you can do any amount of research you like into the way that you run and the way that your foot strikes the ground and the resultant lesson in physics that your feet get every time they crash into the pavement and not learn as much as you can from either taking off your shoes entirely or slipping into a pair of VFFs. Suddenly landing on your heel becomes impossible, so you adjust your stride. Adjusting your stride throws you off balance, so you have to adjust your posture. Straightening out your posture changes the way your lungs compress and your arms swing, so suddenly that’s in flux, too. I’m going to be very specific here and say that the VFFs do not in and of themselves improve any of these things; rather, they make you aware of them in a way that you probably weren’t before.
3. They hug your toes. I thought this would bother the heck out of me, and at first it did, but think about it. Toes are jerks. Your toes are like five roommates that are always shoved into the same room together, drinking each other’s beer, peeing on the toilet seats, and generally getting on each other’s nerves. Now, suddenly, each toe has his own little apartment, unhindered by and not hindering the others. They have a bit of room to breathe. They can also flex and interact with the ground better, which as a direct result:
4. They put you in touch with the ground you’re walking on. Okay, this is where I go a bit hippie and villainize conventional shoes a little. Shoes are basically coffins for your feet. They provide an unchanging, static environment so that your feet can relax and sleep peacefully. Aside, perhaps, from a bit of slipping and sliding around, walking on pavement feels the same as walking on gravel, the same as walking on grass, the same as walking on sand. Your foot is cushioned and supported and comfy, and it’s free to take a nap and ignore all sensation, which is fine, because there is no sensation. In VFFs, however, your foot can interact with the terrain. Barefoot enthusiasts are yelling at me again, and yes, it’s still no contest, but it’s miles ahead of a conventional shoe. Walking on pavement feels like walking on pavement. Walking on grass, you can feel the irregularity of the ground and the compression of the greenery underfoot. On gravel, you can feel the individual rocks jabbing up at your underfoot. It’s unique and delightful and it’s the footwear equivalent of stopping to smell the roses.
5. They’re a conversation starter. I have yet to wear the VFFs when there are other people around and not have somebody make mention of them. I get comments and questions like: “Are those things comfortable?” “Do you really run in those?” “Those things are ugly.” “Don’t they hurt your feet?” And I am happy to talk at length because, what can I say, I love talking about running. Double the questions and comments when I come across another runner. A lot of people out there have heard about them but apparently not a lot have actually tried them out. If you’re in that camp, do yourself a favor and give them a spin. You can get older models for as little as $30-40 online, and then you, too, can be approached by total strangers about your footwear.
6. Despite the lawsuit, I think they do what they claim to do. Maybe it’s the placebo effect, or maybe I just want to believe it. But my feet certainly feel different, and I know at the very least my calves are stronger than they were since I’ve started using them. Let me clarify. I don’t believe the shoes themselves made my feet and legs stronger. Wearing the shoes caused me to re-evaluate the way I run. Re-evaluation led me to make some changes, and those changes have made my feet and legs stronger.
7. They’re easy as all get-out to clean. This kind of deserves an asterisk because they need to be cleaned often. You wear them without socks, and that means they’re gonna stink. Every couple of weeks I just toss them in the washer, something I really prefer not to do with my conventional shoes (again, I don’t science, but I think the padding gets borked by being waterlogged; they always feel tighter after a wash). With the VFFs there is no padding to swell or shrink. I’ve found that a touch of bleach once the water’s risen a bit takes the stank right out of ’em.
8. They are a fashion statement. LOL, no they’re not. They are ugly as sin, but who cares when they feel so freakin’ good?
I love my VFFs. I love, love, love them. I would wear them every day if I could. I would run every run in them if I could (I’m working up to it!). But, as I mentioned yesterday, they are not a miracle pill. They didn’t become my favorite shoes overnight. I went through some serious growing pains getting used to them, and I still am. In my limited personal experience, however, the pains are worth it.
Love them? Hate them? I know I left some of their finer features out. Any of you have experiences with VFFs to share?