"Those are ugly. But in the coolest possible way. But Nike? Come on..."
"Well, those are pretty understated aren't they?"
Some introductory stuff:
Generally Nike shoes and I don't get along. At least we haven't since my first pair of purple and pink waffle trainers I picked up cheaply at the local K-Mart sometime back in the late 1970's and/or early '80-'s—they matched my terry cloth wrist and head bands. I had some really cool purple and black Lava Domes that I used for generally mucking about in the Santa Ynez Mountains behind SB but they wore out and I could not find any more. Finally, a few years ago in my ever futile quest to find the perfect pair of actual running shoes I tried the Pegasus (at least I think that is what they are). Disaster. Massive problems that resulted in over-correction, a tweaked IT Band, and inflamed ankle tendons that kept me from running for a good three weeks of prime fall running. They fit well but did not play well with my orthotics.
About a year and a half ago it dawned on me that I had been basically injured in one way or another almost constantly since getting my orthotics. I trusted them too much even when I could feel the over-correction when coupled with stability and motion-control shoes of every description (Asics, Mizuno, Saucony, Addidas). I am a big guy (generally just shy of the Clydesdales in the races I enter) and no self-respecting shoe store employee would sell me neutral shoes for me to use with my orthotics—too flimsy or not cushioned enough. And, I thought, they know what they are doing as does my Pod and I should trust their advice. Big mistake. Made all the worse by the fact that most people I knew had injuries (PF, broken bones, stress fractures, the works) because of problems with orthotics, shoes, and, of course, training errors.
I started reading and decided on looking at over-pronation in a different way. The foot needs to gimbal and adjust to the conditions within which it finds itself. It often isn't pretty but it is effective. Moreover, the foot, ankle, and legs need to be accustomed to the gimbaling and strengthen accordingly. So I began to ween myself off of the orthotics, strengthen via yoga (thanks LD and Om Town), and run barefoot every once in a while, just like I did in Australia. Thinks seem to be working. My feet, though flatter than pancakes, seem to be coming alive again after years of feeling quite dead. Reading Born to Run put me over the top and, though not quite ready to run unshod, it was time to take the plunge into shoes with minimal support. Two options: Nike's Free and Vibram's Five Fingers. Bought a pair of Nike Free 5.0's the other day.
First Impressions—running around inside Nike Town:
Putting them on for the first time I was struck by how light they are and how sock-like they feel. Walking around the store they felt very comfortable and it would have been easy to forget that I was wearing anything but for the eerie fluorescent orange glow coming off of them. A couple of laps around the circumference of the hardwood floor of the store gave me some sense of how they would hold. Again, they were comfortable but I felt a bit awkward making the transition to a shoe with little heel support. Forefoot padding seemed a bit lacking. Very different from even my default "go fast" shoe, the Mizuno Wave Elixir 4.
Took a while, thinking about the risk and, admittedly, the color, but I decided to bring them home.
Second Impressions—a neighborhood walk:
Wore the Frees on the dog's evening two-mile walk. I had a run a fast (for me) 12-miles in the morning in the Mizunos and spent the bulk of the day barefoot or in sandals. The shoes felt as natural as they did in the store only this time I could feel the individual "chunks" that make up the sole moving independently. My foot felt supported enough but also able to move freely. Toes were also very comfortable with enough room to flex and spread as needed. The uppers seem to be a rather fine and stretchy mesh which, coupled with the wool socks I generally run in and the 89 degree temperature, made for some hot feet.
It didn't take me very long to realize that these shoes would be really comfortable just to walk around in all day. The real test would come in a run.
Third Impressions—a run:
I put 4.48 running miles on the shoes this morning. Went from my house down through Ravenna and Cowen Parks and out to the Green Lake track where I was meeting PT, AK, and RP to video our running forms for some amateur analysis (more on this in a different post). The route was mixed sidewalk, dirt path, and then grit track. A fair amount of hills at the start too. This allowed me to explore the shoes with different paces from my standard shuffle, marathon pace, and going fast.
Going downhill took some getting used to as I was unsure about how to place my feet. The heels were cushioned enough though and I got the hang of it, noticing that I was coming down more lightly on my feet (my bulkier trail shoes allow for a heavy heel-strike and foot fall). Running the flats on dirt I found that my propensity to move up to my fore and midfoot was enhanced and that there was enough cushion. The soles did their work, flexing as necessary. I was not shy of rocks and pebbles and found anything that got stuck in the grooves did not stay there for long. Going further forward on the forefoot became pronounced as I got to the flat concrete section along Ravenna Boulevard. The three 400's (8:51, 8:05, and 6:37 pace respectively) saw the shoes coming into their own. The faster I went, the further forward I went and it was comfortable, especially on the forefoot where the cushioning that is there was all I seemed to need.
Ended all this with legs and knees feeling quite good.
I am keeping them despite the color (kind of have to now because they got a little muddy). I'll use them for shorter runs twice a week or so until I am used to the way they work and my body strengthens even more.
And yes, I think I'll get a pair for every day walking around. How about?
Oh and . . .
Runblogger has a series of posts detailing his experiments with Vibram Fivefingers, the New York Times has an interesting piece on the controversy over barefoot running (8/30/09) entitled "Wiggling Their Toes at the Shoe Giants", and the NY Times Well Blog has an interesting entry on running barefoot (9/1/09).