The Inaugural Asheville Marathon at the Biltmore - in Luna Sandals (Venado/original)

The Inaugural Asheville Marathon at the Biltmore - in Luna Sandals (Venado/original)

You're out on a run. Your nose is getting stuffy, so you lean to the side for a quick farmer's blow. It's cold out, but you didn't realize how cold until you go to wipe your nose with the back of your glove to clear off any additional moisture -- only to find that it's already frozen around the edge of your nostril in mere seconds.

Welcome to the inaugural Asheville Marathon, held on the grounds of the beautiful Biltmore estate. "Well," I thought dramatically at around mile 20, "At least I'll die somewhere majestic."

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  • minimalist sandals!

    Xero Shoes - Barefoot Running Sandals

Why isn't Vibram making a women's fivefingers KSO Trek?

Ever since the VFF community heard that the new fivefingers KSO Trek would only be available for men* back in late August, many women and not a few men (with smaller feet) have voiced their frustration and concerns:

Why isn't Vibram making a women's version of the fivefingers KSO Trek?

It's a good question, and fortunately, after Vibram marketing rep Gerogia Shaw's interview with LivingBarefoot (highlights here | podcast here — interview starts around minute 53), we have an answer.

In short, the decision on the KSO Trek was made in early 2008 based on existing demand for the then available fivefinger models as broken down by gender. Specifically, as the full-coverage KSO fivefinger was the top seller for men but only a distant third place for women, Vibram made the determination to produce the KSO Trek for men only.

If you want to read the specifics, below you'll find a transcript of what Georgia Shaw said in the podcast about the KSO Trek decision (Bracketed portions are my paraphrasing of the questions asked):

Transcript start:

[First, Georgia Shaw makes some comments about customer feedback regarding the KSO Trek]:

I would personally love to see a women's Trek in the future. Since the release of the Trek for men we've heard feedback from women who are asking us to acknowledge them in the line and we certainly hear that. So while I can't ever make promises about future products what I can assure everyone is that we always listen to our consumer feedback very closely and make a sincere effort to make products that meet the demand of the market so the more we hear back from women who are interested in trying this model, the more likely it is for us to answer that.

[In response to a question about how the decision on the KSO Trek was made:]

Absolutely and it wasn't a decision that was made lightly. Like I said before, we've always done our best to stay very close to the consumer to drive the direction of the brand. So early last year when we were making plans for the Trek line, the full coverage KSO was, and actually still is, the most popular style for men, so for women, the most popular style was the Sprint model followed by the Classic and the KSO was a distant third. So at the time, there was no evidence that a full coverage KSO Trek would even sell as a women's shoe. And then alternately we had all the confirmation that it would be a top seller for men because of the proof we had in the KSO model. So it really was a consumer driven decision.

[Do you know the actual gender breakdown on sales?]

Not off the top of my head but I do know that it was very very clear that the women's Sprint model and the Classic model were the clear winners for women. And for men it was just a very blatant difference between the two genders. And not to say we didn't have women wearing the KSO but it was glaring that the men's KSO, that full-coverage model, was really the more popular model for men. We really wanted to make sure that when developing a shoe like the KSO Trek that does have a much higher price point that we do have a market for it. We didn't want present anything to our women consumers that they weren't going to be interested in.

[If women want the KSO Trek they should make their voices heard]

Right I always recommend that. We take it very seriously.

Transcript end

I think this transcript is important for a few reasons. For one, it illustrates that Vibram is keenly interested in supplying VFFs that meet customer demands—think about it this way: despite tripling their sales on existing fivefingers models, Vibram is still working actively to add compelling new models like the Moc, Performa, KSO Trek, and Bikila to the line-up.

We can also glean from this transcript just how long it can take to go from making a production decision to having a product to sell (by my count, as long as a year and a half).

Furthermore, it shows just how difficult it is to predict the future. This point may seem trivial at first blush, but it is important to understand: when Vibram made the KSO Trek decision, their sales were a mere fraction of what they are today when the KSO Trek is finally available for purchase — it's this inability to predict future customer needs that has bottlenecked the availability of VFFs, generally.

