So–I’ve been playing with looking for shoes that give the best barefoot feel for working out. Now–I’m aware of the Vibram Five Fingers, and I think they’re darn cool. I found out about them a few years ago, before anybody had really heard about them. Then recently, one of the Longsword fencers (Trey) showed up with them on. He is also a Parkour-er, or free runner, I’m not sure which. Even more recently, I visited my brother and he had gotten a pair (of Five Fingers 🙂 ).
Now–when permitted, I almost always PT shoeless. That started ohhhh, well let’s just say–when I was a kid. My parents got me Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan book series (there are 24 in the series. Betcha didn’t know *that* 🙂 ). I remember running over Christmas break in the snow, for high school wrestling (in combat boots, mind you). Later, in the Navy, I would put a few k down through the cane fields in Okinawa, finish a final sprint, then hit the gym for some weights. But I had a terrible time running unless I took the insoles out of my old, well-used, thin-soled New Balances. It hurt my feet and I got terrible blisters if I didn’t.
Later, I would run sometimes in my Dexter boat shoes. I had those for years, ’til I had to throw them away for getting moldy in my motorcycle’s side bags. Those Dexters, though, were awesome. I took them to ride subs on, and because they were multi-purpose. I could get away with walking around town in casual gear without getting a second glance. But I would also PT the heck outta them.
Even more recently, I got a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor All Stars to fence in. My Vans skateboarding shoes were pretty good for that, but fencing is REALLY hard on shoes. Or maybe that’s just me. I’m not an Olympian, or serious tournamenter, so I didn’t bother buying actual “fencing shoes.” The Converse seem to do pretty well, and I’ve run in them. I like the thin soles. However, I found that I have a hard time just walking around in them because they squeak really bad. Maybe I need to wear them more, but it’s hard to do because the way they’re constructed and the way my foot is shaped creates that really annoying squeak after a few minutes and the sock gets a tad wet with perspiration or ambient moisture. I do like the classic looks, and I might try to futz with them until I get them not to squeak.
Anyway–I’ve run barefoot on-and-off ever since finding the site Running Barefoot a few years ago, and being re-inspired to it by the Born To Run book, I thought I’d head out Saturday for a thin-soled run. I was doing a bunch of web search on the Vibram Five Fingers. I’m interested in them, and as I said, I’ve thought they were really cool. But I’ve been thinking of a way to have something like the Five Fingers, but in a little more conventional package that I can walk around in, maybe got to work in, without dealing the whole gawker phenomenon. Because they are unusual, and they do draw comment.
The other thing or two is that they’re somewhat a pain in the butt to get to. The only way I could get them is to take a day trip up to, say, DC or something, and then, maybe there would be a pair that I would like in the color that I would like. And the fitting must needs be pretty precise, or you’re probably going to be miserable quickly, and for a while. Not to mention, they aren’t free.
So, I was thinking that I really wished that someone made a shoe like the Five Fingers, but without the toes. You know, with one solid front end, so I could wear socks with them if I wanted. Naturally, I thought of my All-Stars, and was thinking about going out to the truck to get them from my fencing bag, to get ready for my run. But still wishing there was something as light and flexy as those Fingers.
Then I had my aha. Finally it dawned on me that I have these el cheapo water socks, or aqua socks, or whatever you all them that I *never* use, because they failed me in their stated mission: light shoes to protect your feet from objects while you’re in water in the wild. My brother Dahood and I got them somewhere, I don’t remember where or exactly what outing they were for, but both of us had heard about these type of shoes, and wanted to try them out. For me, I’d always been a Teva guy, ever since Dahood had brought some back from Jackson Hole, but the problem for me was that Tevas would slip around laterally on your feet even with the straps tight, so that if you put pressure in a sideways direction you could be slipping off of the sole of the sandal which was uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.
Also, there was the problem with sand and objects getting in between your feet and the plastic sole. Verrrrrrrrry freekin’ uncomfortable to me, anyway. It seems so easy for stuff to get in there, and then never come out. Very frustrating.
So we heard about these “water dogs” or something like that and decided to get some. Got some pretty cheap ones somewhere–again I don’t remember the where or when right now. Anyway, they turned out to suck–literally. They seemed to suck in the sand, and then would weight down, and then got pretty easy to suck off of your feet. Well, that was my experience anyway.
