I finally did it.

I bought some five-finger minimalist running shoes. My goodness they are ugly.

Vibram fivefinger running shoes

Looking down at my new Vibram five-finger running shoes.

Have you ever seen anyone wearing these? It’s a startling realization when you do.

A family member of mine wore them all around Ireland on my recent vacation. Every time I saw his feet poking out from beneath his jeans, I nearly screamed of fright.

Ack! Gorilla feet! It’s just not right, people!

He told me that he loved being able to feel the different textures of the ground as he walked. He was a tourist down to his toes. That’s the first thing that piqued my interest.

And while I wish I could say that ligament health or some technical reason was my final impetus for buying my own five-fingers, the truth is that my favorite method of exercise is runningI travel a lot for work and my bulky Nike sneakers took up too much room in my carry-on suitcase.

My five-fingers came from REI’s Seattle flagship store. The sales staff there knew more about five-fingers than I knew could be known, and helped me to pick out a suitable set.

When I lived down south, I used to run barefoot along the Perdido nature preserve on the Gulf Coast. Those runs were some of the most liberating of my life. Imagine turquoise waves, a white sand beach, Alabama-blue skies, a swamp off to the left with alligators, an oil rig in the distance and virtually zero people.

I’ve captured some of that feeling again. Running with five-fingers is almost like running barefoot on soft sand.

Somewhere along the line, I had become convinced that “ample support” was the most important thing in a running shoe. And, I now believe that is not true.

I never realized how much that big chunk of rubber around my heel — the more the better, I used to think — got in my way. Traditional running sneakers treat your feet and ankles as delicate baby birds, unable to support your body without a protective nest.

But my new shoes have liberated my feet from the sneaker-man, who was keeping them down. My five-fingers have turned my rough and painful slogs up Seattle’s steep hills into a more graceful prance. I feel lighter, bounding upward like a gazelle.

At first, the most difficult thing was remembering to ball-strike with your foot, rather than heel strike. And my lower legs were more tired at first as I built up those muscles. But once I got past that, my endurance spiked.

All that said, I have no illusions about how stylish or bad-ass I look in my new shoes. I’m feelin’ so fly like a G-6, but I don’t look it. As one friend put it, “I would not call these fashion forward.” Another girlfriend has told me, “Eek. I can’t endorse this.”

Which leads me to the final unintended benefit:

I know they look silly. So when other people are around, I run faster.


Learn more:

Harvard’s page on barefoot running
The Once and Future Way to Run (NYTimes)
For Beginner Runners, Advice Can Be a Hurdle (NYTimes)
How to get started (Vibram’s FAQ page)

Related posts by Andrea:

How to become a runner (inspiration for everyone)

Information workers: Move your body, hey hey!
Simplicity gains momentum, but at what cost?
Play to win: Airport security tips down to a science
Vacation for Americans means working from somewhere else
A love message (on simplicity)