Wednesday, September 21, 2011

First Adventures With 5Fingers

With the growing interest of all things minimalist running and 5Fingers, I had to give it a go to understand better the attraction of these ‘used to be monkey-feet looking’ running shoes. When I was first broached about trying these trainers more than a year ago, my initial thought was that they looked too unconventional and ‘ugly’ for anyone who might want to wear them, other than for technical reasons.

One year later, Vibram FiveFingers (VFF) had come out with much more attractive, colorful designs and options, the latest models with shoelaces to boot. The ladies were going gaga about their uniqueness and even the guys were drawing a lot of endearing attention from non-runners and runners alike. A growing number of my friends and fellow runners were trying out the minimalist options to better their running form in a bid to not only run smoother, but more to reduce running-related injuries with mid-forefoot striking gaits (which will eventually lead to better running form overall).

When I was informed that Vibram FiveFingers (VFF) was coming out with a step-step instruction guide on the proper use of the shoes, I felt it was time to bring them through the manufacturer’s proposed protocol and see if all these minimalist running are just hype and loads of smoke. Even though I am already a forefoot runner, I went with the advice to walk in the VFF KomodoSport (KS) for 2 weeks to get my feet conditioned and strengthened.

After many years of wearing shoes, my almost fused toes had to be pried open for me to fit into the glove-like KS. I would bring them for walks on different surfaces….grass, track, concrete, tarmac, (not yet the trails as mine is not a trails version). There were strengthening exercises prescribed to enhance the flexibility and strength of the toes and feet overall. Beverly followed them religiously and found that they worked well for her injury rehab.

After 2 weeks, I brought them out for short runs, once to twice a week, starting from 2km, and progressing to 4km. My toes and metatarsal region were less numb as I got used to the gloves and more importantly, usage of my lower 3 toe region. The sensory feedback from the KS was good, such that I could feel well the points of landing on my feet, which was more on the outer mid sole, and then rolling inwards to complete the pronation cycle. I was sore in my hamstrings (instead of calves as many did) in my first run, but there was not much soreness (DOMS) thereafter. The mileage are still low at this stage, and I will have to monitor as I progress into longer distances, according to the prescribed schedule.

With just 5 very short runs using the VFF, I can feel the strengthening of my feet and ankle joints, which Beverly (who is also testing to see if it helps with her injury) has also began to experience. When I switched back to my normal cushion shoes and lightweight racers, I could feel that I can run with a much better sense of form and foot-landing.

The good news is that with every VFF shipped, there is an instruction guide in there telling new users how to approach the shoes and minimalist running with progression and care. New Balance Minimus, Merrell Barefoot along with other Barefoot/Minimalist shoe manufacturers are also strong proponents of good form running and taking a measured approach to this whole adaption to minimalist running.

Although it is still too early to say, and I need to do more trials with these minimalist shoes, I feel that they would be very good ‘training’ tools to help us amateur and social runners develop and improve our running form, with the longer term objective of attaining smoother and injury-free running that will keep our healthy hobby going for many years to come.

My VFF Komodo is a staid black/gold colorway which had not attracted the kind of attention that some of my fellow testers shared…haha. But still, a few short runs on the track and roads with the KS did get a fair share of admirers looking at my feet (yes definitely just my feet) and possibly wondering if they too should get one to try :D

I hope to report more of my experiences with the VFF in the coming months as I progress gingerly with its use. Meanwhile, for you VFF users out there, enjoy your FiveFingers but do not covert them to your everyday running shoes in a hurry.

For the enthusiasts, here are comprehensive reviews of the VFF KomodoSport at and Runblogger.

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