Saturday, April 30, 2011

Vibram Five Fingers - A NEGATIVE Review

I have been meaning to write up a review of my personal (and short-lived) experience with VFFs for a few weeks now.  If you go through some of my posts from around mid-March, you'll see that I was dealing with a ligament/tendon strain on the dorsal side of my left foot where the cunieforms articulate with the first metatarsal (aka beginning of my big toe).  This injury bothered me for about two weeks, and for two weeks I worried that once again, I was getting back into consistent training only to be sidelined with another injury.  However, after a couple of weeks, the injury seemed to work itself out, and I have had zero issue with the foot since then.  

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
I bought a pair of Komodosports online via REI.  This whole issue started because I broke a cardinal rule of mine; NEVER buy a pair of shoes you haven't tried on!  After working at Foot of the Rockies (store plug!) in Cheyenne for almost three years, I learned a thing or two about running shoes and how they fit.  More importantly, I have a very specific way I like shoes to fit ME, therefore I have to try them on to ensure I like the fit BEFORE I get out and run in them.  I did not do that with the VFFs.  And it was a mistake.

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.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Week Ending April 24

Mon. April 18 - Day off.  Pretty sleep deprived from the weekend in Fruita.

Tues. April 19 - 8 miles in 62 min (7:45 pace).  I ran earlier in the morning in an attempt to avoid the wind that was forecasted in the afternoon.  I felt pretty sluggish.  I wanted to maybe get in 9 miles, but settled for 8 and some more rest.

Wed. April 20 - 7 miles in 48 min (6:52 pace).  Hospital hill repeats.  4 x 600m climbs with 700m jog rest.  It was a strange day Wednesday; there was NO wind.  It actually threw me off a little.  I popped the first two hills in 2:05 and 2:06, which was too fast since I dropped to 2:09 and 2:14 for the last two.  I'm too accustomed to running into the wind that when that resistance wasn't there, I took off too fast.  I would have liked more consistency with this workout; averaging 2:08 or 2:09 would have been better.  However, one plus was my rest times were significantly shorter than the same workout the week before.  I was jogging the rests in 3:40-3:50; today I was doing them in about 3:25.  That's usually a good sign.

Thurs. April 21 - 8 miles in 62 min (7:45 pace).  Lunchtime run with Patrick.  Our old friend the wind showed up for us.  I was pretty tired and sluggish on this run.

Fri. April 22 - 3 miles.  Quick and simple form workout at the fieldhouse with Coach Sanchez.  I did 6 x one lap with half lap jog.  I didn't time the laps today; just ran easy with a focus on form and loosening up a bit.  This is actually pretty similar to the pre-race workouts we used to do before XC races in college.

Sat. April 23 - 16 miles in 2:20:51 (9:00 pace).  Cheyenne Mountain 25K trail race in Colorado Springs, CO.  I detailed this race in the previous post.  Tough course; 9th overall.

Sun. April 24 - Day off.  Pretty dang sore from the race.

Week's Miles: 42
Running Time: 5:33
Calories Burned: ~ 5,032

April's Miles: 137
Year to Date: 362

Gear: Asics Speedstar 4 (282 miles), New Balance Trail 100 (196 miles)

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cheyenne Mountain 25K

Cheyenne Mountain, CO
I took off for Colorado Springs after lunch on Friday.  I decided to save some money and camp in Cheyenne Mountain State Park; plus my campsite was a little up the road from the race start, therefore negating the need to hop in the car and rush to the start.

I got up at 6:30 (two-hours before the race started), ate a light breakfast and drank some coffee.  The weather was overcast and about 38 degrees with intermittent sprinklings of snow/rain.  The wind picked up throughout the race as well (so, weather-wise, the same crap I've been running in for the last 5 months).

I think what stands out most to me regarding the race was how difficult it was.  I underestimated that big time.  We had a total of over 2,500 feet of gain throughout the course.  The first few miles were nearly continuously uphill.  I was feeling decent through the first 10K and spent the next couple of miles going back and forth with another racer.  We were sitting in 6th and 7th position with 5th in sight.  Then I fell apart.

Me about mile 8.  I would lose that 'rock on' attitude shortly after that.
After the half-way point, we began a loop out in the open.  It was relatively flat until it went uphill sharply.  I got dropped on the climb.  I hit an aid station, grabbed a drink and a couple of PB&J wedges, and started out on the section of the course I'm still cursing.  

