Vibram Fivefinger Sprints: a new, er, old way to run.
I ordered some Vibram Fivefinger Sprint shoes. Yes, they look a little odd. But we were born barefoot, right? And I have always wanted to be a Hobbit ninja!
The Sprints are basically just a sheath for your feet, including individual toe slots. This allows your toes to spread out, which works to stretches and strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs, improving balance, agility, range of motion and speed. According to Vibram, "Strengthening these muscles not only leads to better performance, it can reduce injury and help develop healthier feet."
Originally developed as water/sailing footwear, they have been embraced by the barefoot running community. There is good evidence that the bare foot is still the ideal structure to walk, run, and live on.
That's the hype, anyway. And in reality?
They have no padding to speak of, just a "skin" of Vibram razor-siped soles (Vibram makes 32 million soles annually for more than 1,000 footwear brands including The North Face, Scarpa, Merrell, Timberland, Chaco, Lowa, Asolo, Rockport, Columbia Sportswear, Hi-Tec, Giorgio Armani, Prada Sports, Dolce & Gabbana and Hugo Boss, etc) held on to your feet with a stretch polymide fabric upper. Weighing in at just 5.6 oz each, it really does feel like you have bare feet.
The moment I got them out of the box I put them on. After the initial fumbling with getting big-toe into big-toe-slot and so forth, they were incredibly comfortable! Walking around the office felt strange at first, but I soon forgot I had them on.
They do take some getting used to. I rode my bike about 2.5 miles to try them out for comfort. It was a little odd, riding a bike wearing the Sprints, yet somehow familiar. Then it hit me: it felt like when I was a kid and used to ride my bike in bare feet! What fun! I certainly would not want to wear them on a 50 mile ride, but for my around-town-commuting they were a pleasure.
That same evening I went running in them - just about a quarter of a mile both on and off the paved trail around our subdivision. (Vibram wisely advises people not to hit the trails for a 5K the second you get them strapped to your feet; it takes some time for your feet to adapt to using the "new muscles", and running in them drastically changes the way you hold your body when running.) During the off-pavement run, I could feel the ground - I could even feel the texture of the sand. But nothing hurt. Not even the little rocks and such that I unavoidably stepped on. The Vibram sole does a remarkable job of protecting the feet while still allowing for increased sensitivity.
They do change the way you run. When you run in them your heel basically never touches the ground in any meaningful way; you land on your forefoot, flatten slightly, then launch again off your forefoot, which is a more natural way to run than landing on your heels. At first it felt a little awkward, but then it felt very natural and I got into a rhythm.
I plan on putting the Sprints through test next month when I wear them in a 5K. We'll see how well the hype matches the reality.
So far, I am pretty darn impressed.