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5 Finger Shoes and the Mid-Foot Strike

Recently I’ve been talking with a number of people about my “crazy shoes” and about technique with a number of runners. Ever since I ran the Boston Marathon in 2002 I’ve had trouble with my left knee, a common runners injury called IBS. As long as I have run I’ve also destroyed my second toenail on my left foot. For more than 10 years it’s been black or in some stage of falling off. I’ve read of long distance runners who have given up and had toenails removed, that was a bit too extreme for me.

About two years ago I learned that my friend Adam was running every day in his Vibram 5 Finger Shoes. I considered this impossible, as I would have to rest at least one day after every run to get over the aches and pains and let my feet rest. He got into it from Born to Run, and incredible book that I would recommend to anyone interested in running. It talks about technique, but most of all it’s a fantastic story about “The Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen”.

Speaking of fantastic stories, Adam’s is pretty wild too, a guy who at one point weighed over 350 and now is under 200 and training for an Ultra-Marathon (50 miles I think).

I enjoy being barefoot on the weekends so one day we went out to lunch in Lexington and we hit the running store so I could get a set of vibram 5 finger shoes to walk around in.

It was crazy, I was still running in my regular shoes but it changed my stride enough that my knee pain went away. The shoes force you to land on the middle of your foot, if you try to heel strike you realize that after about 3 strides you are destroying your entire skeleton. There is a lot of writing and religious discussion out there as to whether the running shoe and the heel strike is one of the greatest frauds of the last century, I can only judge by my own results.

This year one of my personal goals was to get some training on running form and check it out more. While looking for a coach I found a group that was running a full day clinic at a triathlon expo in Cambridge and spent a day in March with Vince, studying Chi Running, which is in line with what Born to Run is talking about (there’s also Chi Walking, if running is not your thing). I’m still too chicken to run in the VFF’s (I’m still well over 200) so I got a set of Newton Shoes which are a minimalist shoe, they are neutral (no raised heel), which makes them feel flat and much lighter than everything I’ve ever run in. I thought that I would have to adjust to those but from day 1 my feet felt so much better that I’ve never gone back.

If you decide to check this out don’t make the mistake I’ve heard many people make – wearing them as your new shoes. You have to consider wearing them as a workout, I started with short walks with the dog, building up over 6 months to the point where I could wear them all day. Just for walking around, never for running. I’ve had more than one person tell me “I wore them for a day and I was crippled, injured, hobbled, etc…”. From looking at them if they spent a full day in the gym they’d be in the same condition. How about giving 20 minutes a shot first considering that you’ve spent your entire life with your feet in casts?

The results have been amazing, in a 9k race that I started the season off with both this year and last year I was 7 minutes faster. It used to take me two days to recover, I couldn’t run without taking a rest day for my feet and back, now I feel like I could run at lunch after a morning run. Last year nine miles a week was average, I can do 20 a week running faster with less effort, and less pain. Sometimes I even enjoy it. My only regret is that I didn’t change my technique a long time ago. Better yet, I’m glad I never had my toenail removed – for the first time in years it looks normal.