At 15K, we made a 'lollipop" on the course, meaning we made a one-way loop off the main trail where we had two-way traffic.  This loop was ~5K, and it sucked.  I was hurting pretty bad by that point, was out on my own, and stuck climbing some very difficult hills.  I was cold and ready to be done.  I was, up to that point, averaging about 25 minutes per 5K; I ran the 15K-20K section in 35 minutes.  I also got passed by the first overall woman at that point, but was too tired to care about getting chicked.  I finally finished up that 5K, and was thankful to see the last 5K to the finish was fairly flat.

Finally done!
I ended up 9th overall, 4th in my age group (0-39, kind of a weird age range), and figured that for my first race of the year (excluding the Trudge), and on a tough course, I didn't do too bad.  I now have a better idea of what I need to work on; I need to gradually increase the miles, get longer weekend runs in, and get up on the trails to get more experience running them (once the snow melts), and just try to stay healthy.  Those who beat me this weekend were guys sponsored by Colorado Running Company and who run those trails all the time.  I was lacking in experience.  It'll come.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Week Ending April 17

Mon. April 11 - Day off.

Tues. April 12 - 9 miles in 70 min (7:46 pace).  Nice run into the prairie with Patrick.  He was feeling a little under the weather, but apparently worked it out of his system by keeping up with me.  It was another beautiful day in Laramie, WY!

Wed. April 13 - 6.5 miles in 47 min (7:13 pace).  Hospital Hills workout.  Same thing as last week; 4 x 600m hill with 700m jog rest.  I hit the hills in 2:15, 2:15, 2:16, 2:19.  Faster and more consistent than last week, plus I ran uphill into a 20-30mph headwind which I figure cost me a good 2-3 seconds per rep.  That makes me feel pretty good.  I'm starting to get my climbing legs back under me.

Thurs. April 14 - 3 miles in 22 min (7:19 pace).  This was an aborted run sacrificed to the weather.  I decided to get out early in an attempt to beat the fierce winds the weather reports were predicting; however, I got out just in time to experience a driving snowstorm.  A combination of the cold, the heavy wet snow, the lack of visibility, the slick layer of slush on the road, and cars driven by morons persuaded me to sandbag it and go home.  Sometimes it just isn't worth it.  I don't want to kill myself for 5 miles in that kind of weather.

Fri. April 15 - 8.5 miles in 70 min (8:14 pace).  Patrick, Josh, and I hopped in the car and drove to Fruita, CO to help Alec with timing the Fruita Trail Festival.  We were blessed with perfect weather and beautiful trails.  The races took place in the McInnis Canyons Natural Area, so we hit up a run in the afternoon shortly after we rolled into town.  Ran up Moore Fun trail to Wrangler's Loop and back in on Mary's Loop.  Wonderful views of canyons and the Colorado River.

Sat. April 16 - Day off.  We were busy with race set-up, registration, and timing for the 25 mile and 50 miles races from about 4:30am to 8pm.  Unfortunately, no time for a run.  That was hard since it's difficult to sit around watching other people run and not want to go out and run yourself.  Watching people run those distances got me pretty pumped for my race next Saturday.

Sun. April 17 - 9 miles in 65 min (7:13 pace).  We timed the 5-mile and half-marathon in the morning and Patrick and Josh were kind enough to let me go out for a spin before we left for home.  I ran up Mack's Ridge to Troy Built and in on Lion's Loop.  Another great run on those amazing trails.

I have to say, I enjoyed working this weekend of races.  We had a great crew down there and got things done expertly and punctually.  I now have a greater appreciation for the work race organizers do.  Running the races is the easy part.  I look forward to helping Alec out again in the future, regardless of the lack of sleep I got (3:30 comes awfully early).

Week's Miles: 36
Running Time: 4:34
Calories Burned: ~4,152

April's Miles: 94
Year to Date: 320

Gear: Asics Speedstar 4 (246 miles), New Balance Trail 100 (180 miles)

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Week Ending April 10

Mon. April 4 - Day off.

Tues. April 5 - 8.5 miles in 64 min (7:31 pace).  On another windy spring day in Wyoming, I once again lucked out and caught the window around mid-day when the wind died down a little.  I spent the first 20-25 minutes of this run feeling a little sluggish, only to loosen up and feel great on the last half coming back into town from a nice loop in the prairie.  The most exciting thing was the lack of pain in my foot.  I think it is finally working itself out.

Wed. April 6 - 6 miles in 44 min (7:34 pace).  I decided it was time to incorporate a weekly hill workout, so I warmed-up to Ivinson Hospital to run repeats on the hills there.  The course is as follows: start up Joanna Brunner road from 30th St., then jog-rest coming down Willet to 30th, back to Joanna Brunner for another rep.  The climb is approximately 600m with the rest being approximately 700m, making a 1300m loop.  I started out a little sluggish having been cooped up in the office all day, but found a groove and ended well.  I did four climbs in 2:22, 2:15, 2:18, and 2:16 with rests ranging between 3:15 and 3:40.  Then, an easy jog home.

