If the Shoe Fits

I was digging through my closet this morning, looking for my flip-flops, when I came across these hiding in the furthest, darkest corner:

“What,” I wondered, “are these things? And where on earth did they come from??”

Kidding. But you can probably infer from how clean they are, they don’t get too much use. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I wore them…

I’ve never been much of a shoe person. That’s was always my sister’s sphere. My shoe philosophy – wear what’s comfortable – keeps me in Sperry’s and flip-flops 95% of the time I’m not at the office. As for sneakers (or tennis shoes or trainers depending on your “regional dialect.” Can you believe they’ve done academic studies on this stuff?), I cannot think of a more uncomfortable shoe.

Before you all start jumping to conclusions about how lazy I am, I do exercise! When most people move into a new home, they purchase a new sofa or bed. Me? My first, and only, major purchase when I moved to Brooklyn was a treadmill and it has been worth its weight in gold. (Ask my dad just how much it weighs and you’ll get a good idea how much I love it.) The poor thing has been feeling a bit neglected lately because I’ve been doing my running in the park, but it still holds a special place in my heart and come winter, it will be back in regular use.

I don’t wear sneakers.

I love to run.

Something seems off, right?

Enter Vibram Five Fingers:

(Yes, these are real shoes and, yes, they are completely legitimate.)

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I haven’t always loved running. It was something I’d every now and then because I knew it was good for me, but it was always a struggle. I could never manage more than 2 miles before my aching knees and screaming lungs would force me to stop. Even after weeks of training, I was never able to increase my distance or speed and I was always out of breath. I’d work consistently for a few months and then give up, frustrated with my lack of progress and overwhelmed by the pain in my joints. Six months later, I’d try again, wanting to experience that “runner’s high” you hear people talk about, only to find myself stuck in the same cycle. Eventually, I gave up on running and relegated my workouts to the elliptical.

Even so, there was still something so appealing about running. I loved the idea of freedom it offered, of being able work out anywhere and at any time. No equipment needed. Just some shoes and an open road (or trail). So when my roommate Addie showed up in our apartment with a pair of Vibrams, I was intrigued. At the time, I knew nothing about barefoot running so I did what any reasonable person would do.

I googled it.

What I read made sense. The science was there and it was compelling. Even more so were the testimonials. People just like me who’d struggled with running their whole life wrote of how switching from sneakers to Vibrams changed everything. They went from struggling to run 2 miles, even after months of training, to running marathons. (Not overnight, mind you, but you get the point.)

I was intrigued, but skeptical. I needed a new pair of sneakers and thought “Why not? Might as well give them a try.”

My parents were polite, but obviously concerned that New York was all just too much for me and I was starting to lose it. My sister told me I looked like I had alien frog feet. My brother-in-law said I belonged in Avatar. I didn’t disagree with any of them, but I also wasn’t deterred.

The man at Delaware Running Co. told me to take it slowly. I wasn’t to wear them for more than 10% of my normal work out to start with and to slowly increase that percentage until I was wearing them exclusively.

Unfortunately, I’ve never been one for following directions. The first time I wore them, I hit the 0.2 mile mark and kept going. And going. And going. I was like the Energizer Bunny. It felt great. I wasn’t tired or out of breath and my knees didn’t hurt at all. Three miles later, I was still feeling good, but I went ahead and stopped, just to be safe.

The next day, I paid the price for my folly.

I got out of bed and could barely walk. My calves were so tight I had to walk on my toes all day because it was too painful to stand with my feet flattened. When I was finally able to go back to the gym a few days later, I meekly submitted to the rules and began to slowly increase my speed and distance.

A few nights ago, I went for an unintentional 5-mile run through the park and loved every minute of it. (I took a wrong turn in the park and ended up taking the long way home, thus my planned 3 miles turned into five.) My knees didn’t hurt. I was never painfully out of breath. And I felt good – not weak or tired – when I finished. I won’t be running a marathon anytime soon…or ever, actually…but I can honestly say I love to run. All thanks to my Vibrams.

My shoe-loving sister who said they looked like alien frog feet? Yeah, she owns a pair now. My brother-in-law would have a pair, too, but the store was out of his size. My point? Don’t knock ’em til you try ’em.

And you know that saying “If the shoe fits, buy it in every color?” I may have taken that a bit too literally.

What started as one pair…

…soon became two…

…now I’m up to three…

…and lusting over/contemplating pair #4

“Obsession” may not accurately describe my love affair with these shoes.


19 April 2012. Healthy Living, Running.

One Comment

  1. Puddle Jumping « Pray. Eat. Run. Write. replied:

    […] a lot of focus to avoid slipping and face planting. I’ve already professed my undying love of Vibrams on here, but I’ll say it again. I cannot imagine trying to run in the rain in sneakers. Every […]

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