Making the Transition to Minimalist Marathon Running in Vibram Five Fingers
Sam, a marathon runner living in London, has made the transition to minimalist running over the last 8 months. After trying to transition too quickly, he stepped back and made a more gradual transition and recently completed the Rotterdam Marathon wearing his Vibram Five Fingers KSOs. His story is compelling and there is much to be learned from his experiences. This is a must read for serious runners transitioning to VFFs.
Finding Five Fingers
I got on to Five Fingers around mid 2009 after a pretty bad knee injury I could not shake. I was able to finish my third marathon in a PB of 3h04m46s, but I fell over the line and I could hardly walk for a week. My left knee was shot. After weeks and months of searching on why, I came across the Five Fingers and minimalist running. Something about them just made sense... I get the feeling many others who wear them felt the same when they first laid eyes on them.
Transitioning Too Quickly
Well, I started out with a few small runs after my knee was feeling better, a few km's at a time and they felt GREAT! I could instantly feel the change it had made to my gait. I was running far more upright, with shorter steps and of course I was landing on my forefoot first. I had the obligatory calf pain, but as I had read this was "something we all had to go through!" As I had just finished my marathon and was planning the next, all I wanted to do was hit the trails on the weekends for my long run in my Five Fingers. I had the fitness, I was strong, so why couldn't I handle a 25km in the five fingers after only a few weeks running in them?
Well, that was a big mistake! A few days later, my left foot ceased up (I later found out related to an extremely stiff calf!) and I was back to square one. Or was I? Was it due to the FF's? Was it my poor form? I was at a loss.
Sam ran his next half in traditional running shoes, but wanted to get back to running in his VFFs. Over the Christmas holiday, he had a chance to reconsider his approach.
I realised, it wasn't the FF's, it was my eagerness and failure to transition to my new style of running. I had been wearing shoes for 29 years. How could I expect to go from that, to running for hours at a time with no cushioning using muscles I hardly new I had! This realisation that I could run these long distances (my next marathon) in my Five Fingers was uplifting, I just needed time and patience.
The New Regimen
January and February were spent, training in the gym and working up to the longer distances slowly. As March came around, I was up to 50-60km a week with 30+km long runs on the weekends. I was finally feeling like running in the Five Fingers was natural. I didn't have to think about landing on my forefoot, it just happened as my foot followed the last step I had made. I think this was the hardest part of the transition. The shorter runs were fine, for half an hour you could easy keep your concentration on your gait and form. But as the distances and times increased, I fatigued and it was much harder to keep my form strong. I think this significantly contributed to a number little niggles along the way.
Many of my friends (including my running partners!) thought I was strange, silly, and crazy. How can you run without padding? I even had a Physiotherapist friend plead with me not to run in them as I would destroy my joints without all that cushioning shoes provide. I didn't have the heart to ask them why the Tarahumara have survived for so long without Nike's - there are no knee replacement hospitals in the Copper Canyons! But as time has gone on and they have seen me running, week after week, most have come to accept it and even become curiously interested in my adventure in to this new world. Both my running partners (sub 3h marathoners) were very sceptical at first, but now at least acknowledge some training in them would be beneficial, even if they are not going to splash out £100 on a pair!
Goal Accomplished, April 2010 — Sam on completing his first marathon in Vibram Five Fingers
I was ecstatic at the result. I finished in 3h27m08s, my second fastest marathon time. I finished strong, running a negative split for the race and sprinting down the home straight to the finish line. My legs felt fantastic the whole way and the Five Fingers definitely performed very strongly. No blisters, no sore feet and I hardly broke a sweat.
Tips from Sam
Below, are a few of the tips I have learnt along the way that hopefully may help others out there starting their journey into the exciting world many of us now experience.
- Start SLOW and SHORT! - There is no substitute for building into minimalist running. Start slow and short with your runs, no matter how fit you are.
- Use strengthening exercises to help build the strength needed to work into minimalist running, especially in the calves
- Listen to your body - If it hurts, let it rest, you will benefit in the long run, not matter how frustrating!
- RELAX!! - I found I tended to tense up trying to find the perfect gait when I started. When I learned to relax, my best gait just found itself.
- It is never ending process, I always am looking to refine the way I run. Five Fingers are only a tool to allow you the freedom to reconnect with our natural running form our ancestors took for granted.
Thank you very much Sam, for sharing this valuable information on transitioning to minimalist running.