Sunday, January 24, 2010

Feedback on the Vibram Five Finger


It seems that the VFF is the kind of shoe that evokes intense passions. The post from earlier this month had the most views of any posting I had done on this blog, and the most feedback -- mostly from passionate VFF owners defending the honor of their shoes!

It also got re-posted on the big one-stop VFF blog;

Interesting thing about that referral. The Birthdayshoes blogger only clipped the positive section of my post, not the more critical parts.

I probably sounded negative in my review earlier in the month. In my own defense -- I do like these shoes, and still wear them regularly.

But the passion these shoes invokes -- its making me think back to the discussions at UCSF Runsafe regarding barefoot running, Chi Running, forefoot vs. heel striking. The doctors at UCSF (wisely) advised caution to anyone pondering shifting running styles -- and the same applies when using the VFF. The blogs and books don't really capture & explain just how much of a drastic transition it is going from a pair of regular running shoes (or in my case motion control running shoes) to the VFF. Passionate defenders of the VFF may have legitimate reasons for loving the VFF -- but they don't do themselves any favors by ignoring or minimizing the difficulties of transitioning to the VFF.

A post-script to ponder. After one of my krav classes, another student came up to me and asked how I liked the shoes. While he wore regular running shoes for the krav class, he told me he ran in VFF's, and loved using them for running. He said he was doing as much as 10 miles on the streets of San Francisco in them. I asked him how long it took to transition to that point. His reply;

"Four to five months."

Food for thought. In the long run, the VFF may actually be better for running than a standard running shoe. But the transition to the point where it becomes a regular running shoe -- there is not enough discussion about how to get to that point, and how to manage the inevitable discomforts and hurdles.

There needs to be less discussion about the VFF being this kind of magic wand that cures all runners ailments, and more discussion of the VFF as a tool that facilitates a long (difficult) transition into barefoot running -- which running in the VFF essentially is.

In the meantime -- if I recommend the VFF to anyone right now, I'd recommend it to anyone who has to do conditioning exercises to strengthen their quads\glutes\lower back. Certain exercises, especially squats (with and without weights), are dependent on your heels being flat on the ground in order engage the muscles on the butt and back of the thighs. Running shoes, with those thick heels, prevents you from engaging those muscles.

Even in this case, I add a word of caution. If you are working with weights -- the VFF's have no real top cover on them. You drop barbell/dumbbell on your foot -- you'll pay the consequences.

Why I Will No Longer Complain About Brock Lesnar

Brock Lesnar's last UFC fight was my first exposure to him. Great fighter -- awful human being.

After seeing this interview, however, I felt his pain -- literally.

What he described sounded disturbingly like that mystery illness that hit me in November after the Half Marathon.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Memories of My Favorite Fat Cats....

The other night I was catching up on old episodes of Man vs. Food. Came across the episode where Adam Richman visited New Brunswick and Rutgers University, my alma mata.

Brought back a rush of memories and thoughts about my time there, my health & lifestyle while I was living there, and my own place in the history of American food.

It was nice to see that the Grease Trucks were still there on College Ave. I remember when they lined College Ave. When the order came for all of them to circle up in that parking lot nearby the main cluster of frat houses, there was a wail that reverberated throughout the main campus.

Little did anyone know (least of all the University administration) that they were creating something wonderful. Putting all the trucks into a circle ended up concentrating all the drunk and hungry college kids together in one spot. It inadvertently added to the warmth and stupidity of the late night drinking experience.

It was also disturbing to see how everything has been supersized. When I was there, there was only one Fat XXXXXX sandwich. It was the Fat Cat -- the double cheese burger, with bacon, fries, and other fixin's. At the time it was considered to be the most greasy & sinful thing you could eat after several beers -- except for a giro with no veggies, extra meat, and onions.

The fact that the Fat Cat spawned all these evil off-spring -- mind boggling.

Then there is Stuff Yer Face.

When I was there, the four and a half inch stromboli was the standard. The nine incher was considered excessive, only for the most hardy eaters. Eighteen inches -- unheard of. The fact that the nine incher is now the AVERAGE, the four and a half incher the KIDS SIZE, and the 18 incher the LARGE ---- nuff' said.

