Obviously, when one develops an injury, the first order of business is to figure out what caused the injury so one can go back, fix the problem, clear up the injury, and avoid doing whatever it was that caused the injury in order to not have that injury again. In my case, I ran through several possible scenarios in my head. Did I strain the foot running? Was I developing a stress fracture (something I thought unlikely since I was only running 20-30 miles a week at the time)? Was my form off and causing some sort of unbalanced stress to my left foot? Was I doing something different from what I usually do? And bingo, there was the solution; I bought a pair of VFFs over spring break and had been walking (not running) in them a few days a week. The foot injury suspiciously appeared after the use of the VFFs. Why? Let's do a little empirical analysis, shall we?
|Vibram Five Fingers Komodosport|
When I got them in the mail (in about two days; kudos on the delivery time, REI!) I immediately tried them on. Now, I typically wear a men's 10.5 to 11 in most shoes, and following the Vibram fitting guidelines, I determined I needed a 42 in the VFFs. Once on my feet, I instantly thought they were too small. The issue was with my big left toe that felt crammed in the toe of the shoe to the point that the elasticity of the upper was pulling my toe up. After consulting the fitting instructions inside the box, I loosened the heel which provided a little more room in the toe box. However, they still felt very tight, but after some consultation with a couple of friends who also had VFFs, I decided that maybe that was just the fit and eventually I'd get used to it. I was wrong.
The first warning flag that should have popped up was that the VFFs tightness went against 15 years worth of what I had been doing with every other pair of shoes in which I had ever run. I am a little weird when it comes to running shoes; I like them loose. Not oversized, just loose. I tie them loosely, and typically only tie them once. Unless they come untied, I tie a pair of shoes the first time I put them on; after that, I simply slip them on and off. This practice started in high school when I was a) wearing shoes without socks, and b) tying shoes too tight made the arch of my foot cramp (I am a high-arched, neutral runner). So, after 15 years of doing something one way, I should have deduced that suddenly switching would potential cause some problems.
I never ran in the VFFs; I figured I'd ease into them by walking around in them first. However, after a week of this, I developed the injury. What tipped me off to the VFFs being the root cause was that in my other shoes, I didn't seem to have an issue. The foot didn't even really hurt while I was actually running, only when I was walking around. Once I stopped wearing the VFFs, the injury cleared up within a week.
Now, how could one minimalist pair of shoes cause so much damage so quickly? There are several answers to that question:
1. I was already wearing fairly minimalist shoes. My primary training shoes are a pair of Asics Speedstar 4, which are a well-cushioned, lightweight 9oz. with a 21mm heel. When I hit the trails, I'm in the New Balance 100, boasting an anorexic 7.8oz. weight. Comparatively, the VFF Komodosport weighs 7.1oz. Not much of a difference. So, in my opinion, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. Especially considering I've had zero issues with either the Asics or the NB.
2. I may have gotten the wrong size. I really wonder if I don't need a 43 in the VFFs. However, the strange thing is that it was the left foot that felt too small. My right foot is actually longer than my left, so this made absolutely no sense to me. I'm still wondering why the left and not right. I have no answer. But, this could have been avoided had I tried on a pair in person. NEVER order shoes from the internet unless you know they are exactly what you want.
3. Finally, I looked at this through the lens of my biological anthropology training. There are two primary differences between chimpanzee feet and human feet: a) the arch (present in humans, absent in chimps), and b) the alignment of the toes.
What are the most striking differences here? First, the feet of other primates look a lot like hands. Obviously this is because they are adapted to a primarily arboreal lifestyle requiring two sets of "hands" for extra grip and climbing ability. Humans, adapted to bipedal locomotion, have no need for a second pair of "hands."
Secondly, the toes have a completely different alignment. Again, this is the difference between arboreal adaptation and bipedal, terrestrial adaptation. The big toe comes aligned with the other toes, creating a nice platform from which to propel forward.
Lastly, with the toes out front and aligned, the arch develops like a leaf spring, and the ball of the foot gets broader laterally and more fleshy (cushioning) in order to cover more surface area for better propulsion and balance when walking and/or running. This brings me to my major issue with the VFFs; the alignment of the toes.
As explained above, the toes being aligned on the front of the foot allows the rest of the foot to work in moving one forward. The toes really become nothing more than a little lever at the front of your foot, balancing a little while providing one last final push off the ground. The design of the VFFs in this case, to me, seems counter-intuitive. By separating the toes to make them work individually in order to get stronger as Vibram claims, what essentially is happening is something that is evolutionarily designed to work together (toes) is being forced to work separately. The little toe is not adapted to working out there on its own. It is designed to come into line with the other toes and work together. This is what caused my foot injury.
By separating my toes, in particular my little toe, the VFFs unnaturally widened my toe box, causing extra strain on the ligaments and tendons that connect the toes with the rest of my foot, especially the ones on the top of my foot connecting the metatarsals with the cuneiforms. Hence, in a normal shoe with a normal toe-box, I do not have this problem.
With all that said, this is still merely my opinion of my own experience and observations with the VFFs, and I certainly know plenty of people that love these shoes. I, however, am done experimenting with shoes for the time being. I have a combination that works well for me, and I'm sticking to it.