Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Vibram KMD LS Shoe Review: Fucking OW.

I finally caved and bought a pair of Vibram "Five Fingers" shoes.  Specifically, these ones.  I blame my friend Sam.  It was her constant goading about how they are the most comfortable shoes she's ever owned that got me tempted.  I am a big fan of comfortable shoes, but even I wasn't sure I could clear the ugly hurdle on these ones.



I should start off by saying I am no stranger to ugly shoes.  Easily 90% of my shod time is spent in Germanic brands best suited to the Lillith Fair circuit.  But even by my standards, these are some ugly freaking shoes.  It doesn't help that I got them in blue.  On the website the blue looked sporty and fun.  In reality, I look like I have amphibian feet.

(What I really have are oddly prehensile monkey feet with long grippy toes, meaning that the toe pockets on these are a smidge small.)

But a couple of years ago, I decided to take on the recurrent shin-splint issue I had by re-programming my gait from a solid heel strike to a light, bunny-hoppy sort of midfoot strike.  And it worked.  Also, I do lots of yoga and have strong, healthy, balanced feet and decent proprioception.  So clearly, I was ready to go barefoot.

Not quite.  My first "run" in Vibrams went something like this:

Wow, hehe, you can really feel the ground in these babies...maybe if I run a little lighter...ooooh holy cow, that still hurts...maybe if I run on really soft ground...wow, there's a lot of twigs and gravel on that path...oh shit, ow, ok, maybe if I go really slowwwwwwwwwwwwwwwww oh shit no, that still hurts, fuck, I need to walk. gingerly. the. entire. way. home.

By the time I got home, my calves were on fire.  It started in my solei, so I consoled myself by thinking it was just a little different gait than I was used to, but by the next morning the pain had engulfed my gastrocs to the point where I could hardly walk.

I iced.  I heated.  I icy-hotted.  I ibuprofened.

I cursed the Vibrams.

I walked like a geriatric.  I felt geriatric.

A week went by, then ten days, and finally I was ready to give them another shot.  So tonight I set aside the extra twenty minutes required to actually put the shoes on (thank god I went for the "speed lace" option), leashed up the dogs, and set out.

I started walking.  I got cocky and tried to pick up the pace.  Brisk walk...anxious jog...timid run.

My gait was light and springy as never before!  Success!  I bounded along like a blue-footed gazelle!  For about 100 yards, at which point the crippling calf pain started and I slowed my ass back down to the Vibram Shuffle.

I limped my way home and changed into my ASICS GT1000's.

Running. On. Clouds.

Big squishy clouds that scoff at sticks and twigs and impact. And toes.

But then there came a moment when I actually wished I still had my Vibrams on.  I wanted to climb up this:

So I could catch the sunset.  And in an odd twist, the cloud shoes

Just weren't up to the task.

I ended up scrabbling up the slope on all fours, grasping at tufts of California buckwheat and shamelessly letting my dogs mush me up to the top,and then sliding back down ass-end-over-tincups.  It was totally worth it:



So what's the verdict?

Vibram Pros:
  1. Sensation: You will feel everything in these shoes.  That can go both ways.  Without getting too loopy here, let me just say that feeling is the first step toward awareness.  And when you wear Vibrams, you will absolutely be aware of everything under your feet.  You will learn to walk more mindfully as a result--and that's not optimism, that's just a fact.  Because if you mindlessly tromp around, these shoes will put the hammer down.  Whole market sectors of our economy capitalize on our desire to avoid feeling and have the license to step on whatever we like.  I really think these shoes are a tiny-little-hideously-ugly-but-highly-effective bit of antidote to that mindset.
  2. Traction: They will give you the most amazing grip.  When you want to climb up or down or sideways, these are your shoes.
  3. Proprioception: Now let's be clear...I'm sure a lot of words pop into people's heads when they think of me.  "Agile" is not one of them.  But the increase proprioception you get from having your feet fully and freely articulating is just...amazing. Even I felt agile. When I wasn't limping in pain.  Which brings us to...
Vibram Cons:
  1. Impact: Unless you grew up in Kenya, these shoes are going to take some serious adjustment.  There is no cushioning.  None.  So be prepared to learn how to put your feet down lightly, over and over again.
  2. Stability: (actually, lack thereof).  If you pronate or otherwise prefer "stability" shoes, the Vibrams will give you a double-whammy of zero cushioning combined with zero stability. 
  3. Muscle usage: This is probably actually a "pro," but it sure as hell feels like a giant con when you start out.  You will use different muscles, and use the same muscles very differently, than in normal running shoes.  Expect to be wicked sore for the break-in period.
  4. Toe weirdness: This seems to be everyone's most pressing question: "Doesn't it feel weird to have stuff between your toes?"  It doesn't bother me personally.  The real issues for me are that the toe pockets are too short (remember, freakish monkey toes) and it takes an average of 372% longer to put these shoes on than any other pair I have ever worn.  But if you think having fabric between your toes might be a sensory deal-breaker, buy one of those pedicure toe-separator things and jam it between your toes.  Then walk around for awhile and see if that's insufferable.  If it is, stick with your regular runners.
Conclusion: I still blame Sam.  But I'd do it again.

4 comments:

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