Loving My Vibram FiveFingers

Since it’s been warm enough, I almost never leave my home without my Vibram FiveFinger shoes. What are Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs) you ask? They’re funky looking shoes that look more like gloves for the feet, with little pockets for the toes. If you’ve seen them worn out in public, you may have pointed at them, laughed, or gone up to the person wearing them and asked “Are those comfortable?”

It’s possible you even asked me about them. Never in my life have I met and talked with so many random strangers, and it all starts with my shoes. I get asked about my shoes while waiting in line at Wal-Mart (yes, I shop there, but it’s a nice one, so don’t judge!), while out walking Riley, at church, in town, while I’m sitting and working on my computer, pretty much all the time. People will even cross streets to come talk to me about my shoes.

They typically ask the same questions, which I’d like to answer here.

  1. Are they comfortable?
  2. Why do you wear them?
  3. Where did you get them?

So Comfy Cozy

Komodo Sport
Sailing with my Komodo Sport VFFs

Yes, they’re very comfortable. I just bought my second pair, the Komodo Sport for women (they’re bright blue with yellow. I think of them as my Avatar shoes), which are the most comfortable shoes I’ve worn. My first pair, the VFF Classics, took a lot of getting used to. Since there are toe pockets for each toe, they’re all separated from each other. Four of the toes didn’t mind having a fabric barrier between them. But the little toe sure didn’t like the switch. Maybe it felt the four bigger toes would protect it, or that it needed to protect them. Whatever it was, little pinky toe didn’t appreciate the separation. It took a few weeks of wearing them to finally convince little pinky toe that all was fine and it could be reunited with its bigger siblings later. Once I got used to wearing the shoes, I took them out all the time. Running, walking, shopping, everywhere. They slipped on with ease (that’s a learning process!) and felt like a second skin.

Plantar Fasciitis

Why do I wear them? For four years I suffered with plantar fasciitis, a common and debilitating runner injury, which results in terrible heel pain. Doctors told me that I should give up running/walking and start swimming and biking for exercise. They told me that when I was 22! Walking anywhere was painful. And I was TWENTY-TWO! You cannot imagine how frustrating my life became. I had to plan everything around short walking distances. I couldn’t go very far at all before my feet flared up in pain.

Naturally I wanted to get rid of the PF monster. I’ve never been big on sitting around and watching television, I like to do things, go places, be outside and exercise. So I went through all the hoops the doctors told me to: daily stretching, icing, arch supports. When that didn’t kill the pain, I went to physical therapy a few times a week for ultrasound treatment, massage, and some other weird thing I can’t remember where the therapist attached some kind of device to the bottom of my foot to administer medication. That didn’t work either.

I went to a prosthetics lab to have custom arch supports made, because everyone said the exact same thing: more support, more support, more support. I had really hard arch supports made up, put them into brand new running shoes and tried walking and running around. And, you guessed it, it DIDN’T WORK! Not only that, my foot felt totally immobile, and for good reason: it was!

After exhausting the external options, and clipping through lots of money, I decided it was time to go on the inside for cortisone injections. By this time I’d been suffering with PF for a two years and couldn’t stand it. A girl in her early twenties shouldn’t have to give up walking, that’s ridiculous. So I went to a podiatrist, had some x-rays and began the cortisone shots. For reference: as a needle was being stuck into the bottom of my foot, the podiatrist commented that child birth would be easy for me, as people typically screamed while being injected. I did not scream, just gripped my chair and gritted my teeth. I felt immediate relief once the drugs had gone in, because an anti-inflammatory was injected along with the cortisone. It felt great to walk out of the office pain free!

And then… you guessed it, it came back.

I went through four rounds of injections, the limit before having to wait a few months to go again, and I was so disappointed. The only option left for me was surgery. Great.

When I moved up to Washington, I bought a mountain bike and did a lot of biking and horseback riding. I’d given up. If friends wanted to go for a walk, I’d wave them goodbye. Spending a day in Seattle meant a load of foot pain, so I didn’t do it much. I could walk about 100 yards before being reminded that I had an injury.

My last ditch effort was supplementing my diet, hoping that my body could heal itself, and trying Z-Coil shoes. Though supplements helped alleviate the pain, they never made it go away, and the supplements were too costly for me to afford. The Z-Coils? Total waste of (lots) of money.

