By Alexa Rodgers, Dominion High School, Sterling, Virginia
The season of flip-flops and flats is finally here, allowing everyone to put their socks away and come out of boot hibernation. On the feet of members of the cross country and track teams are the Vibram Five Fingers, a minimalistic running “shoe.” These cloth-like foot coverings—with a sleeve for each toe—have sent the running society back to the beginning of time, when man ran barefoot.
The Five Fingers stimulate the barefoot or “free running” experience; the shoes simply adhere to the wearer’s foot as a light covering from the ground. “It causes you to run more flat footed and do less heel striking, which has less impact on your legs,” Cross County and Track coach, and PE teacher Brian Schmidt said. “They want us to go back to the way we used to run.”
The science behind the Vibram Five Fingers is very different from that of a regular sneaker. “The premise which they are built on is to allow the foot to strike the ground in the middle to front, whereas shoes with higher heels tend to encourage more of a heel strike,” said Dave Miller, an employee at Potomac River Running.
What started as a trial process for a new running shoe became a year and a half commitment for junior Eric Ly, who now wears the shoes every time he goes for a run. “Traditional shoes are heavier. Humans have been running barefoot for years and have been very efficient doing it,” Ly said. Ly believes the shoes promote “better running posture” and are “much lighter and easier to climb hills in.”
According to Schmidt, the shoes have “zero drop,” which is little heel to forefoot drop while striking the ground. While Schmidt does not forbid the use of the shoes on his teams, the coach encourages his runners to find a “neutral drop” shoe instead, which still does less heel striking than a regular sneaker but offers more support and protection while running.
Both Miller and Schmidt encourage the wearers of the shoe to be cautious in training in the Vibram Five Fingers. According to Miller, even professional runners do not wear such light shoes at all times in their training. “The best distance runners in the world use a very lightweight, minimal shoe for their very fast sessions. These same runners change into a more substantial shoe for easier efforts where the emphasis is recovery instead of maximal exertion. Most elite runners do roughly 20% of their volume in minimal shoe (racing flats, spikes, etc) and the remainder in a more conventional shoe,” Miller said.
Schmidt believes that many runners are using the shoes incorrectly and encourages runners to break them in before using them immediately in their running. “It is a long process to get your feet acclimated to the free running process and a lot of people do it incorrectly,” Schmidt said. The running coach also warned that improper use of the shoes could lead to both short-and-long term injuries, such as stress fractures and tendinitis.
Senior Maddie Cook, however, has had the opposite experience with the Vibram Five Fingers. Cook purchased the shoes after being diagnosed with Plantar fasciitis—inflammation of the thick tissue at the bottom of the foot—which kept her from wearing regular sneakers while running. While Cook was skeptical about the shoes at first, especially their odd appearance, she soon realized that “it’s better than foot pain!”
A downside of the shoes that both Cook and Ly have seen is discomfort while running in areas with a lot of rocks or on trails with unpredictable terrain. Miller sees this as a notable concern for those that constantly run in the shoes. “The minimal amount of cushioning found in the Vibram models may not be sustainable for all runners as asphalt and concrete are legitimate things with which DC Metro area runners have to contend,” Miller said. Ly hopes to purchase Vibram’s trial shoes, which will help protect his feet more during cross country season.
Schmidt believes the shoes are just a passing fad. “It’s your new flip flop. [Runners] like how they feel. They are good for just about anything,” Schmidt said. Whether a passing fad or new running innovation, the Vibram Five Fingers are the new throwback; that is, to the land before rubber soles.the original article from Hsj.org, written by Alexa Rodgers