I’ve been barefoot running, or minimalist running, since April of 2010. I jumped right on the whole Vibram FiveFingers bandwagon, and I’m still on it now. I’ve been reading about the lawsuit against Vibram because (from Wikipedia): the company ‘claimed that the shoe “reduce[s] foot injuries and strengthen[s] foot muscles.”‘
That statement is only as true as each person makes it. I would have added instead that their shoes “have the potential to reduce foot injuries and strengthen foot muscles.”
A shoe, just like any tool, is not going to work properly if you don’t know how to use it.
That falls upon the runners and walkers who buy the shoes. I have flat feet and I used to suffer from shin splints as well as tendonitis in my ankles. I used to cry myself to sleep every year when I went to disney world and the walking made my feet ache insanely. Switching to FiveFingers shoes has completely changed all that for me, but I believe it was how I switched over that did it, not just suddenly walking and running barefoot and I feel the need to share my story here.
(For those who are curious – these are my shoes of choice for running long distance since 2010 – the Sprints, which are sadly not made anymore so I’m not sure what I’ll do when my current ones fall apart!:)
My running story:
I’ve been in love with running since my father got me into it when I was 13. I loved it at first because it was something my really cool and funny “Daddy” liked to do every day with our dog. And when I joined Cross Country in ninth grade, I remember our coach let us run around the track after completing a 4 mile run in the neighborhoods around the High School. I jogged slowly the whole time, but my coach actually had to stop me because I ran another 4 miles just around the track and he was worried I would overdo it and get an injury.
He was entirely correct, and I had an amazing first cross country season that year, but when I tried Track in spring, I ruined my legs doing sprinting. We didn’t have a great track, but also with sprinting, you are pounding on your feet so much more than just running for a few miles in the woods. Long distance running—slowly—was my destiny, even from way back then, but I didn’t realize it until much later.
Because my performance with cross country wasn’t that great, I couldn’t have run with a college team, but during college and in my mid-twenties, I started running 10-mile races every summer with my father. I loved those races more than any 3-mile race I’ve ever done (and not just because I loved running with my Dad). 10 miles felt perfect to me, but I pushed myself a little too far every time, ran in regular running shoes so I pounded my heels too much, and every 10-mile race left me with injuries.
Everything changed when, soon after it came out, I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall:
It really inspired me. It reminded me of that first cross country practice where I ran 8 miles because I was having too much fun to want to stop running. I also love running because I’m a very thoughtful, analytical person, and my thoughts can go all over the place when I’m talking to people (or when I’m just sitting around). But when I run, it’s like I’m in a therapy session with my higher self. I think clearer. I listen to myself.
“Born to Run” also touched upon my desire to be closer to the Earth, to be more natural and closer to animals, too. I read articles about how walking and running barefoot teaches you to step correctly (on the balls of your foot, never the heel), and when I started running after a long winter living on a sailboat in southern Rhode Island and freezing, I did it slowly. If you sincerely listen to the advice from doctors and barefoot runners, all of them will tell you to start with half a mile of jogging barefoot or less. Increase that over time—weeks of time, not days. I started barefoot running in a field down the street from my marina in April, and just kept going. I only ran every other day. I went from running one mile barefoot and two or three with shoes, to eventually running entirely barefoot. And I didn’t even run on pavement until months had passed.
Running barefoot isn’t just about being closer to the Earth and feeling the dirt between your toes—it’s about being closer to yourself and listening to your body.
I love myself more because I run barefoot. I’ve learned that if running a certain way hurts me, I shift my weight, I run differently, and it works. It took me only three months or so of running continuously and with discipline I never had before to eventually do 8 miles runs, and then 13 mile runs from Block Island’s Great Salt Pond down to the southernmost point of the island—all of it on beautiful trails or dirt roads.
When I made it to half-marathon-length runs by mid-summer, I realized that I really could run an ultra marathon. And I wanted to. I decided on the Vermont 50, which was in late September, and I did the 31.7 mile run (50K) in 9 hours. I was one of the last people to finish (I think), but I felt amazing. I walked a lot of the hills, and a lot of the end of it, and for the last 3 miles I actually couldn’t stand the Fivefingers shoes anymore and ran literally barefoot to the finish. I am probably almost as proud of that race as I am of my first novel being published. And I told myself I never have to do another one…but lately I’m not so sure. I’m feeling that ache again to run for 2-3 hours through the woods without stopping. Maybe this summer, I’ll do it again.
Thank you, Daddy, for inspiring me to run in the first place.
Thank you, Vibram FiveFingers, for the shoes my feet needed to run the way they were intended to run—without injury.
And thank you, Christopher McDougall, for writing the book I needed to read in order to start me on this journey.