As many of you know, I’ve been running in a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs for a while now; since last April to be precise. It’s been a rocky road, so to speak. Running in minimalist shoes has made me learn a lot about my feet, legs, and how far I can push them. I’ve learned the hard way about not ramping up too quickly… from major calf cramps to cuboid syndrome, weak ankles to an apparent metatarsal stress fracture. Despite the pain and injuries, I’ve found the whole experience liberating. In fact I have a hard time imagining going back to running in traditional running shoes. And I’ve learned that as long as I don’t get so wrapped up in that liberated feeling that I turn a blind eye to warning signs my body may give me, I’ll be fine.
Though my KSOs have majorly changed my relationship with running, all has not been wine and roses. By the end of last summer, the liner/insole had started to break down. It manifested itself in causing some chafing on the bottom of my largest toe and the pad on the ball of my foot below the toe. The chafing usually began after about 3 miles to start, but then gradually started getting worse earlier in the runs. Washing the shoes seemed to help for a few weeks worth of runs, though that also got worse over time to the point that it no longer helped even immediately after washing.
It got so bad that on one of my runs through the neighborhood back in July I decided to just take the FiveFingers off and run the last 1/2 mile home completely barefoot. It felt surprisingly great, though I realized when I got home that once again I had let my enthusiasm get the best of me. My feet hadn’t built up the proper calluses for running even that short of a distance on the asphalt and I ended up with large blisters on both feet on the top, inner portion of the pads of the balls of my feet. Another lesson learned.
After a few days to let the blisters “cool off”, I decided to try the barefoot thing again. This time I was able to do it on a trail on the sandy soil on of western Michigan while on vacation. Since I still had the blisters, I took it slowly at first. I ran 2.2 miles total: the first 1.2 out in the FiveFingers, the last mile back barefoot. I figured the sand would treat my feet better than the asphalt and I was right. The next day I did 2.3 total, with 1.5 of that barefoot. Then 2.55 total, with 2 miles of that barefoot.
Since I’ve returned home, I’ve tried to find trails around here to do more barefoot running. It’s been harder than I hoped. Three weeks ago I tried the mountain bike trails at Stony Creek Metro Park. I ran about 1.5 miles in and decided to take off the FiveFingers. I made it 1/2 mile barefoot and decided I had had enough. Not so smiley. There’s a reason they call it Stony. I finished up with another 1.3 miles back in the FiveFingers.
The next week I tried the North Unit of Bald Mountain State Rec Area. I ran about a mile of the orange loop to a point were I thought it might be good for barefoot. I was able to go about 2.4 miles barefoot, though there were definitely some uncomfortable areas.
Last week I checked out the bike trails on the south side of Bloomer Park. I ran the first 0.7 mile in the FiveFingers and then 3.5 barefoot. That was the most promising trail so far, though again, there were several very uncomfortable sections.
I have yet to have an issue with sharp pointy stuff causing a cut or puncture, which is what most people’s primary concern is when they think about barefoot running. However, after each of these barefoot runs I have noticed that the forefoot pads of my feet have been fairly tender afterward, most likely due to minor bruising (no outwardly apparent contusion) from the stony parts of the trails I’ve encountered. I generally have to wait a few days before I’m comfortable running again.
My search for an ideal barefoot running trail in the area continues. I wasn’t able to fit another barefoot excursion into my schedule this weekend, though it’s for the best. The past two days became a recovery weekend — well, if you don’t count the 4 hour hike and 2 hours of mowing the lawn! I’m in my third week of Insanity (the second time through! — that’s a story for another post) in addition to my normal runs and rock climbing. I bought a pair of FiveFinger KomodoSports earlier this week from my local Moosejaw and tried them out on Friday. The shoes were fine — it was great to once again go more than a mile and a half without experiencing any hotspots — but I totally struggled with the run. I must have over-done it this week.