Strava told me a while ago all about how I’d run a long way in my garish running shoes. It suggested I buy a new pair. I took note of this and filed it away in some dark recess of my brain where I put things I ignore, like letters from the doctor and cracks on the car windscreen.
But I know I must go running again to keep me fit and to mitigate the effect of my sweet tooth on my health. So, after seeing a picture of someone wearing running shoes with toes on Blipfoto, I started looking for running shoes with toes.
After I got over the whole oxymoronic “shoes for running barefoot” concept, I realised that it was probably a good idea. The modern running shoe is full of padding and protection for your foot, which puts your foot into an unnatural position. If you think about it, we’ve evolved to stand on two feet, with all the parts that touch the ground on one level. We haven’t evolved to have our heels raised up higher than our toes. Having our feet like this is bad for the Achilles’ tendons, which become shorter and less stretchy than they should be. This means they become weak and taut, causing all sorts of problems. Barefoot running shoes provide protection from the ground, with a completely flat sole. This allows the Achilles’ tendons to stretch and lengthen, so they become stronger, and we end up running how we’ve evolved to run.
All that padding and protection makes the typical running shoe pretty rigid, too. It’s not so easy for your toes to bend, which means you can’t use them as leverage for your next step. This wastes energy and momentum.
Wearing completely flat shoes and running barefoot is one of the best things we can do for our musculature, posture and running technique.
I acquired myself a pair of Vibrams FiveFingers Women’s V-Run shoes. My normal running shoes looked bulky beside them. Before I put them on, I put on the special toe socks that I got to wear with them: normal socks won’t work, of course! Then I put the shoes on, following the instructions. It’s a bit fiddly to put both the socks and the shoes on because you have to make sure you get each toe in the right toe. The trick is to start with the big toe. The shoes don’t need fastening up in the traditional way: there’s a lace, but you just pull it till it’s tight enough, click the lock into place and stick the end down on the dab of Velcro. When I’d got them on, they felt a bit weird; not uncomfortable, just unfamiliar.
I went outside and ran in them — no point having them if I’m not going to run in them, after all. I’d just started up running again on New Year’s Day, so I’d been taking it easy: one mile per run. I knew these would be weird to run in and that I might damage myself if I did too much too soon, so I went out for a plodding mile.
As soon as I started running, my feet felt floaty-light, not at all encumbered by the weight of my normal running shoes. My toes were free to bend and push me off the ground like springs, especially as I was landing on the balls of my feet, not on my heels. My pace was 10 seconds per mile faster than my previous run.
My tendons and calves were stiff for a couple of days afterwards, but once I’d let them rest, I was back out again; I did about the same pace. Again, my legs were stiff, so I left it a week till I went out again: 20 seconds per mile faster, and I’d thought I was plodding round. My legs were telling me I could go so much faster, but my lungs were telling me, no, don’t go any faster: we can’t keep up!
I went out yesterday thinking I’d see how fast I can run; my pace was a bit faster again, but again, my lungs wouldn’t let me fly.
I need to focus on my lungs.