At the start of the year, I made the switch to the iconic, near-barefoot toe shoe. This has been a gradual process. Moving to a minimalist trail shoe about 2 years ago and ditching my orthotics about 18 months ago proved to be easy. I had come across Chi Running during that period and picked it up easily — one hidden benefit of the orthotics was that I was unable to heal strike. I had already changed my stride to a toe-midfoot strike.

Just after New Year’s Day, I was in REI’s Bargain Basement and found many pairs of Five Fingers that had been returned. Bought this solid pair of KSO for $20.
Vibram Five Fingers KSOREI Bargain Basement Beauties scored for $20!

These at first were great. Lots of stair training to start off the new year. I am psyched to be participating in the Big Climb up Columbia Tower, Seattle’s tallest building, on March 25. The downside of the KSO is running when it is wet. In Seattle, that means all winter guaranteed. After a second soggy 10K the KSO upper fabric had stretched and caused the sole to rub in a few painful places on each foot. Blister city. Thank you KSO, I will see you again in rainless July.

Back to REI, no more Bargain Basement beauties left, so I bucked up and went upstairs to try on a pair of Bikila LS. The improved fabric on the upper and between the toes has made a big difference. The running inspired bottom is awesome. I have put about 70 km on them so far and not a single blister. Interestingly, these are a size bigger than the KSO pair, and overall, more comfortable. I found it worth taking the time to try them on and did not even mind paying full price with the famous REI guarantee. Big fan of the Bikila LS. If you are looking at a pair for running check these out.

Vibram Five Fingers BikilaBikila LS after a 10 mile trail, beach, stairs run.

If you are thinking of making the switch, I would recommend the following:
1) Read Born to Run. Great book and will inform and inspire.

2) There is an adjustment with your body. My legs look a few weeks to get comfortable with no drop from a minimal 5-10 mm drop. It was never painful, just working muscles in new ways. Some people consider it a con. Chi Running, Pose Method or even 100 Ups all preach a basic truth: Do not run on your heels.

3) Vibram Five Fingers are machine washable. Great to know that I can go get wet and dirty. Both pairs clean up well.

I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall last summer. This great book has had a dramatic impact on my life. Growing up I was never much of a runner. We, my siblings, swam, year round. Running was not my thing. It was only just over 2 years ago I really got into it. At first I could not even finish 3 miles. On one of the earliest runs, my wife pushing the stroller with my son smoked me. My wife is an amazing athlete so it was not a surprise but it did hurt to not be able to keep pace. The odd thing was I felt great physically after the run. I kept doing it and within 4 months I finished a half-marathon. I have not stopped since.

A few things did change. I found that minimalist running shoes worked really well. I ran my New Balance MT100s into the ground just as I was reading Born to Run. I am running in the updated MT101’s now. They are great. The book convinced me that I did not need my orthotics. I ditched them and have not looked back. What is even better, the lingering knee pain in my left knee is gone and the callused skin on my feet is incredibly improved. Yesterday, I ran for 90 minutes on road, trail, beach and stairs totaling approximately just over 10 miles. My legs feel great today. Check out this TED talk and then read the book. Amazing stuff. Your body will thank you.