Understanding that Vibram is trying to gauge future demand for a wholly-new product that, surprise, is growing exponentially in demand despite an abysmal economic environment isn't going to change the fact that people still would like their FiveFingers today (but can't find their size/color/model) or that want KSO Treks in women's sizes (but can't have them because they don't exist — yet anyway). But it may make you feel a bit more sympathetic to their predicament.

Then again, maybe not.
Update: Vibram greenlighted the KSO Trek for women and small-footed men!

Either way, if you would like to have your voice heard in a very tangible way, someone has set up a a petition in favor of a women's KSO Trek. I see this more as a poll than anything else, so if you want to be heard, here's your chance.

* Or women who wear sizes 41 and 42 in women's KSOs — see the sizing chart)

Ben and M-Cheezy Hiking Upstate New York in KSO Vibram Five Fingers

Ben and M-Cheezy Hiking Upstate New York in KSO Vibram Five Fingers
Ta-da! Ben and M-Cheezy make it to the top of one of the seven peaks at Harriman Highlands in their fivefinger KSOs!
Ben and M-Cheezy Hiking Upstate New York in KSO Vibram Five Fingers
Ben in the woods of Harriman Highlands, New York.
Ben and M-Cheezy Hiking Upstate New York in KSO Vibram Five Fingers
M-Cheezy perches atop a bouldered hillside in her VFF KSO-so rocky!

Ben emailed me about a post he did on his recent 8.6 mile hike up and down seven peaks at Harriman Highlands, which is "upstate-ish" New York. The above photos were taken from that hike, in which Ben and his friend "M-Cheezy" are showing off their FiveFinger KSOs (in black and grey, respectively).

Ben has a solid write-up about it over at his blog, which details a few VFF hiking mishaps as Ben tries to keep up with an ex-orienteering four-month pregnant guide! Here's an excerpt:

I got a bunch of comments from the fellow hikers about my shoes, but I had my friend M-Cheezy with me, who also rocked her gray and green KSO's. Some of the others thought I was going to hurt myself or roll my ankles since the shoes provide no support, but I informed them that I have greater balance and flexibility with these than traditional rigid hiking boots. Sure I'd be able to feel the rocks beneath my feet, but that's just superficial pain, nothing serious.

The lead guide was a four-months pregnant Australian woman who just absolutely tore up the trail at an incredible pace. This was no walk in the park. She had a background in orienteering, which is basically racing around with a map and compass, trying to get to checkpoints along the way. If you're not able to form your own opinion of it, it's badass. For the first half of the day before we broke for lunch I was able to stay to the front of the group and was having a great time avoiding sharp rocks and scrambling up steep passages in the mountain. Climbing up these steep areas with both hands and feet is called "rock scrambling", which turns hikes into full body workouts. My shoes handled the climbing just fine.

Things turned for the worse after our lunch break.

How's that for leaving you hanging? Go check out Ben's blog to read the rest!

Previously from Ben, a half-marathon in VFF KSOs.

Post-run Headstand Leg Drains with Jawa

Post-run Headstand Leg Drains with Jawa
Jawa practices a post-run leg drain headstand. Way to stick those blue KSOs up towards the blue sky!
Post-run Headstand Leg Drains with Jawa
I can tell Jawa has got this yogic posture down. He looks very relaxed and steady here!

Jawa sent in the above photos taken after a seven mile run in Diamond Bar, California (You might recall Dr. Jawa teaches mechanical engineering in his black KSO VFFs!). As you can see, Jawa is doing a post-run headstand, pointing his blue camo-clad fivefinger KSOs up towards a beautiful blue sky.

Why headstands? Glad you asked! Here's Jawa:

Hello Justin,

After a long run, it is good to do a leg drain. In my opinion there is no better way to do a leg drain than performing the famous Yogic posture Headstand, also known as King of all Asanas (postures). The main purpose of the headstand is to energize the whole body. Out of the 12 asanas, headstand is the first and considered the most powerful.

