Breaking Your Feet into the Vibram Five Fingers

I’ve seen quite a few questions online concerning beginning training in the world’s favorite lizard-shoes, the Vibram Five Fingers. As a proud owner of said shoes and writer of a running blog, I feel compelled to address this issue.

As a disclaimer, though, I use them mainly for track sessions, rarely doing more than 3 miles with them. So if you’re interested in doing long runs in your Vibrams, I can’t give you any specific advice, though what I say may still be relevant.

First of all, and most importantly, take it slowly at first! Yes, I’m sure you’re excited to have the coolest shoes in town, but if you start out with a 15-miler, I assure you that your calves will hate you for a long time. I started with just one short run a week with them, even shorter than my typical short runs. If you still want to get in the distance, switching shoes midway is always an option (though I’d recommend starting with the Five Fingers, because getting them onto sweaty feet mid-run might be a challenge).

Secondly, unless you’re used to barefoot running/walking, expect some pain. My calves especially suffered, though nothing too terrible. I’ve seen recommendations to begin by walking in them for a while before running. It’s sound advice, though you can expect some stares if you plan on wearing them to work (they’re just jealous).

Thirdly, I do not recommend racing in them, at least at first. I raced the Fifth Avenue Mile in them last year, and it was not a smart decision. Racing the mile alone would have been fine- but I didn’t take into account all the walking around and warming up I do before races, which puts considerable extra stress on unprotected feet. (On a related note- the city has a lot of rocks! One of the many things you discover when your soles are less than a centimeter thick). So take into account all the pre-race walking around before showing your Vibrams off to the competition. If you do plan on racing in them soon after you get them, I recommend getting to the race in different shoes and putting the Vibrams on there. But give yourself enough time, you don’t want to get caught struggling with them when the horn blows!

As per running form in the Vibrams, I can only tell you what I do, which is pretty much a sprinting pose, landing and pushing off with the front of my foot. But I mainly wear them for speedwork, so if you’re doing longer, slower runs in them, or you’re typically a heel-striker (I land mid-foot in normal shoes), then it might be better to try something closer to your normal stride. Or simply do whatever is most comfortable. But don’t take my word on this issue, there may be better advice out there.

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