Thursday, June 16, 2011

Foray into the Barefoot Realm

For a few years now, barefoot running has been the buzz.  The theory is that most of our incorrect foot mechanics are borne from overly cushioned shoes weakening our muscles and ligaments and that many running injuries would dissipate (if not completely disappear) if we ran barefoot.  Of course, this topic's been controversial, and last week's New York Times Well Blog reported on a few studies where people actually acquired new injuries after running in minimalist shoes, as the "barefoot" shoes are called.

A year or two ago, I tried on a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.  I found them tricky because my feet are not only not the same size, they are also a complete half size different from each other.  Plus, the shoes look weird.  There's only so much I want to stick out when walking to work past the White House.  Although, I did get a kick out of seeing FiveFingers footprints in the mud when hiking once.

Lavender Lustre Merrell Barefoot Pure Gloves
But, last month, I accidentally picked up a pair of Merrell Barefoot Pure Gloves.  I was actually just looking for low profile shoes, preferably ballet flats, to wear on my walk to work, and I had no idea that the Merrells that I ordered were minimalist shoes.  What struck me was that the soles of the Merrells are contoured in the arch, rather than completely flat like ballet flats.  Nevertheless, after a few days of wearing the Merrells, the arches on both feet were tired and achy.  By the end of the first week, the muscles/ligaments around my right metatarsals were sore, too, and I freaked myself out into thinking that I had a stress fracture.  Little by little, those muscle and ligaments got conditioned to the new shoes and the arches got less tired.

Now, roughly a month later, here's what I notice:
  • Toe stubs HURT.  Just saying.  I mean, it would hurt if I were in ballet flats or sandals, too, but for some reason, the sturdy construction of the rubber sole (which is actually Vibram material) tricked me into thinking that a toe stub was going to be less painful. It's not.
  • I stomp/land really hard on my heels.  Which I guess is what all the barefoot running people are saying is what overly cushioned shoes have allowed us to do.  In fact, people who study foot biomechanics argue that the proper foot strike is in the mid foot, with a shorter stride, which is what minimalist shoes assist runners in developing.  However, my shoes are minimalist walking shoes, and I have no idea whether when walking we're supposed to have a rear foot or mid foot strike.  But, I'm definitely landing too hard on concrete.  Ow.
  • People have complimented me on these shoes!  Like the guy in the elevator who asked whether they were Vibram FiveFingers (uh, if they were FiveFingers, they'd have five....fingers) and three co-workers.  Maybe it's just because mine are lavender!

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