Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Ballad of the Barefoot Heel Striker/It Feels like the First Time

[The Run Smiley Collective Administrators Note:  I received these two posts from Jason Masterson.  I thought they followed each other quite nicely, so I posted them together in one post.  His blog can be found at]

Do you see that picture above? Those are my magic shoes…or Vibram Five Fingers, which ever suits you best. I made the switch to VFFs back in January of this year. What once was a painful relationship has blossomed into a full blown love affair. I love every minute of my runs while wearing these things. I am constantly reminded how great they are when a run gets slipped into the CrossFit WOD and i’m wearing my old pair of Brooks. I really miss my VFFs during those times. It’s a really cool sensation for all of the sensors in your feet to pick up on the turf beneath you. The best part is my feet, legs, and joints feel excellent after every run.
Have you noticed what is a bit off about my VFFs? As if the title and the giant red arrows didn’t give it away, the majority of the wear on the soles seems to be right at the heel. The problem with that is, every piece of information i have read about running barefoot talks about how the your foot strike will naturally move away from a heel strike and more towards a flat mid foot strike. Mainly because constantly landing our your heel is pretty painful. Though I did experience pain when i first began running in VFFs, it was more calf pain than anything. I never really had any issues with foot pain.
A typical run for me is about 3.25 miles. I have run 8 miles in my VFFs once during the Spartan Race. I do plan to start adding on the miles once marathon season starts to get a bit closer, but i am concerned. SHOULD I BE WORRIED? Of course i understand that i will need to build up mileage slowly to avoid injury. But if i am a chronic heel striker, i am a bit concerned that more mileage means a higher risk of a foot injury.
My goal is to run my next marathon in these bad boys. There is no reason why it can’t be done. I just don’t want to shatter my heels along the way. Perhaps i need to focus on a mid foot strike while i run, but that really takes away from the enjoyment of it all. If i have been primarily heel striking in my VFFs since January without experiencing any pain, perhaps that is just the way i run and my body has adjusted for it.
If you have any suggestions, please chime in. Although it has been 7 months, i still consider my self new to minimalist running. I endorse it 100%. It has completely changed my training for the better, but i still want to be cautious to avoid future injury as marathon season ramps up.

Last night I went for a run. Pretty cool right? But  
wait….there’s more! Though last night’s run may have seemed like an ordinary 3.25 mile jaunt in my neighborhood something was different. Something was a bit more…Primal. I decided that if i really wanted to become a good runner in my Vibram Five Fingers, that i needed to go full gorilla so to speak and run barefoot.If you follow all of my blogginess, you probably know i have been running in Vibrams for about 7 months now. I made the switch right after my first marathon back in January and never looked back. And if you actually enjoy reading my blogginess then you probably know i LOVE these things. Running becomes so much more of a total experience with them on rather than running just to pound the pavement.I find barefoot running very intriguing. Think about it. How long has the modern athletic shoe really been around. Since the 60s…maybe the 50s? So you mean to tell me a foot that has adapted it’s self over a few thousand years should feel right at home in a stifling foot cave wrapped in sacks full or air or gel? And because of these big bulky shoes, us modern runners have adopted foot strikes that would shatter a bare heel over long distances. Such is my plight with my vibrams. Even after 7 months of running in a minimalist shoe, i still heel strike. I wrote about it in one of my last blogs The Ballad of a Barefoot Heel Striker.

The Answer Is Simple…Less Is More.

I consulted with some of the more seasoned barefoot runners over at MDA to get some advice. The answer was simple. If you want to stop heel striking, take off the shoes and run barefoot. And so i did.
It’s amazing how taking off your shoes can make running feel like a brand new experience. I thought the vibrams allowed to feel every bit of the road, boy was i wrong. It was a pretty odd experience truly being able to feel every grain of dirt or twig or pebble on the asphalt. Oh and the asphalt is another story all together. I don’t think our ancestors intended on running long distances on pavement. The cold hard surface is unforgiving. Luckily i avoided the large piles of hypodermic needles, gun shell casings, and giant shards of glass. I did step on rocks, i did step on twigs, but none of that matters.  All of that will only strengthen the foot over time. What really mattered was my form instantly improved. I dont think i  had one heel strike. I couldn’t…it would of hurt too much.
By the end of the mile my feet were pretty tired and a little sore and started to get a small blister, but i slipped on my vibrams and finished out a great run. What was even more insane was after running true barefoot, putting my Vibrams on felt like slipping on a pair or Nike Air Jordan moon shoes. I hope to build up to one 3 mile barefoot run a week to help improve my form for longer runs in my vibrams. Until then i will enjoy the extremely odd looks i was receiving from the people around my neighborhood.


  1. Jason! Welcome to Smileydom! This also fits nicely after mine, since I think I've finally caught barefootitis.

  2. I understand completely what you mean about the VFFs feeling like moon shoes after running barefoot. I first bought a pair of TrekSports and though I could feel EVERYTHING, but then I started running barefoot and even the treksports were too thick for me. I have since added a pair of VFF sprints and that's all I'll run in these days if I'm not barefoot. Welcome to the truly barefoot world, it's wonderful!

    P.S. Watch for blisters while you're barefoot - it either means you're doing something wrong or that the ground is too hot.