Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Hunt for Running Shoes Part I: Discovering Barefoot Running

I’ve been running for more than two years now and alongside it is cross-training with a mountain bike during weekends or every so often. But even with this kind of physical regimen, I felt that I was not achieving my best form.

A few months back, a friend of mine mentioned something about “barefoot running”. This is actually a way of running using a type of shoe that makes one feel like running in one’s bare feet. When I asked around, I was enlightened by some new insights about this new kind of running form.

A New Running Culture

Many experts say most conventional runners land on their heels which receive most of the shock-load of the body as you run. It’s called the heel-strike. No wonder most of the running shoes available today have better cushion on the heel part and in other parts of the sole to lessen the pressure on the feet.

As footwear technology progressed over the years, running shoes have become more cushioned, more protected, and more light-weight. As a result, certain muscle groups in a runner’s feet, calves and legs become lethargic in a way because they are now seldom used thereby limiting a runner’s fullest potentials to run longer, faster, and stronger.

A Brief Review on Vibram’s FiveFingers

As I became more curious, I stumbled upon an interesting product called FiveFingers by Vibram. I found it so radical the way the shoes’ design conforms to a runner’s feet including the toes. Since Vibram made it, I felt it might be worth the purchase. I got so excited; I almost bought myself a pair. But I decided to ask for more information from seasoned runners and shoe experts before making a final decision.

Through conversations, I gathered stories of actual experiences of people who actually bought and used FiveFingers on different terrains. I got extreme responses! For some breeds of barefoot runners, they said the shoes’ performance was excellent. Sad to say for some, they found the shoes less than satisfactory. Their discontent stemmed from reasons that range from small blisters to excruciatingly painful ones as well as the death of several toenails.

From these contradictory feedbacks, I came to the conclusion that the main reason could be because not all toes are created symmetrically equal. Even for one person, extremities are somehow different from the other. For example, it is very common that many women openly express that one breast is bigger than the other while some guys complain that a testicle sagged more than its pair.

As for me, I grew up knowing that my left foot is a bit bigger than my right foot and that the index toe on both feet are overly extended. I’d guess it’s genetics because I’ve seen the similarities of my dad’s toes to mine.

So, if I wear a pair of FiveFingers in a size that can accommodate the length of my overly-extended index toe, it will be too loose for the rest of my toes. On the other hand, if I get a size that will fit most of my toes, the shoe will be too tight for my index toe. This is not ideal because the shoe will give my index toe too much pressure as I run. You see, barefoot running involves landing on the middle of the foot and not on the heel like in conventional running form.

I’ve seen a lot of peoples’ feet and toes and many of them have their own “deformities” to share. Fortunately for those who were blessed with equally symmetrical toe lengths, the FiveFingers will fit them like a glove. But for others like me who were created “less than perfect”, we will have to look for other types. And that is exactly what I did. 

Read Part 2 of this writeup here.

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