In the name of science, I have started running barefoot. Well, almost barefoot. I am taking part in a year-long running trial, one of the largest and most comprehensive internationally. I was ‘randomly’ allocated to trial the Vibram FiveFinger Seeya, one of 11 possible shoes representing different degrees of support. And I was dreading it. Not only for their stupid appearance but for the inevitable pain of learning to run in a different way. Barefoot running forces you to run with a toe first strike (if you land heel first it is very painful). Toe-striking engages different muscles compared to heel-striking, especially in the foot, ankle and calve.
So. What are they like? Well, I actually kind of love the look of them, which surprised me. The colours are complimentary and subtle and I think they make my feet look…kind of dainty in a way. I have big feet, not huge but proportionate to my height which I would say is maybe a bit above average. Anyway, I also have wide feet and low arches. Not pretty feet. But in the FiverFinger, they look kind of cute. Having said that, the first time my sister saw me in them for a run she burst out laughing. Maybe they look more like clown shoes than I thought…
They feel very, very close to toe-socks. Very flexible and with only a small amount of plastic to protect the foot from the road. It took me about 10 minutes to put them on the first time, I just couldn’t get my damn toes in each of their allocated pockets. Frustration! Now they slide on easy, I think its because I just relax my foot and put them on like a normal shoe whereas the first time I was stretching them out to try and separate them. Now they are a quicker option to shoes and socks. They are very comfortable to walk around in and hug the foot gently.
It feels strange to run in them. I can feel the road and anything on the footpath through the shoe and avoid rocks carefully. Today I got a rock stuck between the toes as I was running and had to stop to pick it out. The first time I tried them I only did maybe 1 km in them before changing into my other shoes. No problems I thought, that didn’t hurt at all! The next day my calves ached. The second time I thought I would run a bit further and pushed it it 2.5 km. By the end my calves and shins were hurting. When I changed into my normal shoes to finish the run I couldn’t keep going more than another 2 km or so because of the pain. But the worst part? The blisters. Every time I wore them they rubbed the top and side of my foot near the strap and are pretty painful (you can see the blisters in the top pic). Last week I did a couple of longer runs in them (>3 km) and the blisters were super painful with blisters starting on the bottom of my big toes. My calves were still hurting after every run and now my ankles were starting to hurt. This is despite realising that actually, I am a toe striker naturally so the transitions shouldn’t be overly painful. In my normal shoes I land maybe a little flat footed but certainly towards the ball.
Give up! I was advised. Why are you pushing it? I was asked. I started to ask myself the same thing.
But recently, it has started to click. I did 3.4 km in them this afternoon followed by a nice yoga session. I still had blisters (on the bottom of my big toes, pretty painful) but my ankles and calves felt fine for the run, bit sore afterwards but not a lot. The hills I did actually felt pretty good too. I have mentioned before that I struggle with hills and I suspect it has to do with my technique as I get a sore back after a lot of hill running.
In the end, I made a commitment to test the shoes (in the name of science) and I’m going to keep at it. I think I can see the light though, it is starting to get easier and I think they will be nice and cool for summer running. I’ll be doing my first 5 km in no time…