Vibrams: Stephen's Experience

>> Thursday, July 15, 2010

When I first slipped my toes into those strange five fingered gloves, I felt the freedom to flex and stretch my feet in directions and motions my running shoes wouldn’t allow. Naturally, I was eager to put my feet to the road to feel what all the hype was about. I read that it’s best to ease into barefoot running and to build mileage slowly. In fact, I even blogged about my adventures in easing into minimalist running.

I've been consistently running fifty miles a week, so I arrogantly tried to be the exception to the rule; I walked in them about five miles total before making the transition to running.

One of my biggest questions about the five fingers concerned speed. Would I be able to run as fast in five fingers as I could in my everyday trainers? The answer, I found in my first 3 mile run, was yes. You can go fast! Not only was I able to run in a fast clip, but I felt like I was expending less energy to maintain the pace. Efficiency, at last! Unfortunately, this experience doesn’t have a happy ending -- in fact, its conclusion is far from it.

Developing throughout the day, I felt a deep tightness grow in my lower leg muscles. No matter how many times I leaned against the wall to stretch, the tightness worsened and worsened. And the next morning, the tightness was unreal! It honestly felt like it was my first week of running, ever! I recalled my fifteen-year-old self huffing and puffing after my first three-miler. My legs, raw, throbbing. This hyperbole really isn’t too far-fetched, as the five fingers engaged muscles that I have seldom used.

Like the Saucony Kinvaras, the Five Fingers allow my foot to experience a much wider range of motion. But unlike the Kinvara’s lowered heel, the five fingers have absolutely NO heel build up! So each time my foot struck the pavement, my lower leg muscles extended much more than they were used to. The funny thing is -- I already knew this. I read the reviews, I understood the concept, and it made sense to me. But for some reason, call it excitement; I tried to skip the orientation.

The moral of the story: no matter how much experience you have, no matter how many miles you log, it’s best to take your time when introducing barefoot running into your regimen. (Ashley's experience making the switch has been much less disruptive to her normal routine. More on that another time . . . but she agrees with the easing into it part.)

After five days, my lower legs have finally loosening up and the sharp tenderness in my calves is fading. I’ve decided to step back, start over, and build up my mileage with five fingers slowly.
  • I’m beginning with three short five-finger runs a week. (Note: these runs are not in addition to my weekly mileage. Instead, I’m replacing equal shoe miles with five-finger miles.) Starting with a 1/4 mile for my first run, I will add 1/4 mile to each workout: Week 1: T: 1/4 mile, W: 1/2 mile, TR: 3/4 mile = 1-1/2 mile total
  • I’ll make the middle distance workout, 1/2 mile from week 1, the shortest workout of week 2 and continue to add a 1/4 mile: Week 2: T: 1/2 mile, W: 3/4 mile, TR: 1 mile = 2.25 miles total
  • I’ll continue this process for as long as it feels right. And by using this formula, I’ll be running my first three miler by week 10.
Again, the distance and frequency of this plan are dependent on the person. We all have different bodies, different thresholds, and different needs. The best advice -- as always -- is to listen to your body. And be sure to stay tuned for more updates on our adventures with the Five Fingers!

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