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Run Tech: Vibram 5 Finger Shoes

As it turns out, the human body is an amazing machine. Believe it or not, we were simply born to run on natural surfaces (not black top or concrete).

With the increasing press and underground movement amongst the running community over the past decade or so, it seems that Vibram identified this niche as a group of folks who who would really get behind a product if it catered to their needs.

The Vibram Five Finger shoe on the foot of the author

Thus far, it Vibram has really delivered with their relatively new Five Finger shoe product! The Vibram Five Finger shoe is a truly unique looking animal. I've had mine since September of 2009 and everyone notices them (genius marketing on Vibram's part). You get comments ranging from "I was wondering if those were Sasquatch tracks I've been seeing in the woods", to "could you pick up that thing down there on the ground (gesturing for me to do it with my feet)", etc.

While many of these shoes sell because they look quirky and are fun, there is some real science and proven results behind them.

For runners, the fact is that when running off road, you are statistically more likely to get a running injury wearing a modern supportive shoe with motion control, etc. Ironically, the people who usually buy shoes with motion control are the runners who are most worried about injury and they often end up shooting themselves in the foot (or chin, knee, etc), no pun intended.

Now, you might think I've gone crazy, and the first few times I heard about this barefoot running craze, I thought they were all crazy. But let's think about it... The human body has all of human history for evolution to have figured out a properly designed foot for running, and it has come very close to doing so. We all have 2 different arches (the medial and lateral arch). These arches are literally designed and effectively function as suspension or shock absorbers for our bodies when walking or running. In order for these arches to function properly, they need to be able to move freely. If you place a structure (IE running shoe) underneath these arches that restricts movement, they cease to suspend.

There lies the logic line for barefoot runners and Vibram Five Fingers running shoes. The Vibram Five Finger Shoes literally allow your foot to function the way nature intended.

The author enjoying a trail run in his Vibram's

As you run in these shoes, you'll notice that it feels as if you don't have shoes on at all. You'll also notice that although there isn't much tread on the sole, you have amazing traction - I like to describe it as if my feet are "actually grabbing the ground". Finally, as I'm running in these, I find that I strike the ground less with my heel and land more with a flat foot, sometimes even on the ball of my foot (which is what nature intended).

If you're looking to try out a set of these, purchase them knowing that they need to be fit totally differently than a normal shoe. The flexible rubber sole flexes and stretches around your foot, so they need to fit tighter than a normal shoe. Check out this fitting advice from Vibram.

When you first try out these shoes, ease into it. The first few times, only go out for a quick and easy run and see how things feel. Then gradually start adding on some mileage.

Finally, I personally only use these shoes for off road trail running - not on pavement. As an experiment, I do plan on trying using them on pavement, but I do like some extra cushioning for running on rock hard surfaces (humans have only had 100 years or so for evolution to tweak our feet for running on these hard surfaces).

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