Trail Running in Toe-Gloves: It works
After successfully running the Boston Marathon in my Vibram Five Fingers KSOs – and what with switching to flat shoes (notably the wonderful MacBeths) for most of my walkabouts – I’ve found it almost impossible to slip back into my ASICS gels. Having an enormous elevated cushion under my heel now feels completely alien – and positively uncomfortable. I’m at the point of no turning back. And so, for yesterday’s first Trail Race of the season, and despite the fact that the 5k Sprint in the Shaupeneak Ridge south of Kingston was advertised as being “highly technical,” I decided to see how I’d fare in the Vibrams.
The verdict? To my genuine surprise, running up and down sharp rocks, tree trunks, traversing gravel, some mud, and with plenty incline, all felt easy and comfortable. And why not? The whole point of getting out of cushioned gel shoes and back to nature is that our feet are designed to interact with the ground beneath us and can react accordingly. So while I made a more concerted effort than usual to avoid the most treacherous of rocks and stones, I felt that my touch was probably even lighter and quicker than usual to avoid such sharp impact – which translated into a fast and mostly pleasant run. Given that I finished in much my usual position (i.e. this similar-paced friend ahead of me, this one behind me) I can’t tell whether I ran quicker than I would have done in what most people would consider “shoes.” (Being just back from Boston, I might have been expected to run a little slower, I suppose.) But certainly, I was delighted by the lack of indents or pain on the soles of my feet.
But I did fall. It was coming up a hill. I slipped, fell sideways, grazed my leg and took what’s turned out to be quite a heavy, bloody bruise on the right palm. I also tore a hole in the Vibrams, which have remained otherwise in almost store-perfect condition despite eight months of heavy use. I was back on my feet in a second, and it didn’t affect my overall time, but of course I was left wondering whether the fall was the result of the Vibrams or not. I’m not sure it was. At least one runner in regular shoes turned her ankle and needed treatment afterwards. Another runner in regular shoes came off with blood streaming from his shins. (Hey, we love it! Really!) Think about it. In regular cushioned shoes, you’re more inclined to think that you’re protected from the ground beneath you which, on a trail, makes it all the more tempting to put your foot down on dangerous terrain – only to turn an ankle or otherwise slip. So maybe I was unlucky. Or maybe the Vibrams just don’t have good enough grip on technical trail. And maybe I was just going too fast?
Who knows for sure. What I do know is that Vibrams have released a Trek “shoe” that I could be putting to the test on the trails already – except that it’s made out of kangaroo leather. The company has assured me (personally, by e-mail, which I greatly appreciate) that they will be coming out with a KSO Trek Sport in the Fall which will be made of vegan materials as per the regular KSOs. In the meantime, for Escarpment Run training and the race itself, I’m planning on picking up a pair of Inov-8s or perhaps the New Balance MT100s that many are raving about. But at least I now know that you can run trails in Vibram Five Fingers just as you can a marathon.
Oh – and I ran in my Crystal Palace replica top, not exactly conducive to high humidity. But I didn’t yet know the final score at Sheffield Wednesday and decided to keep it on for luck. It worked.