Thurs. April 7 - 9 miles in 68 min (7:33 pace).  I met Patrick for a lunchtime run out in the prairie.  I felt surprisingly good considering the hill workout the day before.  I also had no foot pain for the third day in a row.  Dare I say, things are coming together.

Fri. April 8 - 3 miles in 21 min (7:00 pace).  Form workout with Sanchez.  I once again did 8 x one lap with half-lap jog in 35 sec each.  Felt a little tired today; not as crisp as I felt last week.  Still got the work in; decided to take it easy on the cool down afterwards.

Sat. April 9 - 12 miles in 94 min (7:55 pace).  Went out for a long run in the prairie on a beautiful Saturday morning.  Stopped by the UW track on my way home to run a mile with Josh on his 100-mile odyssey for Run Josh Run to raise money for Engineers Without Borders so they can go to Kenya and help build the infrastructure to provide people with clean water.  Good cause!

Sun. April 10 - Day off.

Week's Miles: 39
Running Time: 4:51
Calories Burned: ~4,410

April Miles: 58
Year to Date: 284

Gear: Asics Speedstar 4 (227 miles)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Week Ending April 3

Mon.  March 28 - Day off.  Still resting my foot.  Started to feel better.

Tues. March 29 - 3 miles in 23 min (7:40 pace).  I got out late after work which I don't typically do since I usually feel like crap when I try to run after work.  I thought a few miles just to test the foot seemed like a good idea.  The foot felt fine, so I decided to resort to our old college mentality that if something doesn't actually hurt while you are running, then you aren't really that injured.  We'll see how that works out.

Wed. March 30 - 9 miles in 70 min (7:46 pace).  Met Patrick for a lunchtime run in the prairie.  We got to deal with some cold wind coming back into town, but my foot didn't hurt too bad after the longer run, so I am not too concerned about it.

The big event of Wednesday was Murder By Death coming to Laramie for a free show.  It was only the second time they had ever played in Wyoming, and holy hell, was it a great show.  There was no opener, so they played a longer set full of amazing songs.  I was worried about the turnout before the show, but apparently we did a decent job promoting it since we estimated somewhere between 400-500 people came to see at least some of the show.  That's a pretty dang good turnout for an indie band in Laramie, Wyoming.

Murder By Death
I'm singing like a dope, Patrick's keeping it real with his Don Quixote mustache.

Adam rocking out.
 "Sarah's smiling!"

Matt rocking the bass.
Dagan and Adam

"Praise Murder By Death!"
Thurs. March 31 - Day off.  I let the proclivities of the night before get to me.  We were out at the Library Bar until almost 2 a.m.  Matt and Dagan came out for drinks, so I thought trying to party like seasoned rock stars was a good idea.  It was a mistake.  So, no run for me.  

Fri. April 1 - 5.5 miles.  Form workout with Coach Sanchez.  As I did last week, I did 8 x 180m lap with half-lap jog rest, both in 35 sec.  I got excited and ran the first one in 31 sec, paid for it as I struggled to hold 35 sec pace on the next few, and then finished strong with a 30 sec last rep.  We went out for a little longer cool down, and Patrick tried to fuck-up his ankle, but he seems to be fine.

Sat. April 2 - 11 miles in 86 min (7:49 pace). I went south to the Red Mountain Open Space in Colorado.  It was in the high 60s when we got there, which is the warmest weather I've run in all year.  It got to me a bit (gotta love Laramie; high 60s are freaking hot).  I ran the Sinking Sun trail out to the Cheyenne Rim trail which took me into the Soapstone Prairie Natural Area, and then up a canyon to the Big Hole Open Space in Wyoming.  Ran back in on the Ruby Wash trail which wound through an old red rock canyon.  The wind picked up the last 20 minutes and teamed up with the heat to make me wilt a little at the end.  Otherwise, great run in a fantastic area.  I will be running here more in the future.

Sun. April 3 - 3 miles in 25 min (8:20 pace).  I got out about midday to enjoy a howling north wind, below-freezing temps, and snow on the ground.  Typical spring weather in Wyoming.  I went out for a quick run to loosen up and work out some of the crud I built up on yesterday's trail run.  

Week's Miles: 32
Running Time: 3:59
Calories Burned: ~3,724

March Miles: 111
April Miles: 20
Year to Date: 246
Gear: Asics Speedstar 4 (189 miles), New Balance 100 Trail (171 miles)