I can't believe it's been 7 years since I started running in Vibram FiveFingers shoes! To this day, I still receive comments on the shoes and am asked so many questions on how and why I decided to go with VFF. Since that first day I tried on a pair, I have run 1 marathon, 6 half marathons, a few 5-10Ks, and many, many miles. The biggest test for these shoes though was the day I ran my first marathon in them. It was November 2015 and I was incredibly nervous! Here's my story:
I started running in Vibram FiveFingers shoes in 2012, shortly after my first marathon, to help improve my running form and reduce some of the knee pain I was experiencing. You can read more about why I switched here, but essentially, because I was new to running, I never really knew if my running form was correct. And when I did make proper adjustments, I found it difficult to keep that form throughout an entire run. So after a bit of research, I learned that wearing minimalist shoes, specifically VFF, could help me. The more connected to the ground I could be, the easier it would be for me to feel where my feet were landing. Here's an idea of what I looked like running with traditional shoes before, and what I look like after with VFF.
Anyway, 4 years and 2 half marathons later, I started training for the NYC marathon in my VFF.
This is what I learned.
Lesson #1: Once you go barefoot, you can never go back
While I loved running the 2 halves in my favorite running shoes, I was nervous for the full 26 miles. After the first half marathon, my feet felt a little raw from the distance. So I added these socks for the next race, and while I felt significantly better, I still had doubts that my feet would hold up for the entire marathon.
~ May 2014 after the Long Island half marathon ~
My skepticism got the better of me, and I bought a lightweight running shoe for the race and to use for the long runs in my training. Unfortunately, they didn't last more than one run. They hurt my feet terribly. My toes were sore and the arches of my feet were on fire. I use them now for boot camps and other fitness classes where there's a lot of jumping, but sadly they never made it out for another run.
Lesson learned. It's very difficult to return to a traditional running shoe, even lightweight ones, after experiencing VFF.
Lesson #2: Don't ignore the aches and pains
I started seeing a chiropractor weekly about a month into my training. I went to him so he could help lengthen my back and realign my joints after long runs, but he also helped me significantly with my feet. Once I'd started running 13 plus miles, certain muscles and tendons I never felt before were now working overtime to keep up with the mileage. He'd work his magic so my feet wouldn't get too tired or sore. This is an important lesson. Be sure to see your doctor right away if you feel any straining, pain, or unusual aches.
Lesson #3: Others will think you're crazy
If I had a dollar for every comment I received over the years from people who thought I was crazy to run long distances in these shoes, well, I'd have a good bit of cash. On our way to the marathon while sitting on the Staten Island Ferry, I heard a nice long story from the guy sitting across from me about how he'd tried VFF, was unsuccessful, and now really impressed that I was going to manage the whole race in them. 😟 After that conversation, I spent the better half of the race freaking out that I'd made the wrong decision!!!
What saved me? At mile 17 I spotted two women running together AND in VFF! I followed them for about 4 miles and finished the race feeling confident and so very grateful for their presence. They rescued me from my self doubt.
Lesson Learned: Don't listen to random people.
Lesson #4: Try out all shoe accessories before the marathon
Just like energy gels, clothes, where to put bandaids, and the like, try out any adjustments needed for the shoes during the training months. I love these Injinji socks and wore a pair during every single training run. I also added these Spenco gel pads to give the balls of my feet a little added cushion. I started using them when my long runs reached 15+ miles. Both worked great and helped a ton during the race.
Lesson #5: There's a chance you might run through them
The only con during this whole experience, which however did not affect my run, was that I wore a small hole into the shoes. I only noticed it after I'd crossed the finish line and sat down to rest, so it wasn't a factor in how well I performed. However, these particular shoes were only three weeks old at the start of the race, hence my surprise. I still used the shoes for a few months after the race as the soles were in great shape, but just a note.
Lesson #6: Come to your own conclusions
I stressed and stressed, and researched and researched whether running in these shoes would be a good idea. Unfortunately, there really isn't a ton out there on long distances in minimalist shoes. I read this article from a trainer which gave me some confidence. I also talked with my doctor several times on the subject. The only way I really knew for sure was to train with them. So I did, and it went well. While I was still nervous on the day of, my gut instinct told me I'd be okay.
So how did they do?
Would you believe that my feet were the only things on my body that didn't hurt when I finished the race? I know it sounds crazy, but it's the truth. My lower back, knees, hips, all screamed for some R&R. But my feet, they felt great! So overall, I'd say they did pretty damn good!
Would I do it again?
Absolutely! I don't think I'll ever run a full marathon again (I'm happy with completing two), but I continue to run in Vibram FiveFingers and can't wait for my next race.
NOTE: If you do try Vibram FiveFingers, be sure to try them out very slowly. Don't attempt a 5-miler right away. It takes time. I was already running in them for a year before I began training for my first half marathon and 4 years before I trained for my first marathon in them. It can take 3-6 months to make the transition to VFF even for a strong runner.