Run Free

by Liz Hoobchaak4 Comments

About 2 years ago, I was out for a jog and saw a runner wearing the most peculiar shoes. They looked like a glove with individual toe cut-outs. Fittingly enough, he said they were called the 5 finger running shoes by Vibram. Having never heard of this company or type of shoe before, I thought he was crazy for trying to run on them. Turns out, the shoes were part of a new craze among runners…barefoot running.

5 Finger Running ShoesThe 5 finger running shoes were named one of Time’s best inventions in 2007. They simulated what it feels like to run in your bare feet. According to Vibram’s website, many individuals reported an increase in sense of balance, improved agility, relief from past running injuries, and an improvement in overall posture. The barefoot running shoes are designed to mimic how our bodies are designed to move naturally. By using shoes with too much artificial support, we are changing our natural gait, or running pattern, which can lead to more injuries.

Although barefoot running shoes have become quite popular over the last few years, the idea of barefoot running goes back centuries. In the history of humans, running has most always been done barefoot, especially in certain parts of the world, such as African countries. It became more noticed in the 1950s when Abebe Bikila from Ethiopia won the Olympic marathon in his bare feet. He said that normal running shoes hurt his feet too much.

What really brought this craze to the forefront of runner’s thoughts was a book titled Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It focused on minimalist running. Shortly after it was published, the Barefoot Running Society was founded in 2009. This organization has grown tremendously since it first started with new runners jumping on the bandwagon every day.

If the individual toe pockets are too much for you, there are now numerous other free running shoes with a single toe box on the market. Nike was the first big-name shoe company to come out with a free running shoe. Now, almost all major athletic shoe companies have their own version of a free running shoe.

After I had my daughter, I wanted to get back to running since I had enjoyed it previously. I needed a new pair of shoes and decided to give the free runners a try. I bought the Nike Free 5.0.  At first, they felt very foreign to me and I felt like I could feel every piece of gravel on the road. Now, they are my favorite running shoes. I have tried going back to my old pair of New Balance running shoes, even for just walking, and they feel so heavy with too much support. I used to experience ankle and knee pain for years when running but luckily have not had any since I starting wearing Nike Free. I think I have jumped on the bandwagon and can never go back to regular gym shoes.

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  1. Annie Olhava

    I started barefoot running last fall and loved it. It was like getting back to the basics – so natural. As winter rolled in I knew I needed something to keep my toes warm, so I switched to the Nike Frees. Loved them, but by spring I started developing some IT band related injuries, so I switched back to barefoot. In just a few weeks my injuries healed. Now I’ve started training for the Chicago Marathon and again needed some extra support for those long runs on gravel trails, so I bought the vibram trek sport 5 fingers. They give me the extra cushion for my long 15 plus mile runs but still simulate what it feels like to be barefoot. I’ll never go back to regular gum shoes. Never ever. I’m in love.

  2. Liz Hoobchaak

    Thanks for commenting Annie. I have been tempted to try the Vibram finger shoes since I have done well with the Nike Frees. I have heard that it takes a while to get your feet accustomed to them. Anyone find it hard to get used to the Vibrams, or did they fit like a ‘glove’ from the beginning?

  3. Andrew Carlstrom

    I started running barefoot and in Vibram 5 fingers around 2 years ago, prompted by a series of ankle sprains and debilitating shin splints. Barefoot running not only ended the cycle of sprains and shin splints, but also transformed my relationship to running. What used to be a goal oriented, plodding, huffing and puffing activity is now a process oriented, sensual and dancelike experience.
    You will want to make the transition from the Nike Free to the Vibrams slowly and patiently. While the Free does have a relatively flexible sole, it still has a quite a bit of cushioning and a large heel drop compared to the 5-fingers. You will most likely experience a period of extremely sore calf muscles at the beginning. It is important to stretch / foam roll the calf to help unload stress from the Achilles as you condition the foot and lower leg. If you currently heel strike, running barefoot or in 5-fingers will change your stride to that of a mid/fore foot strike. Your body will not allow you to heel strike without the thick cushioning of normal running shoes. This is what accounts for the SORE calf muscles as they will now be working eccentrically to lower the heel to the ground softly after the initial forefoot strike.
    One of the joys of barefoot running for me is how present you become in the moment. I have never seen a barefoot runner with headphones. All your senses are focused on each successive footfall. You listen for how softly you can make each foot strike. You attentively scan the ground for obstacles (when you are barefoot, a pebble becomes an obstacle!). You feel the different textures and temperatures of the terrain you are running on. You smell the flowers as you can now breathe through the nose rather than gasping air through the mouth. (okay, maybe not all your senses, as I can’t make an argument for taste?)
    Good luck with your running and if you would like to discuss this further please contact me.
    A good online resource is the Harvard Skeletal Biology Lab:
    Also, “Barefoot Ted” (of Born to Run fame) has a lot of good information online.

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