Back to the present. They had been lying idle for a while now, but I suddenly realized that I had been wanting something like that in an athletic shoe–something with just enough protection so that I wouldn’t be ripping the skin off of my feet. All those years ago I had been fine running around literally all summer barefoot with nothing on but a pair of running shorts, a belt and a belt knife (yeah, I was a weird kid), but the thing that stumped me was when they finally paved our road, the asphalt would burn my feet if I ran on it a bit. I don’t mean so much by heat, but something about the surface made the soles of my feet feel like they were burning at the end of the day. I could handle the dirt/gravel from before, but the new road surface bothered me. I don’t know if it was the consistency, or the chemicals in the material that made it burn so much. My dad and brothers seem to have always had sensitive skin issues. My dad and middle brother’s skin always reacted strongly to touch; they’re skin would swell with just easy impacts, scratches, etc.
I didn’t have that condition so much as extreme discomfort with certain materials against my skin. Wool–ick. Makes itch like crazy. Plastic against my skin almost immediately gives me a slick of sweat. I’ve stopped worrying about Gore-Tex-type materials unless I have a bunch of layers on because they don’t breathe very well for me. I was wearing a Gore-Tex jacket during the summer a few years ago and I was wetter on the inside than I would’ve been from the rain. Same with poly-pro socks and underwear. I’m better off wearing cotton and getting wet, because at least that’ll dry out shortly.
Anyway, I grabbed my water socks, and was excited about my new idea and decided to do some more web research on it. Turns out a few people have hit upon this idea as well. The benefits seem to be pretty good. Not the least of which is that typically, these things are cheap. I’m gaining an appreciation for the the idea of cheap consumables, even though I really admire good craftsmanship normally, and really hate the idea of a throwaway culture. But I’ve noticed that a lot of my good stuff is technically only good for about the same amount of time as the cheap stuff. So that’s something to think about.
Add to that the correlation that Christopher McDougall made in Born to Run that the cheapest shoes (or the oldest shoes) cause the least injury. Now, I’ve been able to keep my shoes a long, looong time. I’ve never replaced them at the recommended times. They seem to last on me–except for fencing. When I fence, it really tears them up. Anything else, though, and I’ve can use them forever. Those Dexters I mentioned before were still usable up to a year or less ago. I got them in… 1993 or so?
Well, long story longer, I found a nifty page from one of the water shoe proponents here. I took the insole out of the shoe, threw on my Smartwool running socks, then the water shoes (“Laguna” is the name on the insole). And went for a run/walk. Not a huge run. But I did a road out here, then around the neighborhood. Because of the constant traffic, and having no paved shoulder or bike lane, I spent a lot of the time in the dirt on the side that has large, sharp gravel in it.
Have to say, they did fine, and so did my feet. Really nice run. I ended up getting a fairly sore achilles tendon on the right leg, but I awoke this morning and it was fine. My left big toe ball joint hurt after I went out that evening and was wearing my Keen sandals. They have a think sole that not flexible and kinda clunky. I love the looks, but they aren’t the most comfortable thing I’ve ever worn, and it does seem like sometimes my feet hurt after wearing them. Today, the ball joint seems to feel okay.
With the Smartwool socks on, it was very comfortable–temperature-wise, and no blisters. I did it very unprogrammed, varying between fast and slow running, and some walking, finally kept to a walk when my achilles tendon started stiffening up. No need to push it, as this was an experimental run with a new type of running gear, and I know that I need to adapt to it. I know there’s good technique in barefoot/thin-sole running, and I’m going to play with that and make sure I’ve got it down.
The shoes are as flat as can be (no heel at all), but had a nice aggressive tread. They are glowing neon green with some blue piping and a white sole. Basically, they look like a Nike Free or some other high-priced “barefoot” running shoe. Read the article for all the benefits versus downsides.
Today’s PT, though, was all about being stationary. I did a typical three rounds of five minutes of kettlebells, with one minute breaks in-between rounds.
– Snatches, changing hands when needed (16 kg)
– LCCJ, changing hands when needed (24 kg)
– Jerks, changing hands when needed (32 kg)
Systema Active Stretching
You’ll notice that the complexity went down as the weight and elapsed time went up. Just an FYI. I like to play with that variable as well as the time and resistance.
And there’s more to say on the water shoe front. I’m looking around for thin-soled shoes that usable in every day type of garb. We’ll see how that turns out.
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