I’ve been experimenting with minimalist running shoes for about 7 or 8 weeks now. I’m probably a bit late to the whole minimalist running shoe trend as well as a being late to getting around to reading Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. I am enjoy the book quite a bit, although I get the feeling the author tends to overly exaggerate at times, but whatever. It makes for an entertaining read.
So my first experiment with minimalist running shoes was with the Vibram Five Finger Bakila LS. I was transitioning from the Nike Lunarglide which I had logged quite a few miles in.
I quite liked the Vibram Bakila LS. I tended to land mid to fore foot even in my Nikes so my transition to the Bakila LS wasn’t that difficult. My first impressions with the Bakila LS was that they were very comfortable. I wore them without socks eve though I did by some Injinji socks just in case. I also liked the lace system the Bakila LS used over the original Bakila. I bought my Bakilas from the Vibram web site. I would say if you do buy them from their web site as well, you may want to go one size up from the sizing method recommended on their web site. Mine fit quite snug and I think I could have easily gone up one size from a 40 to a 41. Even so the size 40 was not uncomfortable so I trekked ahead with them.
One thing that I noticed right away with the Vibrams is that they are very light and the sole is very, very minimal. For instance if you do step on a small pebble or stick you will feel it in these shoes. They provide enough protection so that it doesn’t hurt but I did instinctively avoid small debris on my runs at first until I was used to feeling everything I stepped on. The sensation is very close to being barefoot but I did appreciate the light feeling of these shoes. I was also surprised at just how much support a conventional shoe provides. In the Vibrams I felt muscles in my feet and ankles getting a workout that I’ve never felt before. Also as most people who transition to Vibrams will warn, my calves were getting a serious workout.
The Vibrams will more or less teach you to run on the fore part, or the balls of your feet. Landing on your heels provides immediate feedback in that you will feel the impact on your heels quite strongly. As a result of landing on the balls of your feet your arches and calves absorb the impact forces in a smoother transition and they are worked out quite a bit. So I took the warnings to heed and the first week I only ran 1.5 miles at a time, and only 3 or 4 runs a week. As I transitioned up over the next 5 weeks everything was going well with my Vibrams. I did feel as though my feet did need to toughen up during this time since I did feel every bit of the impact of my feet landing during my runs. I also felt that when my stride was just right, landing softly on my fore foot and just lightly resting my heel before picking up my foot again, keeping my posture straight, I felt like I was running very lightly and expending very little energy. I felt like I could run for ever. I hadn’t quite felt that while running before.
The trouble I had with my Vibrams came as a started to run longer than say 4 miles or more in a given run. I think the impact forces started to take their toll on the balls of my feet. I started to feel some pain in my right foot in the ball of my foot. The pain would immediately subside as soon as I ended my run and I started to walk. I read online that compression of the foot, ie. shoes being too small could cause this pain so at first I thought maybe I needed to move up a size in the Vibrams. However, I read more running blogs and reviews and it seemed like other runners had similar experiences as mine on longer runs in the Vibrams.
So my wife and I went to REI where my intent was to try a larger size in the Vibrams. Unfortunately REI did not have the Bakila LS. They did however cary the Merrell Barefoot True Glove. They were advertised as Vibram Five Fingers without the fingers. They also seemed to have a slightly more substantial Vibram sole. Actually they seemed to be a more substantial shoe all around yet still a very light weight shoe, maintaining a minimalist feel. I tried on a pair and I was immediately impressed so I bought a pair, and a pair for my wife.
My first impressions are that the shoe is comfortable, maybe a little less so than the Bakila LS but still quite comfortable. I do wear socks with the Merrells as well. The lacing system is very nice. It’s supportive and snug. It does take a little longer to adjust the laces to get them on then tighten them up again. I took them out for a first run, only 2.85 miles and they seem very nice. They have much less of a barefoot feel than Vibrams but still much, much more minimal of a shoe than my Nike Lunarglides. I don’t feel the running surface as much as I did in my Vibrams. I have mixed feeling about this. I feel safer running in the Merrells because let’s face it, you never know when you’ll run across something that’s not so nice to your feet on a run. As far as the separated toe pouches on the Vibrams, I don’t really miss them much. I think they are more of a unique style feature for Vibrams rather than providing any real benefits while running.
At this point I would have given the Merrells a glowing recommendation for anyone seeking a minimalist running shoe without the hard core, near barefoot, experience of the Vibrams, however, after my first run in the Merrells I did experience a significant issue. After my run I usually walk to cool down for about a half mile or so. After the run, and when I started to walk, I felt the Merrells rubbing just above my heel on my Achilles tendon. The strange thing is I did not feel any rubbing or discomfort during my run, nor did I feel the rubbing while walking in the shoes prior to my run. I found another running forum where someone mentioned the rubbing as well in their Merrells and they actually cut some material from the back of their shoes. Now I was not fond of cutting on my brand new shoes but I do like them very much and I want to use them since other than this one issue they were great. So I made some modifications, cutting some material from the upper heel of the shoe, shown below.
I cut the material of the shoe using an exacto knife. I also added some epoxy to the edges to seal the material so that it would not separate or fray. I’ve walked in them since and they seem to be working great now. I’ll take them for another run soon just to be certain but they do feel pretty good now. So if you don’t mind making some minor modifications to a brand new pair of shoes, I would recommend the Merrell True Gloves.
So all of this minimal running shoe experimenting has at least reignited my enjoyment of running and I’ve been running more than I have in a while. I’ve been running at least 4 times a week and I’m really starting to get addicted. Since Jo and I missed the Rock & Roll half marathon in Vegas this year I’ll need to find a new event to have a goal to look forward to. My running slacked off around the end of August and the beginning of September so my RunKeeper progress is looking better now.