As part of my informal Spring 2010 “Beginner’s Mind” running/sitting rejuvenation program, I thought: what could be more beginner’s mind than barefoot running? I decided to try (almost) barefoot running and purchased a pair of Vibram FiveFingers® KSO. I’d been eyeing these for about a year or so, toying with the idea of trying out a pair, and finally decided with the final arrival of Spring that there was no better time to slip them on and go for a run.
Factoring in postage, the KSOs cost almost exactly the same as an average new pair of conventional running shoes, perhaps slightly less. I thought briefly about going for Vibram’s “Hummer” model, the KSO Trek, which are probably better suited for trail running, but they were $40 more – and this was strictly an experiment. I plonked down my money for the KSOs and they arrived in the mail a few days later.
Herding the piggies
Out of the box they had the same potent “new running shoe smell” I was used to, but of course looked entirely different. The rubber sole, which curled up around the front of the toe boxes for additional protection, certainly felt very thin. They looked sort of like high-tech bedroom slippers for circus clowns. Apprehension crept in, with a micro twinge of buyer’s remorse. What sort of consumer karma had I tapped into here?
It took me a few minutes to get all of my piggies herded into their private pens, but they all fit comfortably with the possible exception of my right little toe – for some reason it felt slightly and a little oddly extended, despite additional squirming and flexing to reposition things. Finally I decided enough already — it was going to be one small step for a man, one giant barefoot leap for mankind. I headed for the park.
At the park
I had decided on a very easy 40-45 minute test, running about 30% of the time on concrete and the rest cross-country. The park is a mix of open field, concrete walkways/parking lots, and soccer fields, with some minor rolling terrain. Ground conditions were clear and fairly dry, with some softening from the meltoff of the previous day’s surprise one inch of snow.
And away I went.
Stepping gingerly, I started out on a two-minute walk just to get a feel for the shoe. I could feel the changes in the surface literally from step to step, and my calf muscles were obviously working harder. It really felt like I was walking barefoot. And then I started to run, going for five minutes at a time followed by a one minute walk.
After only ten minutes or so, I had gained full confidence in the shoes and was simply enjoying the run, even daring to go faster than I had intended – probably topping out at around 8:30-9:00 minute mile pace in the middle stages. I ran over a broad covering of pointy-ended acorns without fear, up and down hills, through soft dirt, over concrete. My right little toe, the one that had felt a little out of place before the run, had found the sweet spot in its stall and settled in comfortably for the ride.
What I liked most about the KSOs was how they fully connected me with my run. I realized how, in conventional running shoes, we’re not allowed to make much contact with the actual ground surface. We’re missing a lot. I really enjoyed how I could feel the surface textures constantly changing under my feet, helping to keep my head in the run. The forty minutes passed way too quickly.
And that, to me, is the real magic of the Vibram approach. So much of today’s running technology is designed to take you out of the run – GPS monitors, MP3 players, heavily cushioned shoes. It’s as if we were trying to recreate tooling around in a Cadillac Escalade on foot, ironically seeking ways to escape the very experience of running. Sure, they look a little odd, but Vibram’s technology actually serves to put you more in touch with your running environment and make the experience of running more intimate and real. Put simply, it made me more aware of my running. And anything that helps make me more aware, in my book, is a good thing.
I expected soreness in my feet and calves on the next day, but I didn’t have any, so I guess being a little cautious the first time out was the right move. I wondered how the shoe would really hold up — for one run at least, they appear to have held together quite nicely. I’ll be interested to find out how durable they are over the next few months.
For now, this is definitely my go-to shoe for shorter (an hour or less) runs cross-country and on non-technical trail. Beyond that, I don’t know how much braver I’ll get; I’ll just take it one nearly barefoot run at a time. But I’m really looking forward to trying them again — and I’m afraid I’m starting to covet the KSO Trek. Desire is definitely endless.