Hiking Despite Osteoarthritis in Barefoot Shoes

Hiking Despite Osteoarthritis in Barefoot Shoes

I recently got the above photo from Ron. Ron is a 60+ guy who was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in one knee—after some 32 years of running.

What follows is his story about what the doc's had to say about how he should handle the news, and as you might guess, some FiveFingers came into the picture:

I call this my victory photo.

Last year, at age 60, and after 32 years of running, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in the left knee. It hurt to walk, let alone, run. My general practitioner doctor suggested minimalist footwear as part of a program that included stretching and strengthening. [Meanwhile, both the] knee specialist and the physical therapist said to back off and use orthotics.

I took my general practitioner's advice.

Well, here I am a year later, relaxing at over 14,000 feet on the top of Mount Bierstadt in the Rocky Mountains. This was just one of several hikes I took during a 6-day vacation. I totalled nearly 35 miles of hiking and every step in my Vibram KSO Treks.

I proved to myself that I wasn't too old to make such a big change after 32 years of walking and running in the most expensive and most cushioned shoes. Of course, I still have osteoarthritis in the knee, but I am back at it, thanks to the therapeutic value stretching, strengthening, and minimalist footwear.

(I go barefoot alot, too!)

Ron A.

Fantastic to hear, Ron! And kudos for following your intuition and having success despite adverse conditions.

Hope you have many more successful hikes!

Sal's California Central Coast Road Trip in KSOs and Classics

Sal Rodriguez recently took a road trip along the California Central Coast. Along the way, he saw seals and pelicans among other things, which he photographed through the lens of his fivefingers KSOs and Classics.

Here's Sal:

Hello BirthdayShoes.com; I love and appreciate your site. My name is "Barefoot Sal" Rodriguez of North Hollywood, CA. Although completely barefooted is my prime choice, Vibram Five Fingers are the close second. Here are a few photos submitted for your consideration. These were taken on a recent road trip up and down the California Central Coast - Big Sur, Morrow Bay, Cambria, San Simean, Pfeiffer Beach, Avila Beach, Shell Beach. The first few show the KSO; the last few show the Classic. ...

This trip was my "coming out" party for my VFFs. Before that, I had worn them to work and around town a few times (Costco, drycleaners, etc.) On the trip, I walked on cement, asphalt, wooden boardwalks, dirt, sand, rock, tile, and grass...oh and carpet - and loved every minute of it!

The pelican photo is my favorite—surprised the bird didn't mind the blue camo VFFs being so close. Then again, maybe it was confused and thought they were pelican feet.

Jocelyn sets a Personal Record in her Blue VFF KSOs

Jocelyn sets a Personal Record in her Blue VFF KSOs
Jocelyn sets a Personal Record in her Blue VFF KSOs

I love getting these stories in the mailbag. This one from Jocelyn, photoed above in her camo blue fivefinger KSOs, speaks to running injury-free and achieving fantastic fitness results. It's not that Vibram Five Fingers are some sort of magic footwear so much as that their minimalistic design lets our feet be feet. Everything else sorta falls into place.

Here's Jocelyn on her second 5k run in VFFs, this time reaching a new personal record:

Hi Justin,

Today I ran my second 5K in my KSOs in Ann Arbor, Michigan and ended up with a new personal record of 21:30! My first 5K in my FiveFingers I started out way too fast - my legs were willing to go, but the rest of my body said otherwise and I ended up with a nasty side stitch with a mile left. Even with that pain, I ended up with a time a few seconds off a former 5K race time that was run in super cushy, super supportive shoes.

I did a double-take when I saw the time on the clock at the finish. This was almost 30 seconds off my fastest time, which was done back in high school cross country!

Ever since I've strapped on my FiveFingers I've been injury free. I went to physics therapy for a few months for sharp pains in my right knee that would put me out of commission for days. Besides that pain, my knee would also ache in any run that was 4+ miles. I was convinced I'd be having surgery on my knees at some point in the future. So, while being a little more speedy is nice, not having any more pains has made me very happy!

Jocelyn

Great to hear from you, Jocelyn! Congrats on your new PR!