In the past I was unable to do a headstand with regular running shoes easily. Doing a headstand with Vibram is smooth and easy just like doing it barefoot.

I use my blue KSOs for daily street running. I do a two to three minutes headstand after each run. These pictures were taken after a 7 mile run in Diamond bar, California.



Though it's often mentioned that VFFers are using their fivefingers for yoga and running separately, I think this is the first-time I've heard of the two being mixed.

Good information to have! Thanks, Jawa!

Barefooting and FiveFingers in the News (LA Times, NY Times, San Francisco Chronicle)

There has been a lot of either barefoot running and/or Vibram Five Fingers news over the past few days, and I wanted to highlight this press for anyone who hasn't already seen it mentioned somewhere:

  • The Los Angeles Times' Tips on Barefoot Running — Covers some important things to remember for new barefoot runners—tips provided by barefoot running legend "Barefoot Ken Bob" (a.k.a. Ken Saxton of (Note: Article was taken down for unknown reasons).
  • The San Francisco Chronicle's Vibram's FiveFingers foot gloves runaway hit — A round-up covering the growing popularity of our favorite footwear. Article talks about stores selling out of VFFs and also mentions the importance of starting slow and not heel-striking!
  • The New York Times' The Roving Runner Goes Barefoot — Brian Fidelman, the "Roving Runner," goes for a barefoot run in Central Park with Christopher McDougall, the de facto spokesman now for both joyful and injury-free running as well as running barefoot. At this point, if you haven't heard of or read McDougall's Born to Run, you'd have to be living in a cave.

    Fidelman's article is a great read. Be sure to watch the video portion!

No doubt this new wave of FiveFingers-friendly news coverage will unleash another wave of VFFers!

Running San Pedro River Valley in FiveFinger KSOs

Running San Pedro River Valley in FiveFinger KSOs
The rugged terrain of the San Pedro River Valley, Southeastern Arizona (1 of 2)
Running San Pedro River Valley in FiveFinger KSOs
The rugged terrain of the San Pedro River Valley, Southeastern Arizona (2 of 2)

In the mailbag from "T" comes an account of finding a renewed ability to run painlessly across rugged terrain thanks to adopting foot-freeing KSO Vibram fivefingers:

Hey there!

I am writing today to let you (and everyone else) know just how much these shoes have benefitted me. I'm a U.S. Border Patrol agent stationed in the San Pedro River valley in southeastern Arizona.

I "thought" I was doing OK fitness wise when I got back from the academy, but I found running on the rocky terrain in this area to be very taxing. At one point, my knee was bothering me so much, that I had to stop running completely. Even after a month of rest, I couldn't run further than three miles before the pain fired up again. Then I read Chris McDougall's article in Men's Health Magazine. That was the turning point! I found a pair of VFF KSO's in my size and haven't looked back. I worked my way up from just wearing them around the house to wearing them a weekend at a time to clawing my running mileage back up to five miles a clip. Best part? No knee pain at all and I'm actually looking forward to increasing my mileage! I've also found the KSO's to be great when trail running through the washes or hiking along the river.

As far as the benefits, I'm in better shape obviously, but now that all those muscles I never really used before the VFF's are stronger, I'm able to go tearing across the rocky desert terrain and all it's challenges with much more stability, endurance, and confidence. I haven't rolled an ankle once since I started running in the VFF's, and when running in dim (or non-existant) light, I'm able to stay well balanced and stable when I step on the occassional "roller". Even when I'm just standing for long periods, my feet don't bark or growl at me any more. (That alone was worth the purchase price and keep in mind that while on duty I'm wearing heavy Danner boots!) Anyhow, I'm saving my nickels and dimes to get a pair of Treks as soon as possible.

The pictures represent just a small part of what we see in this part of the world. The washes can be nice and sandy like this one, but it's not unusual for them to be littered with river rocks and boulders. The scrub you see is typical, but so far the only hazard I've come across is the occasional mesquite thorn although I imagine a rattler would have no trouble biting through the KSO's. Even the roads near our home are dirt littered with 1" gravel bits, so you learn real quickly to relax when you run in the VFF's. My sincerest thanks to Vibram for these wonderful world-changers!

