Vibram five fingers(VFF) in the mail the other week. I first read about VFFs several years ago while in college and though they were soooooooooo cool, and wanted a pair mostly for shock value. However, a college student budget does not usually have room in it for non-necessities. Plus, I was still under the impression that the more cushioned my running shoes and the more support my arches had the better off I was.
Today the notion that to be a runner you must first have running shoes is coming under fire. Several books have been published on barefoot running, websites on the subject are popping up all over, and new shoes are being designed to accommodate the new wave of minimalist and barefoot runners. There is a big distinction between minimalist and barefooting. Minimalist shoes are those that still have a sole, so pretty much anything you put on your foot. These include shoes such as distance running flats, your old camp water shoes from wal-mart, and vibram 5 fingers. Nike Frees DO NOT COUNT! They offer too much cushioning and support. Barefoot running is just that, no shoes, just feet.
When running barefoot or in minimalist shoes you no longer hit the ground with your heel and roll off your toes. (at least this is the idea) Instead you tend to land more on the middle to front part of your foot with your heel coming down first. This makes your foot act as a shock absorber instead of your knees, hips and back. You can't "pound the pavement" as a barefoot runner. Instead you have to think "light on your feet." Try going into your back yard or city park, take off your shoes and run in the grass. What feels better, running in the traditional heel strike fashion, or bounding on your toes?
Why run barefoot or wear minimalist shoes? When you get down to it, all you really need to run, are feet. And God/Allah/Buddha/ gave us feet to do exactly that. People have studied tribes in South America and Africa and turns out, they do not land on their heels when running barefoot. This is a big difference compared to what Nike and Adidas would have you believe when trying to market a new highly cushioned, motion control shoe. Surprisingly, people in these tribes do not suffer ilio-tibial band syndrome, stress fractures, schin splints.... and all the other usual running injuries. I have a feeling some of this has to do with other lifestyle factors such as diet and running on dirt not pavement. But even with all of our technology, people running in fancy shoes still get overuse injuries quite often. Check out this video for more information. Not everyone is bound for running barefoot or changing their foot strike, but it may be one more tool in the runners arsenal for becoming stronger and faster.
So far my runs have been very short about 1/4 mile a couple times a week. Just like any kind of new activity you do not want to start running barefoot all at once. Sometimes I wear my vibrams and sometimes I just wear socks, such as when I finish up a run on the treadmill or on the grass after a regular run. Mostly I've been wearing mine to the gym while lifting weights and even while on the elliptical or stair climber. I also wore them to an RD meeting this past Monday and they were probably the best conversation starter EVER! While I may never get to running my 10Ks, 1/2 and full marathons in them, I'm hoping to get strong enough to do a 5K at some point in the next year.
Here are some websites with more information on barefoot/minimalist running. Happy Trails!