NYTimes "Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants"

Amy Cortese published an article Saturday in the New York Times titled Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants. The article gives a hearty shout-out to barefooting, generally, and minimalist footwear and Vibram FiveFingers, specifically. I was actually contacted by Amy a bit over a week ago as she was looking to talk to folks who were running the recent NYC half marathon in VFFs though she wasn't able to work in any of my leads.

Below are my thoughts on Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants, an article that will surely further the "FABLA movement." And if Amy happens to read this, perhaps she could tell someone over at the NYT to review Christopher McDougall's Born to Run already!

As I read "Wiggling," I was reminded of NY Magazine's You Walk Wrong as well as the UK Dailymail's The Painful Truth about Trainers. "Wiggling" asks the question, is less more? Is there something to minimalist footwear? Barefoot running? For ease of discussion, I'm going to lump the minimalist and barefooting movements into a single movement — the FABLA movement — Feet Are Best Left Alone*!

As you might have guessed, Wiggling quotes a handful of "experts" who naysay FABLA outright or indicate that "more research is needed," a statement almost as silly as saying "human beings need to breath oxygen to survive but more research is needed."

And really, the experts sound more silly than convincing:

“In 95 percent of the population or higher, running barefoot will land you in my office,” said Dr. Lewis G. Maharam, medical director for the New York Road Runners, the group that organizes the New York City Marathon. “A very small number of people are biomechanically perfect,” he said, so most need some sort of supportive or corrective footwear. ...

Simon Bartold, an international research consultant for Asics, said advocates of barefoot running “are propagating a campaign of misinformation.” ... [later in the article] Mr. Bartold ... said the industry had runners’ best interests in mind. “It’s all about trying to protect the athlete,” he said.

Dr. Maharam's comment is, of course, completely ludicrous — are we to believe that human beings are crippled by design? That humanity evolved over tens of thousands of years despite being completely handicapped by their faultily designed and biomechnically inept feet?

Surely not.

Bartold gets to the nuts of the issue: "protect the athlete:" wrap up the athlete's feet in a cast of cushioning and "corrective devices" intended to perfect biomechanics.

Don't any of these guys see how absurd all of this is? How do you know what correct biomechanics are if you're thwarting the bioengineering via highly-padded, high-heeled, spring-loaded, shoe casts? This dogmatic and dogged reasoning just chases its own tail.

If you're paying attention, you'll notice that Cortese tees up this little gem, which is promptly hit home by a sports research manager at New Balance:

But for all the technological advances promoted by the industry — the roll bars, the computer chips and the memory foam — experts say the injury rate among runners is virtually unchanged since the 1970s, when the modern running shoe was introduced. Some ailments, like those involving the knee and Achilles’ tendon, have increased. ...

At the same time [in the 1970s], millions of Americans began taking up running as a pastime. Those twin trends ushered in a golden age of biomechanics research. “There was a lot of concern about injuries because of the boom,” said Trampas TenBroek, manager of sports research at New Balance. The logic, he said, was that “if you build a heel lift and make it thicker, you take stress off the Achilles’ tendon.”

Whoops! The whole stress-off-the-Achilles' thing has been working out pretty well, right?

What I liked about the article is that Cortese does a solid job of illustrating the sports shoe market. You've got a $17 billion sports shoe market. Then you've got Vibram, an upstart** shoe manufacturer that is growing like crazy but is only slated to have "revenue of $10 million this year in North America."

Vibram (and others) is like the proverbial David up against the Goliaths of the sports shoe industry — Nike, Asics, Adidas, Reebok, New Balance, etc. These giants are all clad in their showy marketing and padded, "protective" armor while utterly missing the naked point — feet are best left alone! Quite trying to reinvent the foot! The best any footwear can hope for is to simply get out of the way.

But the giants don't get it—even when they try. Just take Nike. Nike spent untold amounts of money researching barefoot running and designing their "barefoot" shoe, the Nike Free, and what did they come up with? Something that still looks and functions a lot like modern sneakers, high heel and all.

