words_Sara Accettura images_Zac Dubasik Hello, my name is Sara, and although I've been working at Sole Collector for almost three years, this is my first post on SoleCollector.com, probably because I've always viewed sneakers as something utilitarian moreso than fashionable, until recently that is. When it comes to shoes, it's actually high heels and high-heeled boots that really strike my fancy, but I just turned 30, and that has led to a mini crisis of sorts. I felt the need to accomplish something big to prove something (although I'm not quite sure what or to whom just yet ...), so I signed up to run the half-marathon in Cleveland May 16. It's important to note that the farthest I'd ever run before training for this race is 8 miles ... once. And the farthest races I've run are 5Ks, so needless to say, I had a lot of work ahead of me. It took 18 weeks of training, and during those first few weeks, I was trucking it in an older pair of Asics running shoes. I started in with some symptoms of plantar fasciitis, and I also believe I have a bunionette on my right foot. Sounds kind of cute and horrifying at the same time, and I assure you it's definitely more of the latter. I swear the bunionette cropped up after a trip to New York, where I wore what my husband calls my "sexy boots." The "sexy" ran out of my boots sometime in between an entire day spent at the Met and a walk to buy a bottle of wine to accompany our dinner at an amazing Indian food restaurant on 6th called Panna II (BTW, it's BYOB at Panna II, we weren't drinking on the way there or anything like that). So, I was limping along, trying to cross intersections without getting hit, when I finally caved and bought a pair of flat-heeled boots at K-Mart. I didn't even care what they looked like; it was instant relief, and that was all that mattered at that point. But, ever since that day, I've not been able to lace my shoes tightly at all. In fact, they are as loose as they can be without falling off of my feet completely, and sometimes I still have pain. I also purchased an expensive pair of Brooks running shoes with lots of forefoot and heel padding. But, I still wasn't satisfied. RUNNING BAREFOOT? A little research later, and I found an amazing option - running barefoot. Now, I live in Northeastern Ohio, so running with bare feet isn't really an option year-round. The next best thing, I figured, was to get a pair of Vibram FiveFinger shoes. Vibram has been around for over 70 years making high-quality rubber soles. They were actually the first company to create rubber soles for mountain climbing back in the 1930s. In 2005, they launched the FiveFingers, a foot glove that makes barefoot walking/running so much easier, and ever since they have been improving on that technology. The first FiveFingers looked like slip-on shoes, but now there are FiveFingers with straps, full-foot covering, and even a pair made for extreme temperatures. When I first took my pair out of the box, I was amazed at how light they were; how little there was to them. I slipped them on and spent the next few seconds trying to detangle my toes and get them in the right places. It took a few tries, but eventually I was able to slip them on pretty quickly by just slightly spreading my toes. Walking around in these shoes is better than being barefoot. I know that sounds weird, but it's absolutely true; they offer a little more stability without sacrificing the flexibility of your natural foot movements. Plus, the rubber bottom provides enough protection to make you feel safe walking anywhere. (During one of my runs I had to run through a mess of glass from a broken bottle, and although I cringed through the whole three seconds it took, I never felt a thing!) I have read a lot about easing slowly into barefoot running, so I started doing just my form drills in them, and slowly worked up to running 60 minutes in the shoes. The first thing I noticed was I actually felt like I had options when it came to my footstrike. I could continue to strike with my heel first, or sort of clomp down each time, which was fine, but when I moved my footstrike towards the front of my foot, more on the ball of my foot, almost to my toes, it was amazing. It felt like I was super light, and I had a lot of spring in my strides. Althought my strides shorted the further forward my footstrike was, it didn't seem to drastically affect my time. It actually almost felt too good to run like that, and I faltered, going back to a footstrike further back on my foot for a while, but eventually I moved back to the ball of my foot and stayed there for the remainder of my run. I also tend to be an over-pronator when I run, and I didn't have any trouble with my footstrike. Instead of tending toward the outside of my foot, I seemed to have a nice, even, flat footstrike. It isn't during the run you'll have problems most likely - it's the next day. My calves were always extra sore and tight the day after the runs, but I realized if I spent a little extra time stretching them very well, that helped a lot. SPRINTS I first started running in a pair of the Sprints, which are open at the top with just a strap going across the top of your foot. When I was finished running in the Sprints, I noticed that I had some blisters on the bottom of my feet, which didn't bother me, actually. My first thought was, "Well, if I keep it up, these blisters will turn into callouses, and I won't have to worry about pain." The heel tab stitching was a bit coarse, and that did chafe the back of my ankle a bit. I also noticed an instant bruise/ blood-blister type of thing on the bottom of the big toe of my left foot. But, it didn't hurt much, and didn't bother me at all. I really think these things are due to the shoes being slightly too big, probably by a centimeter. I tried running again in them w/ the straps pulled tighter, and that definitely helps. Aesthetically, these shoes are a must for wearing out. I wear these shoes all the time around town, and I get lots of compliments. People actually