Tuesday, March 23, 2010

8 tips on starting to run in Vibram Five Fingers

I had another good run in the Vibram Five Fingers tonight.  5.21 miles on city streets in about 42 minutes.  This works out to 8:03 per mile.  Yeah, that sounds slow, but I am still getting used to the VFFs and I tried out a new strategy.  When my calves start to burn and get tight, I walk and or stretch.  I used to do this when training for 50K races, so I figured it would work for adapting to running in minimalist shoes, as well.  I also ran a course that had some grass near the sidewalk, so I could run on the grass when it was available.  This way, I was able to last more than my previous best with VFFs on city streets: 2.75 miles, in fact, I was able to double that.

So here is my up to date, somewhat tested advice on starting out with Vibram Five Fingers:

  1. Start conservatively, then work your way up. Everyone is different. If you are carrying around extra weight, or are new to running, I would advise being way more cautious than I have been. In the past I have tried out forefoot and midfoot strides when overweight, and i got injured. (which is why I didn't stick with it. Also, I was using the wrong shoes with a thick heel and way too much arch support.)
  2. Do the Run/Walk. Rather than doing what some advise, and doing 1/4 mile every day or every other day, I would advise doing the run/walk. Run in the VFFs until your calves burn (or arches start giving you trouble), then walk for a while and stretch. When you feel better, try running again. If your calves still feel like hamburger, STOP. Take a day off.
  3. Stretch. Some advise that stretching is useless, and "every runner who does yoga gets injured". That may be good advice for some, but it DEFINITELY is not good for me. I started to have hamstring pain, excruciating even, and it only went away if I stretched fully before the run. For me, this was an old injury I got when using the kickboard in the pool. But it only arises when I don't stretch.
  4. Running on grass is easiest, followed by trails, and then asphalt and finally concrete. I would not advise doing much of your earliest VFF mileage on roads/sidewalks. Find a grassy field with a road or sidewalk next to it, so you can try both. Gradually work your way up, running less on the grass, and more on the hard surface. Your form will be best on the hardest surface, but it can take a lot out of you, without taxing your aerobic system. Your legs are trashed, but you didn't get much fitness from the run. Running part on the grass and trails lets you still get in a workout, and lets you heel strike a bit without hurting yourself.
  5. Don't split time between VFFs and conventional heeled running shoes. You are trying to teach yourself a new way of running. If you try to do both, you won't lock in the muscle memory(or whatever the technical term is), and you will likely injure yourself, as your ankle has to deal with the arch, and a raised heel. Once you get injured, you will likely give up on the VFF's, and feel you just wasted $85 to $125. This was me on my first attempt. Luckily, I decided to give them a second chance.
  6. Consider getting minimalist shoes for more than just running. I found that I was having pain when switching to wearing various shoes for work, and my old sandals, etc... I found that if I removed the inserts from my work shoes, that mostly eliminated the pain. I think if I got minimalist shoes for work, it would work even better. But since I don't have them, this is just theory at this point.
  7. ICE is your friend! Most people who have run long distances know this one, but any time you have muscle soreness after a run, ice will help tremendously. Some people take ice baths, I would do this if I had an ice machine, but I just spray cold water on my legs in the shower, and it is almost as good.
  8. Recovery drinks work for soreness also. This is another one that most long distance runners know about. You can google it or ask your friendly local running store for their advice, but I use PowerBar Recovery Carb/Protein Sports Drink Mix. Best results are when consumed directly after exercise. Not 30 min later when you get home from the park. Right then.

This is my current state of knowledge, and it will change and be updated as I learn more about the Vibram Five Fingers.

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