I received a pair of vibram five fingers (VFF) KSOs for my birthday. Although my birthday is not technically for another little bit, I received them early, which I guess makes them not a birthday present but more of a “hey you’re great” present, which I should probably received almost every day. Almost. I have my not-quite-great-but-still-pretty-awesome days.
So, what are they? And how well do they work?
VFFs are gloves for your feet. The marketing spiel says theyre intended to get you “back to nature”, and be close to “barefoot running” etc etc puke. They’re basically thin rubber soles with a fabric upper, and space for each toe, just like a glove. They’re very minimalist, and, like a bikini or lingerie, you definitely don’t get a discount because theres less stuff in them.
Putting them on
Putting them on is a little tricky the first time. But my technique is, put your foot in, aim to get your big toe in the big toe space, and then scrunch up until all your toes are in place. I know! Scrunch is not a real verb, but it basically means flexing your toes and moving them further into the shoe. Scrunch!
The trick with these shoes is covered in ChiRunning: A Revolutionary Approach to Effortless, Injury-Free Running
and in two seconds its landing on the ball of your foot, not your heel. This is weird to start with, and will give you immensely sore calves for a few weeks. “Pain is weakness leaving your body”. Unless your hand is inside a blender and its on.
So it takes a bit of getting used to. But persevere, because it is worth it!
So you’re running on the ball of your foot, and you’ve got your VFFs, and … it pretty much feels like you’re running barefoot. More or less. Its a bit warmer, and you’ve got a bit of protection, but it really is pretty good. You can feel everything you run over, and your lower legs do much more work balancing and adjusting, particularly when you land on sharp stuff. Its really quite different, and really fun.
Landing on sharp stuff
Since most of the time I run in the hills, theres always sharp stuff like rocks and roots and bear traps (actually no bear traps) to land on. In most cases, you instantly adjust your weight so these painful encounters don’t worry you too much. In some cases however, you definitely feel the minimalist side of the VFFs, which is one of the two downsides of these shoes. Most of the time, its not a problem, and certainly not enough to not recommend them. But sometimes, it does bloody hurt.
The other ‘downside’ is only a downside if you mind skidding/sliding down slippery banks in the mud. I don’t, its great fun, so not much of a downside for me! But traction is much less for the VFFs (I like saying VFFs!) than for a normal off-road running shoe like the Asics Trabuco or similar. In some cases, its a bit of a 2 steps forward, 1 back, but its been raining and the ground here is soft, slippery (fun!) clay.
They’re really cool, and I will probably not buy another pair of running shoes. They look kinda funky, so might not be for the image conscious, unless you’re so cool, the image-conscious want to be like you. Or you’re so uncool, you’ve gone full circle and are actually really cool.
But it is really fun to run in these things, once you’ve got through the obligatory few weeks of calf pain while you harden the hell up. You run around jumping on narrow things and can actually balance because you feel exactly where you land, they’re light as hell so it feels like you can run faster, and generally they’re a good thing. Anecdotally, I haven’t had knee pain since wearing them, which I usually got a bit of when running. Im not saying these things are responsible, but… just saying right?
Summary of the summary
5 stars. Out of 5. Minus a little for me landing on a damn sharp root. Which hurt. But it still rounds up to 5.