reach down and touch my feet! I love being barefoot, but I would never be brave enough to go barefoot in public - the possible dirt and germs just freak me out. But with the Sprints on my feet, I don't have a problem walking anywhere. It's an absolutely wonderful experience. KSO I was interested to find out if a smaller size would help, though, so I tried out a pair of the KSOs one centimeter smaller (which is recommended in the sizing chart as well). These shoes offer more coverage of the top of the foot, which is essential if you are running outside. Since your feet are probably bare, and there is no barrier between your foot and the shoe, anything that makes it's way into your shoes will constantly rub. While that might not seem like it will be a big problem, a half hour later, you will definitely notice that part of your foot has been worn away from that microscopic piece of rock. I ran the farthest in the KSOs, and running on an indoor track, treadmill, concrete and soft ground were all great experiences, but I preferred running on the softer ground in them. They are not waterproof, but your foot is pretty sweaty anyway, so I didn't think that was a big deal as I ran through mud and puddles in them. But, about 15 minutes into the run I noticed I had blisters forming on my feet. At some point, when you run long distances, you will feel pain, whether it's from blisters, your knees, or maybe the material on your shirt rubbing your skin. So, while I knew I would have some pretty decent blisters, I continued on and finished my run of 50 minutes. I did have blisters, but the best part is they were halfway between the side of my foot and the bottom, which turns out to be a perfect place. When you put on "regular" shoes, that is an area that doesn't get touched by the shoe, and I was even able to wear heels that night w/ no problems, although I did stick on a band-aid just in case. But, it turns out that band-aid was not needed at all. Also interesting to note is that I went about a half a mile less than I normally do during a 50-minute run, probably due to the shorter stride I mentioned above. There are five-fingered socks, so I tried a pair with my KSOs on some future runs. Two of those runs were done during some pretty heavy rainstorms, which meant I hit a lot of puddles and ran through a lot of mud. It was amazing. Even though my feet were wet, they were warm and protected. I felt like a kid running through the wet grass, puddles and wet concrete. The traction was amazing - I didn't slip once. Although I had to peel the shoes and socks off of my feet when I was done, and the socks had changed all kinds of colors from the mud and bleeding ink, my feet were still warm and absolutely blister free. It was well worth the $12 I paid for the socks. My feet did look a little funny with both the socks and the KSOs, but they fit just fine, and I even felt like the socks added a minimal amount of cushion. It was extremely enjoyable to run in the KSOs with the socks on, and I highly recommend the socks if you plan on running anywhere past 20 minutes. While I did not increase my distance, my recover time afterwards was significantly less. My calves definitely do not ache as much - but that's probably partially due to the amount of stretching I do afterwards now. OVERVIEW Because the shoes are so minimalistic, there just isn't much to them, so they do wear a little faster. I noticed more wear in the stitching on the toes of the Sprints, but the KSOs seemed to be made of a different material that is holding up well. That might just be the difference between the gray and black materials, though. Since doing any sort of heavy activity in these shoes will really make your feet sweat, I did wash my pair and hung them to dry, and they held up well. So, after many weeks of running in these shoes I've decided that while I probably won't try to run the full half-marathon in these shoes, I would definitely recommend them for training, any sort of activity on trails a kayaking, and definitely for everyday use. Overall, these shoes are very comfortable, and I think they look really great on the feet. I would wear them just for appearance sake, even if there weren't any other benefits. But, luckily, there are. They positively affected my running style in a way that I just cannot attain in a regular pair of running shoes. There is just no way to reach that level of springy-ness you get from a foot strike toward the front of your foot. And these benefits affect not only your footstrike in the shoes, but they will help your footstrike and stride as you put on regular running shoes. If you're an over-pronator, I can say that from my experience, they will definitely help you attain a more even footstrike. Although, you will probably experience chafing of some sort in these shoes, purchasing a pair of socks with fingers or some type of extra glide applied to the troublesome areas might be all the help you need, and is something I plan on trying in the weeks to come. If you have any sort of bunion problems, these shoes will definitely help, as there is no pressure on the inside or outside of your toe bed. And they really do protect your foot from glass and rocks. I love going barefoot, and you can usually find me with no shoes, and if I do have shoes on, the smallest socks I can find, so what I love most about these shoes is how natural they feel. I don't feel like I have shoes on, but at the same time I know my feet are protected. Before purchasing a pair of your own, my advice is to try and get fitted at a store, or if not, measure your foot and err on the smaller side. And when you finally do have the shoes on your feet, take it slow. Even though these shoes feel amazing and you might not feel it that day, the next day you will be feeling it. All in all, these are amazing shoes with a great concept and I recommend them to anyone from the runner, trail runner, or for everyday use. You can get more information about these shoes on Vibram's site: http://www.vibramfivefingers.com/