Tag Archives: vibram fivefingers

Min/Maxing my Footwear

If you’re a regular at this blarg, or if you know me, then you know that I’ve been struggling with foot pain in one form or another for… ehh… erg… about a year and a half.

It started when I tore up my foot on a nail in our back porch, continued when I recovered from that injury and promptly blew up my left heel with plantar fasciitis, and continues further still when about a year ago I did something (doctor never did tell me exactly what was going on) to irritate the heel and Achilles in my right foot. The other injuries have all healed, but I’m still battling my right heel. The pain ebbs and flows like the tides. I’ll have good weeks and bad weeks, solid months and shaky months. One day I can go run a brisk eight miles and feel no ill effects, another day I can shuffle through a low-intensity three miles and be hobbling for days afterward. It’s maddening and frustrating.

And of course, it plays havoc with my running. It’s impossible to set any long-term goals because I don’t know if I’m going to have to slow down on my training to accommodate my injury throwing a tantrum. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to fit in some speed workouts again, and it’s been going fine… until Monday, when I tweaked the heel again and spent the rest of Monday and Tuesday limping.

My wife — ever incisive and ready to call me out when I’m being dumb (thanks honey) — pointed out that I started having all these issues about the time I went bananas over minimal shoes and started trying to do a lot of my runs in my Vibram FiveFingers. Shoes that I love. I’ve written about them before. For good measure, she points me to stories of marathon runners, like, just off the top, this one from the NY times; marathon runners, plagued by injuries, who have tried this new shoe and had their chronic injuries vanish like students in the bathroom when the principal walks by.

And I’m conflicted. I’m wary of the magic bullet, and I don’t want to believe that simply buying “the right pair of shoes” is going to solve my problems. By the same token, I don’t want to believe that wearing “the wrong pair of shoes” is responsible for the issues I’m having.

And that doesn’t even touch my bias. I got into running when the minimalist trend was flying high. I read Born to Run and bought into the hype. The thinking was “less cushioning, more natural mechanics”, and boy oh boy does that keep in touch with my philosophy in general. Or at least the philosophy I try to believe in. Less stuff gumming up the works. More focus on what you control. Letting the body do what it’s meant to do without gadgets or ridiculous footwear getting in the way. All that hippy-dippy treehugging kind of stuff.

Maximalist shoes, from my vantage point, seem to go against everything that I thought was neat about minimalist shoes. Minimal shoes strip out the cushioning so that you feel more of the ground beneath your foot. Maximal shoes cram more and more cushioning in there to further insulate you and make every step feel the same. Minimal shoes allow for fuller range of motion so that the leg and foot can follow the circuit nature designed for them more closely. Maximal shoes cut out the motion of the ankle instead, keeping you “locked in” to a “better form”. (I’m air-quoting those because those are my unstudied perceptions. Make no mistake, I’m not an expert, and I’m not nearly impartial.)

Also, and this cannot be stated heartily enough, maximal shoes look RIDICULOUS. Honestly, they look like elevator sneakers. Just look.

The thought of even putting those on my feet makes me feel like I’m going to topple over like a tower of tinker toys. (We won’t say anything about the goofy toe-gloves I prefer.)

Still, the demon of doubt is in there now, clanging off the inside of my skull and raising all sorts of argument. Much though I love my minimal shoes, I really don’t want to accept that this pain in my foot might just be something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

I love my minimal shoes, and I loved the thought of unburdening myself from conventional shoes. For a while, it was great. I want to believe they could be great for me again, but the possibility that my minimal shoes have done this to me is getting hard to ignore. Could there be something to this maximal movement? It’s all anecdotal evidence at this point, but could it work for me?

I have to find a way to make running work for me again. When I run well, I write well… when my running suffers, so too does my writing. Could these land-whales be the way to get it back?

I have to think about this.

Can I Return These?

I tore my sole up in January.  I struggled with plantar fasciitis through spring.  I battled back against my withered fitness during the summer.  Now the fall is here, the runner’s Mecca, and by all accounts I should be back up to speed and racking up the miles and pushing up my distance and reveling in the gorgeous weather that will last a scant month or so.

But my feet are borked again.  I felt a tweak this weekend when I got in some runs in Florida, so for that reason and that reason alone (not at all because the kids were away and I was able to get some entirely uninterrupted and unmolested sleep, nope, not even a little bit because of that) I took several days off.  Yesterday evening it became impossible to put it off any further and I went for a run with the dog, and now it’s official.  They’re borked.  Both feet, no less.  I’ve got pain in my right heel not unlike the precursors to the plantar fasciitis I feel I’m finally recovering from in my left.  My left foot feels like I stepped on a sharp rock, and while my foot was tweaked upward, I hit it with a hammer.

First-world problems, I know. Boo hoo, I can’t run without this nagging pain in my feet.  Problem is, if I can’t run, I’m not going to want to do any exercise, because other exercise is only going to make me mad that I’m not running.  And if I’m not running or exercising, I’m going to start feeling sluggish.  And when I start feeling sluggish, I’m not going to be thinking as clearly for my writing nor motivated to eat any better, and it’s all going to turn into one towering nosedive that ends with my health in the crapper and my mood shattered on the rocks.

The most frustrating thing is, I don’t know what to attribute the injuries to.  On one hand I think it may be all my recent runs in my VFFs, but then I wonder why my left foot improved for so long doing almost all of my runs in them.  On the other hand, I wonder if it’s perhaps the shoes I’m wearing while I’m at school and on my feet for better than half of my workday.  On the third hand, maybe I’m just getting old and my feet are broken.