Keep spreading the word!

Great to hear you've had such success with VFFs and that your strengthened feet, ankles, and legs are making a booted work environment more comfortable! And definitely watch out for those rattle snakes and thorns — 3.5 mm of Vibram rubber is no match for some things!

Thanks for sharing!

Georgia Shaw Interview with LivingBarefoot

Just finished listening to the podcast with Al and Tina in which they interview "Barefoot Moe" and then Vibram USA's Georgia Shaw. Moe's portion is certainly informative, but it lasts into the first 45 minutes of the podcast with Georgia's part in the last fifteen minutes or so. I took some notes from Georgia Shaw's interview regarding Vibram Five Fingers, so if you prefer to just get the gist, read on:

  • [minute 45] Barefoot Moe has fivefinger Sprints and Classics. Moe talks a bit about the pros and cons of VFFs.
  • [minute 53] Georgia Shaw interview begins
  • Is a women's KSO Trek in the cards? heard a lot of feedback from women who would like to have KSO Treks. Assurance that consumer feedback is always considered- "the more we hear back from women who are interested in trying this model, the more likely we are to answer that."
  • Why only men's KSO Trek? KSO top model for men in early 2008 when KSO Trek was considered. Sprint was first, then Classic, then KSO.
  • FiveFingers Moc design? Vamp higher for Moc for aesthetic purposes - men like the coverage to come up to the hemline.
  • [minute 58] FiveFingers Bikila: running-specific model. Released Spring 2010. Available for both men's and women's. Bikila will be released to retailers with running-specialty shoe space "carved out" will be carrying Bikilas. Mid-February and early March.
  • [minute 60] FiveFingers Speed: won't be released in North America. Could be exclusively in Europe or only a concept piece.
  • [minute 61] BirthdayShoes forum questions:
    Why difference in price between America and Europe? Products in Europe tend to cost about 50% more in Europe than in the United States. This is due to different distribution models in Europe than in the U.S. VibramUSA distributes direct to retailers in the U.S.; not so in Europe.
  • Waterproof model in the works? Premature to say they are coming out with a waterproof model, but they are always testing new designs out.
  • Wide options in the future? Traditionally FiveFingers can fit feet from A to EEE, so hasn't been necessary.
  • Production increases in the future? Yes. See [Vibram's note on availability and production per the official Vibram fivefingers facebook page]
  • Kangaroo leather. Is it more stretchy or less? Less. It has no stretch at all, but there is elastic at the collar to provide it some give.

My takeaways:

Though a lot of the material covered by Georgia has been covered here on the blog or in the forums, there are a couple things that were mentioned in the interview I have thoughts on:

It's informative to hear the rationale behind not carrying a women's KSO Trek. There's been a lot of gnashing of teeth about Vibram's decision here and many have opined about it in the forums. My hunch was apparently close to reality — the decision was due to gender specific demand. I had guessed this on looking at the results of the birthdayshoes sizing and fit questionnaire (still teasing that data for more insights!). Mind this data is just from a sample of those willing to respond to the survey, but even so, out of one hundred respondents, roughly three-fourths of all respondents were male.

Here's the FiveFingers gender breakdown by model:

Mind, the decision on the male-specificity of the Trek was made in early 2008, so things may have changed somewhat now. I'd also guess based on Georgia's comments that it was the popularity of the Sprint with women that drove the creation of the 2010 Performa Jane. The tipoff I picked up was that Vibram is keeping their ears to the ground — if there is enough interest in the KSO Trek for women, they are likely to produce it.

I also found the European vs. United States pricing discrepancy point interesting. It seems that one of the drivers of higher prices in Europe, in addition to things generally just being 50% more expensive there, is that the distribution model is more involved, meaning there are more layers between sellers and buyer, which tends to drive up price.

Finally, I have to wonder if the fivefingers Speed will ever see the light of day. Georgia noted that it may be released in Europe or it may just be a prototype (Like the hapless fivefingers Cortina)