Monday, June 27, 2011

The Good, the Bad and the Vibrams

Last fall, I bought into the marketing hype of "barefoot shoes" and purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFinger KSOs. At the time, I had run about 10 percent of my yearly mileage barefoot -- as in, skin on the ground (I hate that I have to make that distinction) -- and I wanted something that would give me similar ground feel, but protect me from the harsh Northeast Ohio winter.

I have now logged more than 120 miles in these silly-looking toe shoes. Having run in the Vibram KSOs now through four different seasons, the strengths and weaknesses of this product are painfully evident.

The salesperson at Appalachian Outfitters gave me the common warning that I should ease into running in the FiveFingers. However, as I felt pretty confident in the barefooting I had done up until that point, I disregarded this warning.

There was some foot pain at first, as I learned that even with just a thin, flexible piece of rubber covering my soles that it was enough protection for me to stomp my feet, which I believe is the likely cause of most running injuries. Luckily, I had enough barefoot experience to recognize my folly and correct my form to run comfortably.

Then came the issue of warmth. The snow arrived and the thin shoes didn't provide the protection I had hoped for, which resulted in the epic toe-sock saga (failure and resolution). In the end, the socks provided enough insulation from the cold and helped run through the winter (albeit with minimal mileage, but no fault of the footwear).

Finally, some heat arrived with spring and summer, and I ran in the Vibrams less and less, in favor of running barefoot, as in really with bare feet. The last time I wore the Vibrams was for part of my run in Canada with temperatures in 80s, and there I found their limitations.

Within a few short miles, my toes were feeling the onset of blistering from the toe casings rubbing against my skin, especially my big toes. The discomfort was so great that I decided against them in a later run where protection from the hot pavement and asphalt would have been a good thing.

The bottom line is that I'll probably go back to the Vibrams in cold weather, but I'll opt for different protection if need be during the summer months.

Advice for Purchasing
Vibrams FiveFingers seem to have lost their luster in the face of newer minimal running shoe options. However, I'm sure some people will still be interested in trying these goofy-looking foot gloves.

The main thing to consider with any footwear is the fit. Vibram has its own sizing system that the company markets as way to get a more customized fit. Because of this system, it's very important to try on a pair before buying.

I'm an 11 1/2, typically, and I got a pair of size 44 in the KSOs because that's what felt most comfortable. However, what I didn't consider is how much your feet expand during a run. The Vibrams are comfortable for me up to about five miles, but then they start feeling constrictive.

If I were to get another pair of Vibrams, I'd buy at least one size bigger than what was comfortable in store. I'd also probably try on the toe shoes with toe socks and judge the fit from there.

Now, would I buy a second pair? Probably not. Although the shoe comes as advertised, despite a slight learning curve as to form adjustment and proper fit, these aren't my magic bullet for a minimal shoe at a reasonable price.

[Drunkard's note: These shoes were purchased by me at $95, plus tax. No stability shoes were harmed in the making of this review.]


Nitmos said...

You know what would have prevented that blistering? Shoes.

Carolina John said...

I got a blister just from walking around the store in the vibrams. They aren't made for people whose second toe is longer than their big toe.

B. Kramer said...

@John, I think just like any other shoe, you need to base your fit on that toe. I have the same condition.

Anonymous said...

I do like the Vibrams, but my feet can only tolerate them for about 8 or 9 miles. I have a pair of Merrell Trail GLoves which I think are much better and allow my feet to breathe and expand more. Then again, my feet are not your feet.

Robin said...

11-1/2? Damn, boy!