Another thing I loved about the episode -- Richman never goes into it -- take a close look at everyone he talks to there. One of the things I loved about Rutgers, and will always love, was just how ethnically diverse Rutgers was, how flexible ethnic & cultural identities could be there, if you chose to take advantage of the the situation. This tiny little college town taught me just how big the world was, and just how much else there was outside of where I grew up.

Decades later -- its probably even more diverse -- and an even better place to get that first foot in the door to a bigger more beautiful world.

Then there's the health issue.

In the time since I was there, Rutgers has gotten onto the map for several things;

- Football;
- Famous alums (Tony Soprano, Ally McBeal, Mario Batali, etc.)
- Junk food

While I was there, I put on 30 lbs from all that late night junk food at the grease trucks. I got so much sh#@ from my family for it, it was incredible. I eventually lost it.

But here is thing. All that weight I put on -- it put me in touch with a cultural & historic moment in both the history of American food and of Rutgers itself. I'm a product of all those Fat XXXXX sandwiches. Those high caloric nightmares that Adam Richman glorifies now -- I was part of that. In my early 20's, this was a source of shame. In my late 30's, its now a source of pride. Also -- the point that the Rutgers got onto the map of great places to eat in America was (in retrospect) a turning point in some many other ways.

Lets use the Fat XXXX as a kind of pivotal moment.


- Rutgers is the school in NJ nobody in NJ wants to go to because its too close to home.

- Bon Jovi is still a source of snide NJ bashing humor to people out of state.

- The only famous Rutgers alums are obscure academics (who gives a rats ass about Chaim Waxman and Milton Friedman).

- American food culture sucks ass.

Post-Fat XXXX

- Rutgers becomes a national football sensation.

- Bon Jovi becomes the stuff of legends;

- Rutgers alums invade popular culture;

- The Food channel & Travel channel begin trumpeting the glories of American regional cuisine.

Looking back on it -- the Freshman 20 (and the Sophomore/Junior/Senior year 10) might have been worth it in the end, since I got to be part of a moment in the cultural history of modern America.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Five Fingers After Six Months

Well, I've owned a pair of Vibram Five Finger shoes for six months now. It was a decision that was both controversial, and amusing, among my circle of friends. Reactions included the following;

- Wow, gorilla shoes.
- You wear them in PUBLIC?

I also had a friend who viewed the following article;

...and asked if my wife had ghost-written it.

To all these critics, I share the following;

This shot was taken at a design museum in Milan -- the home of Vibram Corporation, the maker of the shoes. It was touted as another great example of modern Italian industrial design.

If the industrial design gurus of Milan think its great -- its good enough for me!

Now onto more practical concerns...

First -- despite my original plan to run in these shoes, it didn't work out. My calves aren't strong enough to handle running on pavement and concrete. I've been a flat foot runner for too many years. Converting to forefoot running would require additional classes and training.

Second -- these guys aren't that durable.

From Storehouse

Those holes are from me walking in them on rough pavement in the city. The bottoms of these things are strong. But the tops are not. Also, if smell-o-vision existed on blogs, you'd notice a fetid aroma coming from these things. That would be the sweat of my feet seeping into the skin of the shoes -- and coming out slowly. Still haven't figured out how to wash these guys properly.

Third -- they are still useful for other applications. I wear these for Krav Maga classes and other conditioning classes that I do. For that, these are perfect. They are very light, and they teach you in a very painful way how to do a proper front kick to the bladder. If you've done it wrong, there is no padding to protect your toes from being broken or strained.

I also found out that the Crossfit guys at the same school use these shoes a lot. They swear by them. I concur with them. Doing squats with these shoes, you are more sensitive to wear your heels and toes are, and it makes it easier to put weight on the heels instead of the toes or the balls of your feet.

Naturally -- everyone at the school asks about them. Instructors see my shoes, and chuckle.

Final Verdict -- don't expect miracles from these shoes. They are useful. But they won't solve everything. There has to be other things done in conjunction with these shoes.