That’s when I saw the VFFs being advertised. Barefoot running? Huh… All the doctors told me more support, more support, more support. I spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars on my darn feet and they still hurt. Going barefoot? Well that wouldn’t cost me a dime. So I tried it.

For the first time in years I was able to walk without pain. I mean none. Though I’m sure passersby stared at me as I strolled sans shoes through their yuppy neighborhood, I didn’t care. It felt great to walk, to run. And I discovered something else: when I ran and walked without shoes, I ran and walked differently, with my forefoot striking the ground first, not my heel. My knees bent to absorb the impact, my back was straight, my abs were working as I walked. The day after my barefoot excursion, my calves were stiff and sore. Why? Regular shoes had atrophied them.

Running with as little shoe possible, that was the answer to my injury, not more gosh darn support. My feet know how to walk and run, shoes were getting in their way. And I’m proud to say that this past summer I ran and completed a 5K, running non-stop in my VFFs.

Local Retailers

When I bought my first pair of VFFs, only one store on my side of Puget Sound carried them. A few months later, multiple stores on my side of Puget Sound carry them. Stores cannot keep them in stock they’re in such high demand. Maybe I’m sending a flood of customers there (really, I talk with 10 people a week on average about my shoes!), or maybe I’m not unique. Plantar fasciitis is a common injury and lots of us have tried the medical approach only to find frustration and empty wallets. You can probably find a retailer near you, so you can try them out.

The Places and the People

I love walking. Love it. I used to walk my dog all the time pre-plantar fasciitis while rocking out to some tunes. Walking is a self-hypnotizing exercise and I found my mind wandered into the fictional with wonderful regularity–walking is where lots of ideas hit me. Now that I can walk without wanting to die, I’m out all the time, going all over everywhere. If Riley weren’t such a long-haired and short legged dog, I’d be running. Since I’m usually out and about, I’m talking up my VFFs, like I mentioned at the beginning of this post. When I’m with someone else, they comment: “Wow, people ask about your shoes all the time.”

When I broke my elbow a few years back and had to wear a huge brace on my left arm, strangers talked to me, asking what happened. VFFs do the same kind of thing, except it’s not out of concern, but curiosity. A lot of the time I talk with someone who’s had foot or knee problems, lower back issues, the whole gamut. I point out that we humans were running and walking without our super padded and “supportive” running shoes for thousands of years, and we did just fine. Now all of a sudden we have these shoes with inches of support and padding and yet more injuries. What’s funny is, people will still argue that uber-padded shoes are the best thing since the pumpkin spice latte (there’s really nothing better than the pumpkin spice latte), or say that they’re too old to go barefoot, they have bad arches, are pronators (I’m a pronator!), bad feet and can’t possibly go barefoot or wear VFFs. I like to give them the abridged version of my story to give them hope, but some people want to keep their crappy injuries, maybe so they can have something to whine about. I personally hated hearing myself bitch and moan about my darn feet, but hey, if others like to have something to complain about, who am I to stop them?

When I suffered with plantar fasciitis, I googled and searched the blogs for answers, for ways to make it better, so I could be young again. But what I found was more of the same: medication, injections, arch support, surgery, stretching, padded shoes. I wish I had found something that said go with less, not more. Our bodies are amazing, we don’t need to add much to it to make it perform its best.

More Reading

A few people asked me if I’d read Born to Run when they saw my shoes. I hadn’t read it until after purchasing my first pair of VFFs. It’s a great read, fascinating, interesting, inspiring, and entertaining. Reading it made me want to get up and go run for miles. The author, Christopher McDougall, discusses the history of the running shoe and of humans as the world’s greatest runners. He too suffered from foot problems and, like me, was told to give up running and pick up something else. If that sounds familiar to you, pick up the book, give it a read, and know that you have more options other than more d@mn foot support.

And if you see me out and about, running or walking in my bright blue toe shoes, come over and say Hi. Everyone else does. Riley would especially love to meet you.

Am I just shelling for a big corporation? Nope, just sharing my personal experience with shoes that have given me my life back. I’m not being paid by Vibram to advertise, and I have nothing to gain if you run barefoot or pick up a pair of VFFs. This post has been a long time coming–my story about dealing with plantar fasciitis.

1 Comment

  1. Tina-Marie November 2, 2011 at 10:36 am

    I have been looking into trying these shoes! A friend of mine has them and it was the first time that I had ever seen them. Now I must put them on my list to try!