Seriously.  I’m not yet 35, is it time for parts of my body to start simply breaking down?  I know it’s a reality I’ll have to face sooner or later, but it just doesn’t seem right.  Do they have some sort of guy-in-his-thirties warranty or trade-in program?  Because I’m pretty sure the feet I have are defective.

There Are Good Runs, and Then There Are Exceptional Runs

This summer has been a bit of a running renaissance for me.

I got my latest start in running a little over two years ago, flew a bit too close to the sun back in January, crashed and burned at the beginning of the year and have been clawing my way back, clutching at gnarled roots and jagged cliffsides ever since.  Today, I went for my first “relaxed” 10k run in more than a while, and I’m happy to say that I feel damn good afterward.  But it’s not the run I want to talk about.  Er, rather, it’s not the distance.

In trying to get myself out of the injured dumps, I’ve been running this summer with a mind toward becoming more complete: running more trails, especially, but also varying my workouts and working to stay healthy rather than just trying to spin the wheels on the odometer.  I think it’s paying off, but more importantly, I think I’m really getting to enjoy my runs again, rather than facing each one with the fear that the next step is going to injure me again and set me back for a couple months.

This morning found me on the Atlanta Beltline, a series of paved “trails” that wend through and around downtown Atlanta.  It’s been much-touted by colleagues of mine and runners I know in the area, but is one of those things I just hadn’t gotten around to doing (man, that’s a long list).  Mainly I’ve avoided it because it doesn’t jive with my minimalist philosophy of running to drive half an hour just to go on a leisurely run; I prefer to just step out the door and go.  But a facebook group of local runners scheduled the event for this morning; said group is composed of some folks I know from high school and some others I’ve not met yet, so it seemed a good time.

Just by the by, does anybody else have horrible luck when signing up for casual “events” on facebook?  I’ve tried this one or two other times and everybody seems to bail at the last minute.  You see where this is going.  I pull up to the meeting spot at five minutes til the start time and I see a big smiling crowd of zero people.  Yep, ten people signed up as “definitely going” and I was the only one.  Except for my pal from high school, J.  He hops out of his car and hits me with a warm grin and a hearty handshake and a “great to see you.”  We chat for a few minutes about how pitiful it is that nobody else has slogged their butts out of bed on a Saturday (seriously, what are you doing that you can’t get up at 5:45 to go for a run??), then, after allowing enough time for any reasonable latecomers to show up, we’re off.

We set an easy pace — J’s a lot faster than me, but he’s logged a lot of miles this week and wants to relax a bit, and I’m a bit jangly over attempting my first six-miler since a race I ran (and probably overran, to be honest) a month ago.  And my first six-miler ever in my Vibrams, for that matter.

A lot of people, when recounting their runs, like to give a breakdown of each mile, the highs and lows, the hills and the hurts, but that seems silly to me.  I could no more recount each moment of a good run — let alone a good long run — than recount every bite of my breakfast this morning, and it wouldn’t be good reading besides.  (Now, whether the alternative makes for good reading…)

First, a review of the trail.  The Beltline is a very long series of trails, I found out, but we ran a stretch of it from Piedmont Park East over to Ponce de Leon, then doubled back and took a tour of Piedmont Park.  The line is a very well kept, spacious jaunt through residential areas and commercial developments, under overpasses and through great sweeping vistas of the Atlanta skyline.  Nearly every overpass or concrete wall is adorned with the sort of tasteful graffiti that almost feels like an art exhibit.  And the line is so popular that it’s absolutely bursting with runners, bikers, walkers, rollerbladers.  We must have passed or been passed by a hundred people or more in our four miles on the line.  I’m sure that’s nothing new to regulars in the area, but for a guy like me who runs out in the burbs and, on a good day, glimpses maybe three or four other runners in my heavily trafficked zones (none at all otherwise), it was a welcome sight.  Made me feel less like a lunatic on an island and a little more like maybe a guy in a bodysuit at a convention.  Still not totally normal, but at least at home among the other freaks.

Then, the fact that I was running with a guy I’ve not spoken to in any meaningful capacity for oh, about fifteen years (please kill me).  We ruminated a bit about running, a bit about life, a lot about people and marriage and kids and pop music and only a little bit about work, with the kind of easy, unhurried conversation that would have been impossible to achieve otherwise.  You bump into somebody in line at the DMV or at the grocery store, and he’s got someplace he’d rather be, something he’d rather be doing, and he doesn’t want to waste time getting there and doing it.  You settle in for an easy six miles and you find there’s no need to rush things, you let the talk drift where it will.

To top it off, as we hit the turnaround and headed back for the trailhead, I look up and see my young Padawan cruising toward us.  This is a guy who saw me start running and lose thirty pounds two years ago, then took up running himself and has since lost in the neighborhood of one hundred pounds.  He now runs races about every other weekend and is a big contributor and participant with running groups in Atlanta.  Unfortunately, he lives on the opposite side of town from me, so we’ve never actually had a run together — and we didn’t today, because he was hustling along, late for a meeting with his running group.  Still, seeing him in action was just another shot of good vibes on an already good morning.

An hour passed faster than it had any right to.  The run finished, we headed back to our cars and agreed to try and meet up again soon.  I like to think it was the sort of agreement we’ll follow through on — it’s hard to lie and be phony after you’ve just run six miles — but whether we do or not, I’m thankful for the time we had today.  Running is one of those things that binds people together in ways that don’t even make sense a lot of the time, and it certainly brought J and me together today.  I’m one of those hippy-dippy people that thinks there is no such thing as a bad run; that every time you lace up you accomplish something.  But even if there are no bad runs, certainly some runs are better than others.

Today’s was exceptional.

8 Reasons Why Vibrams are Awesome, No Matter What the Lawsuit Says

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.

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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.   Continue reading

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