I recently got a note from Shuhong, a BirthdayShoes reader and runner from Malaysia. Shuhong’s story is one of slow and steady transition to minimalist shoes, ultimately switching over to KomodoSport Vibram FiveFingers.
Here’s Shuhong’s story:
I’ve been running for about 4 years now and have slowly transitioned from traditional shoes to minimalist shoes (Nike Free 5.0, Newton Distansia, generic flats) when I realised how much better I feel when running in something really lightweight and flexible. I started reading about proper running posture, midfoot striking and eventually about all the exciting minimalist shoes featured on BirthdayShoes but not readily available in Malaysia. That led me to purchase my first pair of midfoot-striking specific shoes, the Newtons, as they have a growing presence here [in Malaysia] and also organize an annual run. However, even though they are very comfortable, the extra height and cushioning under the midfoot didn’t agree with me. Within a year I had developed a very bad pain on my left knee which made me stop running for 6 months.
During that time, I bought a cheap pair of flats (somewhat like canoeing shoes I think) to do bootcamp in. I needed something I can trash around in and also wash and dry easily after every session as it’s usually very muddy in the field where bootcamp is held. The shoes have a single layer upper with an elastic cuff and a very thin rubber sole with trail shoe cleats and a 3mm insole. When my injury abated I started running in them and was amazed by how good they felt compared to more expensive and complicated shoes. My running posture had already improved by then and I did a whole year of 10-15km runs in these flats with no injuries.
Of course, all the while I’d been dreaming about getting a pair of FiveFingers. They were gaining in popularity in Malaysia and in every run I joined I could see more and more people wearing them. I’ve read all the reviews on every model (yes, even the women’s) and lusted over every picture on BirthdayShoes. What held me back was that they were quite expensive here. The Komodosports I eventually bought cost RM469, equivalent to USD153 and Vibram doesn’t allow U.S. sellers to ship to Malaysia.
What finally tipped me over to get them was a trail run my girlfriend and I signed up for, the Malaysian Salomon X-Trail 2012 which took place in early October. While my flats were okay for the roads, they’d gotten quite loose inside and I was worried about my feet slipping in them on the rough terrain and the possibility of that made worse by mud getting in. This seemed to be the perfect excuse to get the VFFs so I popped down to the shop 5 days before the run and tried not to think about my credit card balance. It was an easy choice to get the Komodosports as they were so comfortable and felt just right the moment I tried them on. By comparison, I didn’t like how the FiveFingers Trek soles felt on my feet and they didn’t have the Spyridons in my size.
I wore the KomodoSports as much as possible for the next few days to break them in.
The run started in the stadium of Universiti Putra Malaysia at 7AM and the course quickly led out of the stadium and into the estates that were part of the university. On race day we were told that there was a heavy downpour the night before and “the first half of the trail was quite muddy and the second half of the trail was VERY muddy.” Oh great, here’s me in my brand spanking new Vibrams and I just heard the worst news. I could see many people were thinking the same as they were wearing new Salomon trail shoes which this run was promoting.
The run started and immediately at the beginning of the offroad section was a giant pool of muddy water we had to splash through. The herd quickly thinned out at the first long uphill section.
We soon found out the course was a constant transition between long grueling climbs and fast slippery downhills. The mud was as bad as promised. Many runners were not prepared and came in road shoes. I could see them struggling to find purchase on the slick parts of the trail or getting bogged down in standing water. The higher dry sections were not must better as they were littered with cow patties so we have to keep a very sharp eye on where we step.
Throughout the run, I was enjoying every step in my FiveFingers. I knew it was risky running long distance in untried, brand new shoes, but there was no discomfort whatsoever and no hotspots developed. I loved how they hugged my feet so closely no mud could build up inside to create squishy steps. The soles stuck to my feet so there was no moment of adjusting at every footfall. I could place every step with confidence. The separated toe pockets also meant I could dig my toes into the mud and claw my way through while everyone else was slowing down. This was something I enjoyed more and more as the race progressed. Despite the KomodoSports not being designed for heavy trail use, they performed really well in these conditions. A bit of sand and dirt went in the back but didn’t cause any rubbing or irritation. Only on the fast downhills I had to be very nimble and pick my way through small rocks on the track. As I discovered, landing hard on a rock between the toes was a very painful thing to do at speed.
Overall I didn’t do a very fast run due to the difficult terrain and I was pacing my girlfriend as well. I did have an amazing time running in midst of all the greenery and testing the limits of my new Vibrams. For a first time user, it was an overwhelmingly positive experience. I’m definitely a convert!
Awesome story, Shuhong! I can just imagine running through the mud in toe shoes while road-shoe runners are slipping all about!
Hope you were able to get that mud off with a nice bath (washing machine or otherwise!) for your KomodoSports.
Thanks for sharing!