Those Shoes You've Seen Me Wearing

If you've seen me walking around any time in the last month, you've likely seen (and commented on) the above. They are Vibram Five Fingers classics, a pair of so-called barefooting shoes. This all started about two summers ago when I broke my right foot for the second time. Going in to the Orthopaedist, I learned that, in addition to the break, I had bone spurs. I have still have the x-rays here. Then five months later, I had pain near my hip flexor. Another visit to the doc, another relatively clean bill of health, but this time with a warning that the spurs would worsen with time and more running.

Now, I don't run that much. Maybe 15-18 miles a week. On top of that, in the summers, I play Basketball once a week and Frisbee once or twice a week. Nothing too serious. I don't get shin splints or achy knees. Instead, the nerves in my right leg feel like they are tightening and pulling my lower back causing my gait to go off-center. That assumes, of course, that my form was right to begin with - something I cannot confirm having never been coached or analyzed by video or even watched by someone with a critical eye for this stuff.

Which brings us back to the orthopaedist. Now there on my third visit, I was following up on my hip and took the opportunity to ask about my shoe choices. Rockport - his favorite kind. Soft and -- good for an orthopaedist -- with removable insoles. The doc recommended inserts. Not custom, at $300+, but still $95 a pair. For 4 pairs of regular use shoes, I bought 3 pair, turning every $50 pair of New Balance into the equivalent of a top-of-the-line running shoe. And I'll need to start replacing them soon, along with the new Size 10 shoes that I needed to buy to accommodate them. My old 9.5s just couldn't contain all that cushioning.

Perhaps you are starting to feel the same sense of bafflement that I did at this point. Why is this so complicated? How much equipment do I need just to walk? Worse yet, if I need this much now, what will I need at 40 and 50 and 60 to ambulate?

So I started looking into other options. I had seen the Vibrams on the Frisbee fields the previous year and asked about them. How could I not? I learned they were basically a rubber sole on a bare foot and very comfortable despite that. Digging a bit further, I found a community of barefooters. These folks are hard core and a little quirky. Not a lot of credibility there. Still, they loved the Vibram. And they linked to a Runners World article on barefooting: http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-240-319--6728-0,00.html. Great runners run barefoot. More importantly, amateur runners who run without shoes see no ill effects of going barefoot. Then I read Born to Run, which is more fun than fact intensive, but still contains about 2 chapters of the science of barefooting. I was sold, at least to try a pair of shoes that cost less than one of my orthopaedic inserts, with the promise that I might be able to one day do without the inserts altogether.

The results so far are as promised. The shoes take a bit of getting used to. It took me 3 hours. Not because of the shoes, but because I don't walk barefoot very much. It is amazing how different the gait is. Much more forward without nearly as tough a heel strike. I find myself using the rise of my foot when I strike the ball as a shock absorber. The movement uses a different set of muscles than do shoes, making the first few weeks a workout, but now I walk 2-3 miles in them without noticing. I spend all day in the now on paternity leave and feel better at the end of the day than I did in shoes. No more hot feet, squished toes, blisters, or the more serious and important leg and hip strains.

While they may not replace my running shoes, I have seen improvements there as well, where a forward tilted step is the ideal. That, and going out for a run without having the leg and hip pains to work out in stretching or warm up is a real boon.


matt617 said...

Where are the spurs? If you are talking about heel spurs, I thought I had them but it turned out I had plantar fasciitis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantar_fasciitis) which responded fantastically to a more rigorous application of stretching my achilles tendons every time I work out. It completely went away within 1 month of stretching for 2 minutes, daily.

Anonymous said...

Alon, I love you (although I love Na'ama more), but the toes gross me out. Just had to say it. Susan