I’ve Got 5 on It: Daily Adventures in Vibram Five Fingers
When I don my Vibram 5 Fingers, nothing else about my appearance seems to matter. I literally cannot take a step without having to talk about them. Most listeners are excited, some are skeptical, my 7 year-old niece is traumatized whenever I wear them, but everyone is intrigued- and I always indulge their questions.
I discovered the revolutionary footwear 3 years ago when I began running. I was looking for something to strengthen my over-pronating feet and weak ankles. Among other methods of support, I started investigating the barefoot running phenomenon. At the time, I was transitioning out of my “career” as a semi-professional belly-dancer, so the idea of being barefoot in strange places was not totally foreign to me. However, I still could not fathom running any respectable distance with no protective wear on my feet. After significant research and testimonials, the funny-looking 5 Fingers seemed like a reasonable compromise.
When I was ready for the purchase, I ventured into the alternative shoe store, Abbadabba’s in Atlanta’s Little Five Points (L5P) neighborhood to explore the shoe. Initially, there was a bit of sticker shock for the shoes that range from $75-125, but I was committed to the experiment… and I easily could have found less beneficial “stuff” in L5P on which to spend that same amount of money. I stretched, bent and even smelled the display shoes before finally asking for my (European) size. I do not have corns, bunions or displaced toes, but it still took about 7 minutes for me to put on each shoe and the sales associate could do nothing but cheer me on.
Without knowing how much wear I would actually get out of this novelty, I started with The Classic. They have a nylon upper, the Vibram TC1 rubber sole, and essentially look like a ballet flat- with toes. After my struggle to put them on, I decided to keep them on while continuing my Saturday in the outdoor shopping district. Each step was an adventure and the looks, the questions and conversations began the minute I walked out of the store. Four hours later, my knees and ankles were quite achy and my feet were fatigued. I was not so happy about my purchase. I went home, read more about them, and learned that I should have broken them in, a few hours at a time to prevent such discomfort.
I should have known that. I gradually broke the shoes in, over the next few weekends, and without any new aches. I did continue to experience muscle fatigue, but I related that the strengthening process and it soon disappeared, as well. Within a few wears, it became much easier to slip them on, indicating that there was a change occurring in my feet. I began walking around and climbing Stone Mountain in them, while falling in love with my stronger feet and knees. The moment of truth arrived when upgraded to The Sprint and decided to go for a run. It was an adjustment, but I can comfortably run up to 4 miles- on the road or the trails- before my historically weak ankles get upset. However, I have witnessed more than a few fellow marathoners and halfers running their entire race distance in the barefoot alternative.
The shoes are valuable for providing stability while practicing yoga on rugged or wet terrain, as in on a Costa Rican waterfall. I also wear them while indoor rock climbing or rappelling. I prefer my new pink Treksports for those activities. I wear them regularly when I travel and I am getting used to fielding the questions from other world travelers and TSA agents. Last summer in New York, I even wore them to a Broadway musical. I guarantee that they were more comfortable and garnered more attention than any pair of red-bottoms. An unexpected benefit was with my nail technician, as she noticed that she no longer needed to use a toe separator during my pedicure. That’s not to say that my toes are alien-separate, just enjoying-their-own-space-separate. I have heard personal testimonials of the shoes correcting bunions and even alleviating chemotherapy-related neuropathy.
One of the most common questions I hear is regarding any pain associated with stepping on rocks. The answer is that the sole is durable enough to endure pressure from even rocks with sharp edges. There is no pain, in fact, walking or running on rocks feels like a surprise acupressure session. These shoes are my every weekend and road trip kicks. I can’t wait to find a justification to purchase a new pair.