Blake Snow

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No turning back: How FiveFingers replaced cushioned running shoes

vibram fivefingers classic black

In 2009, I started running in the ugliest shoes ever. The first time I did it, my calves and feet ached in places they hadn’t before. The second time I did it, I knew I’d never run in cushioned shoes again.

With the exception to select frozen days of winter, in which I run in Nike Free 3.0s to stave off frost bite, I’ve run in Five Finger Classics (pictured) or KSOs ever since. Here’s why:

  1. They are fun to run in. I wouldn’t run in these ridiculous-looking, ballet-like shoes if they didn’t provide significant benefits. In my case, FiveFingers literally keep me on my toes. Since it hurts like crap to step on a rock, you’re always aware of your surroundings while running in these. At first, deliberately. But the longer you run in them, you stay subconsciously aware. So even though I run along the same stretch of the Provo River Trail every week, I’m more in tune with it; a fallen stick here, a new rock there. It’s like a subtle obstacle course, much more so than if I were running in two-inch thick athletic clogs.
  2. They’re amphibious. Running in wet shoes is a squishy mess. Running in wet Five Fingers is no problem. They dry in 30 seconds. So in the dead of summer, I always go for a quick skinny dip to cool my feet. I’ve even rafted the Snake River in ’em. Maybe I’ve yet to grow up from playing in water, but that’s fun, folks.
  3. They’re more sensory. In addition to running, I also hike in Five Fingers. Wasatch Mountains. Zions Park. Capitol Reef. Idaho. Bryce Canyon. They’ve been all over the Mountain West. When I first read Vibram’s marketing materials on how FiveFingers “connect you more to the Earth,” I thought: What a load of hippy crap. I was wrong. I can now tell you the distinct feel of every place I’ve hiked, in addition to how it looks. Stewart Falls is sharp and a bit painful (but not unbearable) on the last quarter. Capitol Reef is smooth and sandy. Bryce Canyon is blocky and grated. The list goes on and on. In FiveFingers, your feet really are free to feel the world around them.
  4. They’re more natural (i.e. safer). Heel-crash running is ridiculous. Not only do you risk injury to your ankle, knee, and hips in doing so, you otherwise create a whole lot more impact than you’re body was designed to take. In fact, there has been a slight increase in running related injuries since Nike first invented cushioned shoes in the 1970s. Conversely, barefooting (or the more practical FiveFingers) logically lower the impact. In my own experience, I haven’t sustained a single injury in the 2.5 years I’ve run in FiveFingers, nor the Nike Frees that the former inspired. Since I no longer heel crash, my body has been able to better cope. This isn’t to say I won’t ever be injured; but it sure beats the nagging (and even major injuries) I suffered in the first year I ran in cushioned shoes as an adult.

To be perfectly honest, FiveFingers didn’t make me the cardioactive runner jogger I’ve become in the last 3.5 years. My wife jumpstarted me and my desire to have a healthy heart sealed the deal for me (what I call “The best life insurance policy”).

Furthermore, the excellent Born To Run reminded me to run because I like feeling the wind in my face, not because “I have to.” That perspective alone has transformed how much I’ve enjoyed running over the last 2.5 years (the first year in cushioned shoes felt like mundane work—I didn’t enjoy it near as much).

So unless our Earth somehow becomes entirely covered with jagged rocks or broken glass, I’ll never go back to running or hiking in cushioned shoes ever again. And when selecting casual walking shoes, I purposefully select lower-profile shoes now.

In that sense, FiveFingers have actually changed my life, even though they weren’t the catalyst nor the reason. They’re just more practical.

Party on, fellow foot hippies!

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