Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Tiptoe through the Tulips

Doesn't that lyric make you think of being barefoot? While I haven't exactly gone barefoot, I have been experimenting with minimalist shoes, a gateway to the barefoot posture.

If you believe the hype, there are many benefits to be gained from minimal (true barefoot to minimalist shoes) footwear. Some people have gone so far as to run this way, my husband is one. I’m reluctant to run in them, but willing to experiment a bit. After all, I do seem to be the poster child for injury.

I bought a pair of Vibram Five Finger Sprints a few years ago specifically for water sports, kayaking in particular, and for that purpose I love them. I have also worn them for yard work, walking the dogs, running errands, etc, and while I like them on dry land, I don’t necessarily LOVE them.

First, it is truly very much like being barefoot in that you can feel every little rock on the ground, and I live on a gravel road. I realize that if I had a pair of Vibram Trek Sports, for example, this first issue might not be a problem for me because the soles would be different, but with the Sprints this is problematic for me.

Second, I find that I’ve never been able to wear them for extended periods of time comfortably because they start to really bother the pinky toe on my left foot. This poor toe seems to want to be tucked slightly under its neighbor. Presumably due to wearing ill fitting shoes all my life, but after 40 something years, this is how my foot is. Oddly, I find them to be quite a bit more comfortable in the water than on dry land. Not sure why. Perhaps there is more ‘give’ when they are wet.

I do like the more natural feel of the barefoot posture, plus my husband swears by minimalist running. Those two things led me to try the Merrell Barefoot Pace Glove (the men’s version is called the Trail Glove). Taking my first few steps in them, the “feel” immediately reminded me of the Vibrams, only replacing the individual toe pockets that cause discomfort to my little toe with a nice wide toe box. Ahhhh. Much better.

These Merrells also have a thicker/more treaded Vibram sole than my Sprints. I believe this sole is similar to the Treks that I don’t own. This seems to have solved my problem about feeling every little rock on the trail. An added plus is they don’t give you the funky frog feet look and they have many colors to choose from. I'm having a hard time narrowing it down to only one for a second pair.

Bought them Sunday afternoon and I’ve been wearing them almost non-stop ever since as they quickly became my shoe of choice for walking the dogs, doing errands, even for work since I am often able to dress casually in the office. I have noticed some tightness in my right calf. This doesn’t surprise me because the barefoot stance changes your posture and walk/run form and I pretty much jumped right in. I imagine folks are right when they say to start off slow if you choose to run in these, if walking is already causing noticeable calf tightness I can only imagine what running would do. Eek. I should add that at this point I’ve chosen to wear socks with the Merrells, whereas I go sockless in the Vibrams.

So that’s where I’m at. I’ll share more after I’ve had more time in the Merrells. The hope is that the change in stride/posture/etc will improve the situation with my left knee as well as with my back. Time will tell. And neither shoe (Vibrams or Pace Gloves) seem like they would be good choices when the weather turns cold. I may be looking at other styles when the seasons change.

Who else is experimenting with minimalist shoes? How have you used them? Has your experience been positive, negative, or mixed?

[Edited to reiterate, I am *not* running in these. I run in Kinvaras. I am experimenting with minimalist shoes for walking, etc.]


  1. I haven't tried any minimalistic shoes yet, even though I have been considering. I'm worried about it being too "minimalistic" because I run partly on gravel road.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. I'm interested to hear you verdict. I'm basically going the other way as I get fractured toes if my shoes don't have enough support and cushioning at the front. I also believe in what you say...after 40 odd years...this is how I developed my running and walking. No way I'm changing that now in a short space of time.

  3. I took a test drive and I'm thinking of going in that direction with the New Balance MT10..... It has a wider toe box, which I need.

  4. That sounds pretty cool. I switched to the Mizuno Musha's recently which is a minimalist running shoe, not totally natural like these are. I love it.

  5. VFFs would never work for me - I have such wonky toes! I'd never considered that it could be from wearing ill fitted shoes when I was younger. I wonder...

    Glad you are liking the Merrells!

  6. To be honest I am scared to try them in case I get injured. I wouldn't bust out any semblance of distance running in them at all but the potential freaks me out a bit.
    ....but I do love being barefoot..

  7. You know I have the VFF of course.

    I would really like to try the Merrell shoes too. Just haven't found the cash to spend to get 'em!

  8. You know, I have thought about them, but never pulled the trigger. I'm not sure if I was afraid of hurting myself or what. That, and the pavement here gets HOT. Not sure I could go in them a lot of times.