And even if they did get it, could the giants untangle the mess of misinformation they've been pandering now for four decades? Would they be willing to implicitly say, "Hey, we were wrong: our shoes have been doing more harm than good." I'm skeptical.

What I am optimistic about is that the FABLA movement is gaining momentum. And why shouldn't it? It's founded on the evolutionary backing of a few tens of thousands of years of bioengineering.

With that kind of history, do we really need more research to understand that feet are best left alone?

* If anyone can come up with a better acronym, I'm all ears!

** Upstart because Vibram has been a sole company up until the past three years!

Taking a Helicopter for a Spin in Five Finger Classics

Taking a Helicopter for a Spin in Five Finger Classics

Mike recently posted to the birthday shoes forums about his 30th birthday present, which was a ride and chance to pilot the above helicopter, which, of course, he did in his birthday shoes!

I asked Mike if it was a scary experience and here's what he had to say:

Yup, very scary.

I've played alot of flight sims, especially helicopter sims and I know the theory behind helicopter flight. But nothing could've prepared me for when I got to hold the cyclic (the joystick) at 1500 feet. It felt really unstable, although it really wasn't, but just the slightest movement and it felt like we'd tip over. The pilot told me to watch the horizon and that helped alot to keep it steady, then he told me to keep an eye on the instruments so that we maintained the correct altitude, I told him I would not be doing that since I didn't want to look away from the horizon.

So yeah, quite scary at first.

Then I got used to it and it felt pretty good.

Once we were on the ground again I got to try hovering which is far more complicated then just flying, every limb is working. Before we went up the pilot said that I shouldn't be ashamed if I didn't managed to hover because that usually takes around 50 hours of practice. I did manage however, it wasn't pretty but I did it. He told me that he could tell that I knew what I was doing, all those hours playing helicopter sims actually helped.

Many VFFers talk about how fivefingers make for good driving shoes; and others have often praised their comfort while travelling aboard airplanes; but I think this makes for the first time I've heard them used while flying anything (other than a hang glider or a parachute, that is!)

Well done, Mike (And happy belated birthday!)!

Hiking Old Rag Mountain in VFFs with Michael and Tim [Video]

Hiking Old Rag Mountain in VFFs with Michael and Tim [Video]

Tim Kelley, who now has run two triathlons in Vibram FiveFingers (The first was posted about here, the second — just see the fist pump and jump above — was completed at the Outer Banks.

Just this past week, Tim and his friend Michael went hiking up Old Rag Mountain (in the Shenandoah Mountains). Even better, they filmed the experience, uploaded it to YouTube, and set it to Axel F.

Read the rest of this post »

Jason Runs in Red Sprint FiveFingers

Jason Runs in Red Sprint FiveFingers

Jason ("Ardent" on the forums) sent in the above photo of his slightly muddied red and black Vibram fivefinger Sprints*. Jason's been regularly running in his Sprints now since early this year. Here is what he had to say about the experience:

At the time this pic was taken (feb) I was converting from ordinary run shoes to vffs alternating from one shoe to the other and slowly increasing the amount of runs in the vffs. I now only run in vffs. Road, pavement, fields, paths, tracks, whatever. However, back in Feb we had snow, to be fair it was melting at this point but plenty undisturbed in the fields. Looking at the sole of sprints tells you there is going to be minimal grip when it comes to snow, mud and sludge. I was right. I set off along a bridal path and was skittling about like bambi on ice and having a great time. The thing I always remember was the thought of the expression on peoples faces that followed. All these seemingly barefoot footprints.

Even though I had been running through snow my feet where strangely warm (wet suit effect). The sprints were only this clean as crossed a stream shortly before the end of the run. I have gone on to clock over 220 miles in the sprints. Done the Prestwold 10k in June, caused many double takes afterwards.

Jason regularly blogs about his training pursuits, including those in his VFF Sprints at his blog here. Thanks for sharing, Jason!

* My favorite color combo**, the red and black Sprints make your feet look irradiated—like anthropomorphized Martian feet. They look particularly creepy in darkly lighted rooms (like movie theaters).

** I'm a University of Georgia alum, what can I say?