Traditional Running Shoes Vs. Vibram FiveFingers Shoes – a Personal Experience

More and more people are starting to look into the virtues of barefoot running I was no different after I had just bought a brand new pair of running shoes and still had issues with blisters and shin splints. It was pretty frustrating since I love to run, but I hate the pain that had started to creep on me. All of my running friends told me I just needed to find the right pair of running shoes so that’s what I did.

Before I just went to the local Foot Locker and picked out a shoe that looked good to run in and bought that pair of shoes. However, my friends said that the best way to get a good pair of shoes was to go to a dedicated running shop where the staff was more knowledgeable about running and running shoes. So that’s what I did next. The staff did seem a lot more confident in their shoe knowledge and when it was all said and done I ended up with a pair of New Balance MR1063. It was a pricey purchase at over $150, but I figured I was investing my health and well being.

After I bought these shoes I couldn’t wait to try them out. The next day I took it easy and just did a slow 2 mile pace to wear in the shoes and get a better feel for them. While they felt a little stiff it seemed like they were working. After a week in these shoes and about 15 miles later, however, I started feeling my old shin splints creeping up on me again. I couldn’t believe that with the money I had spent and the time I had spent trying to find “the perfect shoe” that really these shoes did no better than my old pair of trainers, which was a quarter of the price.

I decided I needed to look outside the box if I was going to find something better for my feet and running.

About this time I read an article in Wired Magazine called “To Run Better, Start by Ditching Your Nikes.”  In this article they made a convincing argument that a potential cause for foot injuries and aches and pains were the shoes themselves and that actually by taking the shoes off and going barefoot you were allowing your body to run the way nature intended.

This got me more interested in the concept of barefoot running so I dug a little deeper.  Turns out there might be something to this idea that barefoot is better than wearing shoes for running.  This quote from a research paper on barefoot running got my attention.

Chronic ailments such as shin splints, ilio-tibial band syndrome and peri-patellar pain are attributed variously to excessive pronation, supination, and shock loading of the limbs (Siff and Verkhoshansky, 1999, p.451). When running barefoot on hard surfaces, the runner compensates for the lack of cushioning underfoot by plantar-flexing the foot at contact, thus giving a softer landing (Frederick, 1986). Barefoot runners also land mid-foot, increasing the work of the foot’s soft tissue support structures, thereby increasing their strength and possibly reducing the risk of injury (Yessis 2000, p.124).

From that it says that by taking off your shoes you allow your foot to act as a natural shock absorber which spreads the shock of hitting the ground to the “mid-foot”.  However, with shoes this isn’t possible as the cushioning and angle of the shoe prevent this natural phenomenon from occurring.

The next part in this same research paper is what convinced me a lot more that maybe it WAS the shoes that were causing me problems with my feet.

Wearers of expensive running shoes that were promoted as correcting pronation or providing more cushioning experienced a greater prevalence of these running-related injuries than wearers of less expensive shoes (Robbins and Gouw, 1991). In another study, expensive athletic shoes accounted for more than twice as many injuries as cheaper shoes, a fact that prompted Robbins and Waked (1997) to suggest that deceptive advertising of athletic footwear (e.g., “cushioning impact”) may represent a public health hazard.

I know while I was at the running store the employee was selling me on getting shoes that added cushion and helped correct over pronation as a way to help my shin splints.  Of course these shoes were more expensive, but I figured that’s the price you pay for extra cushioning.  But I know from my experience with these more expensive shoes that it didn’t help much if any with my shin splints.

At this point I decided it was worth it to at least try running barefoot to see if helped my foot problems or not.  I mean what more had I to lose ?  I had already spent over $150 on a pair of shoes.  At least barefoot was free.

I went running around the neighborhood on the sidewalk one day after work.  At first I just started walking to get a used to walking without my shoes.  This process alone was kind of painful.  My feet have been used to being shielded from the outside elements so any rough surface I touched was painful.  Though painful just walking around barefoot was very refreshing to me.  I felt like I was a kid again!

After building up some courage I decide to have a go at barefoot running.  I picked up the pace and started a light jog.  The first thing you’ll notice when you run barefoot is that you run totally different than how you run with shoes on.  I noticed that I was running more so on the balls of my feet rather than landing on my heel and then transitioning to my toes.  I wasn’t able to run very far thanks to the pain from the sidewalk, but in the little I had run I could definitely tell that things felt a lot better than they did with my expensive New Balance shoes.  It’s hard to describe, but it just felt right.

The bigger problem though with running barefoot was just the fact that it wasn’t practical running outdoors with no shoes on.  I was watching the sidewalk like a hawk for stray rocks, glass, uneven grooves, etc… that might put a damper on my barefoot foray.  Half the time I was worrying about stepping on something that I wasn’t really concentrating on the running.

I wanted to try this barefoot running some more, but under the present conditions it didn’t look like it was going to be possible.  That was until I decided to try out Vibram FiveFingers Shoes.

It was in that same Wired Magazine article that I mentioned above where I learned about Vibram FiveFingers shoes.  They are shoes shaped kind of like gloves, but for your feet.  The toes each have their own compartment and then the shoes kind of slip on like a sock.  The shoe itself is very thin and flexible (you can actually fold the shoe back on into itself), but the nice thing is that on the bottom of the shoe you have a rubber sole that gives you traction and more importantly protects you from the outdoor elements.

I wasn’t sure which pair of FiveFingers I wanted to get, but after finding some additional Vibram FiveFingers shoes information, I finally decided on purchasing the Vibram FiveFingers Classic.  It’s the entry level Vibram FiveFinger shoe and at $80 it seems like a great deal compared to the New Balances I bought.  I didn’t want to splurge for the higher end Vibrams and to start I just wanted to see if these shoes would help me more than my past shoes had.

I’m happy to report that after a few months and about 100 miles of wearing these Vibram FiveFingers shoes my feet feel great!  My shin splints are practically gone and I now I never have any issues with toe blisters.  I do have to be honest and say that the first few weeks were a little painful for my feet (as in muscle soreness) since my feet weren’t accustomed to the natural way of running and I had to build up foot muscles I never knew I had.

However, so far the pain has been worth it and I love these shoes.

I can’t say my experience with Vibram FiveFingers shoes is typical, but I can say firsthand that these shoes helped me out.  If you are looking to get rid of foot pain I’d put these shoes on your shortlist to check out.

For more information on Vibram Five Fingers Shoes, click on the links below:

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