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Stories of Success Running in Vibram Fivefingers: Sgt. R. and Bob H.

Posted on January 05 2011

Vibram Fivefingers KSO'sA few weeks ago I posted a testimonial from reader Bob C. about his experience transitioning into minimalist running shoes. Bob managed to eliminate some nagging pain by changing his shoes and form, but also suffered a stress fracture in the process that he attributes to doing too much too soon. Bob’s was just one of many stories that I get in private emails, and he was kind enough to allow me to share it. In this post, I’d like to share the stories of two addition runners: Sgt. R. and Bob H.

The first story comes from a soldier who contacted me a few months ago. She is deployed overseas, and found success and escape from pain and injury by running in Vibram Fivefingers. For reasons that she describes below, she can no longer wear the VFF’s, so she emailed me with her story and a request for alternative shoe suggestions. For more information on Vibram Fivefingers and other minimalist shoes in the military, check out this story on “Toe Shoes” in Army Times.

A Soldier’s Shoe Story

Hi! My name is Sgt. R. and I’m a Soldier in the United States Army currently deployed to Kuwait. I bought my first pair of minimalist running shoes about 2 months ago; Vibram Sprints and Vibram KSOs… I wore the “correct” running shoes for my feet prior to this, so the Vibrams were a big change! According to the “slow motion eyeballs” at the shoe store I have pretty flat feet, my feet are wider than most my frame size, and my feet pronate inward. I continued to spend 100s of dollars on the newest running shoes, trying to keep away from injuries.

A bit of my background: During basic training and my advanced training I suffered stress fractures in the right side of my pelvis, stress fractures in my shins, and 3 broken bones in my left foot (I believe the broken bones in my left foot were due to me overcompensating for the stress fractures of my pelvis). Before this, I was a relatively active and healthy kid. I didn’t run cross country or anything, but I sure as heck was never injured! Military doctors told me that I was never going to run again and that were going to medically discharge me. I asked for a chance, and by not much more than the skin of my teeth (17:58 for a 2 mile), I passed. I’ve always had more upper body strength than lower, but I knew something wasn’t right. I was a healthy 18 year old and I was getting injuries that people twice my age were barely getting.

I have been in the military for 4 1/2 years now. I was forced to be put on a running profile (meaning run at my own pace and I do not have to run the PT test) that I want to be rid of. I want to be a normal 22 year old female. I can do 60 pushups in 2 mins, 82 situps in 2 mins, now if I could only run just a 15 minute two mile which for some, would be their worst time. I wanted to write to you to tell you that I really enjoy your blog. It is nice to read all the reviews of the shoes you try and to know that I am not crazy. Since I have been wearing the Fivefingers shoes, I have not had any injuries. Prior to this deployment I was having ankle problems – EVERY time I ran, it hurt. It does not hurt anymore. Well, except for that GOOD muscle hurt. Man! Those things work out the calves! I am building up my running again, and just as I was enjoying running in my Vibrams, my higher command made it unauthorized to wear the Vibrams with our physical fitness uniform. And just when I was going to run in a 5K fun run… I am now looking for a shoe that feels as similar as possible to the Fivefingers, but with the look of a regular commercial running shoe. I am hoping to find and buy a pair soon to have them shipped and broken in before the 5K.

Runblogger’s Note – given the lack of options for something flat that looks like a regular running shoe, she decided to buy a pair of the Saucony Grid Type A4.

The second story comes from Bob H., who writes at Bob is an example of a runner with flat feet who ignored the conventional wisdom that his foot type requires additional support in the form of orthotics and/or motion control shoes. Like Sgt. R., he has found success running in Vibram Fivefingers. Here’s Bob’s story:

Bob H’s Story

Almost two years ago, according to a podiatrist, I had posterior-tibialis insertional tendonitis. He recommended more support and rest, but even with my urging didn’t check wear pattern or watch me run.  Although flat footed, I am pretty neutral. I think the injury came from an “update” to a favorite shoe.  The “update” had an increased heel-forefoot drop, increased arch support and stiffened midsole. My guess is that rather than too little support, there was too much support and pressure on the posterior tibial tendon at the navicular bone, but who knows?

After a few weeks of rest, I decided to go 180 degrees from the recommendation. I got rid of my shoes and insoles and switched to Vibram Fivefingers KSOs. Within two months I had adopted a midfoot/forefoot landing and was running 15 miles on concrete/asphalt in my KSOs. I alternated the KSOs with neutral trainers and racing flats. 

About 9 months ago, I retired my KSOs and started running about 80% of my miles in my new Bikilas, including 18 mile long runs and speed workouts. The remainder of my runs have been in racing flats and barefoot. I now believe that starting out barefoot would have been even more helpful. I’ve had no additional injuries (still have 10 year chronic high hamstring tendinopathy…but that’s another story).  It’s now cold, icy and snowy here in Chicago, so I’m primarily using my flats (even tried a trail shoe for a few runs) until it warms up. 

At a fall marathon expo, I saw a sign that read: “Should you run barefoot?” A rehab group was offering a free preliminary gait analysis. Runners had a choice of running barefoot or shod for a few seconds on a treadmill while being videoed.  To be fair, the PT said that this was not a comprehensive gait analysis, and only a front view was being used. I took off my shoes and socks and jumped on. First recommendation: Orthotics. I asked what led to that conclusion. Answer:  flat feet. I already knew I had flat feet, have had them for almost 65 years.  We looked at the video again. We agreed that I was landing mid/forefoot and my knees were lined up fine. The word “pronation” did not even come up. The video did not allow a hip view.

I told the PT that for the past 18 months I had run primarily in Vibrams with some barefooting and had not been injured. In fact, I started heading down the minimal/barefoot path as a result of an injury. We had an interesting conversation with agreement that foot type is only a single factor, and agreed that if one is running with good form and without injury, what one wears (or not) may not be so important.

Runblogger’s Note: Yet another example of a runner who takes a totally different approach from that recommend under the status quo, and shows that sometimes taking a risk can reap great benefits. 65 years old, flat feet, formerly injured, and now running 18 mile long runs and speed workouts in his Vibrams. Impressive.

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