Odd Vibram Five Fingers

Jasreen Gupta/New University Intern

I slowly slide my foot into it, and find myself surprised at how I have to wiggle and twist my toes to make them fit into their individual sections of the shoe. I then push my foot forward so that it perfectly fits within the shoe, and adjust the strap. After putting the other one on, I begin to gingerly walk around the store, and actually feel the ground beneath the shoes’ thin rubber covering. This is the future of running — these are Vibram FiveFingers.

As I stroll about, I ask the Snail’s Pace clerk how long I have to wait before I can start running in what would soon be affectionately called my spider monkey shoes.

“About a month,” she said nonchalantly.

Say what? I stop and gape at her incredulously as she explains that an injury is quite imminent if I start running right off the bat. So much for my plan of jogging in them the next day.

Thus begins my affair with the FiveFingers. For the next month and a half, I walk in them at least four days a week nearly everywhere I go, from my classes to the ARC, while anticipating the day when I can finally run in them, receiving bemused comments and looks from my friends and co-workers.

Vibram, an Italian company known for rubber outsoles for footwear, has been manufacturing the FiveFingers as a more “natural” alternative for different kinds of outdoor activities, which even include surfing and swimming. Basically, the FiveFingers replicate the experience of being barefoot and subsequently allow the natural biomechanics of the foot to work.

People who wear and run/walk in normal shoes – sneakers, basketball shoes and the like – land heel-first due to the large amounts of padding under that particular area. When you land on your heel, the collision force –  which can be up to three times your body weight – is distributed mainly to the heel (as well as the knees and hip), and considering that the heel is based on the projection of the calcaneus, which is one of the largest bones in the foot, it can lead to future serious injuries.

The FiveFingers’ rubber soles are mere centimeters thick, so the foot is able to get a sense of what the ground feels like. Thousands of its neurological receptors send valuable information about the ground like texture to the brain, which improves your balance and agility. With this in mind, the FiveFingers forces you to be gentle and land lightly.

On the second day I wear them, I feel a slight stabbing pain in the arch of my left foot — almost as if a bone is trying to tear through my skin — every time I step down. As I grimace and massage that area, I suddenly understand why the clerk told me to only walk in these spider monkey shoes for a month. But as my FiveFingers-wearing days progress, the pains I occasionally feel in my feet go away.

In the third week, I head over to Roadrunner to buy several pairs of toe socks. Apparently, no one told me that if I wear the FiveFingers with no socks, the sweat from my feet will accumulate in the shoes, and soon both my feet and shoes will give off quite an unpleasant stench. After a few days of sporting these unusual socks, the smell is no longer a problem.

A month into wearing the FiveFingers, I am massaging my feet when I notice something different. The bottom of my toes and the forefoot, which were always quite soft and tender – are toughening. If anything, this is a sign that wearing these shoes will stimulate and strengthen muscles in the feet and lower legs.

Finally, the time has come! On a cool March night, I dress in my running clothes and wear the FiveFingers. I step outside, and after taking a deep breath and performing some basic stretches, I begin jogging at a good pace.

Nearly 10 seconds in, I yelp in pain. When striding forward, the little toe on my left foot strikes the ground hard, and even though the sensation feels like the toenail has been ripped off, I grit my teeth and continue to trot.

I go on a brisk jog across the ARC fields, enter the winding cement path that runs behind Arroyo Vista and Camino del Sol before finally going around VDC once. I arrive at my apartment with sore feet, calves and thighs, but overall triumphant.

Nearly two months have passed, but it’s fascinating how much Vibram FiveFingers have impacted my way of running and walking. Even when I’m not wearing them, I find myself still trying to land on my forefeet and almost springing about. The next step? Running completely barefoot. This should be fun.