I’m not the biggest fan of going barefoot. I grew up in eastern New Mexico, where the most common tree is a tumbleweed. If you went barefoot, chances are you were stabbed several times daily by the incessant goathead stickers or stung by scorpions. As an adult, my feet are constantly cold except for the hottest months of summer. And, if I’m being truly honest, my OCD hates having little bumpy things stick to the skin on the bottom of my foot. Yucky.
But now I’m forcing myself to endure some aversion training. I’m reading Jason Robillard’s The Barefoot Running Book and his recommendation is to go totally barefoot to get the form down and then transition to VFFs or a minimal shoe. That would be great in an ideal world, but I decided to start with the VFFs, partly due to trail hazards here and partly due to the cold, wet weather.
Recently, I was armed with an REI 20%-off coupon plus a dividend to spend, so I went in hoping to find the new Merrell Pace Glove for women. No dice. So I thought I’d try on the Vibram Five Fingers Treksport on a lark, not thinking I would actually buy them. At first, of course, they felt funky. But within seconds, they felt like, as you might expect by looking at them, a glove on my foot. I could immediately sense how little there was between me and the floor, and my foot was groaning at how hard it had to work. Sold!
I knew from reading, and my husband’s initial experience, that you have to transition to barefoot activity slowly. I started by wearing them around the house for a few days. Then I decided to take them on a hike which is probably about 5 miles round trip (see hike report here). No problems there. So for my next barefoot trick, I thought I’d go for a little jog.
Lucky for us, we live next to a flat trail, a true rarity in my little mountain hamlet. My plan was to just wind through the neighborhoods until I reached the trailhead because I was worried the trail would be too muddy from the previous day’s rain. But once I got there, I was having too much fun to stop! After dodging a few puddles, I decided to have even more fun splashing through them. Because my feet were centered beneath me the whole time, I never felt in danger of sliding or falling, and I got a kick out of seeing an almost perfect footprint in the mud.
When I reached a drier section, I decided to crank up the speed to about 75% of maximum for 100 yards. This was definitely a different feeling from my previous way of sprinting. Even though I probably looked like a muddy freak, I felt so fleet and lithe, two things I haven’t felt for quite some time.
Whenever I got a little tired or my mind would wander, I’d start devolving into my old form. The difference was immediately noticeable. Suddenly the flow was broken by plodding, jarring steps. Why did I ever run that way and why would I ever return? But, at least for now, it takes a considerable amount of brain power to stay in the barefoot groove. When I got home, I was more mentally exhausted than physically.
I began to worry that I had done too much for my first barefoot run—2 1/2 miles. My calves were not looking forward to the next day. The result? Some soreness and tightness, but I was far from debilitated. No weird injuries. I’m not sure why, but I suspect the fact that I’ve been wearing minimal running shoes for a year now helped. Still, I don’t plan on pushing it any harder or farther than that for a while.
As for the VFFs? I had a little linear blister on the interior of my right foot and my pinkie toes felt like they were irritated from some sort of repetitive friction. Neither were too annoying to make me stop wearing them, and I assume these will work themselves out over time as I get used to the shoes and barefoot running. The only gripe: it feels like the Velcro strap should be reversed, instead of the hook part being on the bottom and the loop part on top. When I tighten the strap, the end of the top part doesn’t reach all the way over, which leaves a part of the hook section exposed. This catches on everything, whether it’s my pants leg or the carpet at home. I’m not sure if there’s any design logic behind that, because it seems from here that it would be an easy reversal.
But all in all, I’m looking forward to a barefoot summer.