Thanks for Making Fun of My Vibrams: Not.

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Vibram FiveFingers

PSA: If you don’t care about the shoes I run in, you can stop reading now and that’s OK. This is a bit different kind of blog post, with no poems or theology. This is just a bit of my life.

Vibrams recently lost a lawsuit over their FiveFinger shoes because their advertising could not be backed up with scientific studies, and some people believe that validates their snarky, dismissive remarks about the people who wear them. I’ve seen some pretty mean-spirited things said and implied on Facebook in the last week about people who wear FiveFingers. I started three blog posts yesterday, and this is the first one I finished first. Go figure.

Please Understand:
1) The I don’t wear FiveFingers because I think you should. I think I should.
2) I don’t wear FiveFingers because I want to impress you. I want to improve myself.
3) I don’t wear FiveFingers because I like your stares. I wear them because I need to be active.

I started wearing FiveFingers to work out and to run in 2013. I came late to the FiveFinger party, like eight years after their introduction? I’d been growing more and more alarmed over the last few years about my weight gain and my overall health, and I decided to take steps, starting last year when I went back to the gym. I started slow and easy, using the elliptical machines and pushing some weights. I weighed in at 222 pounds and I felt bad. (I had weighed in at 238 a year before, but had cut sodas and a lot of eating.) I didn’t plan to get fitter because of anything anyone else thought or said. I just didn’t like the way I felt at 222 lbs. You may like yourself at any weight of your choosing. I’m only saying how my body made me feel: I still felt bad. I also still have a young son who just turned 13, and I need to be able to keep up with him for a few more years.

Like I said, I started on the elliptical machines, but I knew I wanted to run. I quit running back in 1990 when I was much younger. I’ve always had ridiculously flat feet. Running was never fun, and I could never get comfortable with inserts. I tried over the counter inserts and I tried inserts prescribed by a podiatrist. They just didn’t work for me. Maybe they work for your flat feet, in which case I’m very glad for you. Inserts always made my ankles roll. And regular shoes were never a great experience for me. Last year when I would work out I had to tie my shoes very tight to avoid rolling my ankles or my feet moving around in my shoes, but then my toes went to sleep and I had painful marks on the tops of my feet. Then I’d loosen my shoes and get blisters. It wasn’t a good time.

Shoes have also always cramped my toes, painfully smashing them all together in unnatural ways. Earlier in 2013 I had taken a train trip with my oldest son and had a few months of pain afterward with my toes because of that long ride in shoes. I have rarely found shoes with a wide enough toe box to allow me to comfortably wear them for long periods of time.

I’ve been a barefoot or mostly barefoot walker for years. Once it’s above 40 degrees you may have noticed I prefer sandals, flip flops or nothing. I had seen the barefoot running shoes and been intrigued, but I wasn’t sure they would work for my very flat feet. I began searching online and found that some flatfooted runners who wore Vibrams FiveFinger shoes loved them, but cautioned about starting slowly and getting used to them. I heeded their advice, tried a pair, broke them in slowly, and fell in love with some shoes for the first time in my life.

I never saw the ads that lost Vibrams their lawsuit, but I should admit that I agree with the FiveFinger claims whole-heartedly. Since I started running in my FiveFingers last year I have completed four local 5k runs. I’ve run in snow, rain, cold and now heat. I have never once turned an ankle. I have never once lost circulation and felt my toes go numb. I have not fallen once. My feet are healthier and stronger. I love these shoes. That doesn’t necessarily mean they are for everyone, but they are for me. The shoes are different looking for sure… in fact, I most often run in my black FiveFingers even though I prefer the feel of my more minimalist green pair, because the black pair seem less conspicuous. Flashy running shoes are hardly a FiveFinger problem, though.

I have had some friends say they cannot abide anything between their toes. The toe socks and FiveFingers shoes were a bit out of my ordinary, but I’ve grown to love them! I relish the feeling of added stability and “purchase” when my feet embrace the ground while I run. But if you can’t abide anything between your toes, I’m OK with that.

Here’s what my experience has been:
1) I think my over pronation has decreased and become less noticeable. I was always bothered by the way my ankles turned in on themselves when I stood in the shower and paid attention to them. My ankles seem stronger and straighter to me.
2) From November of last year through March of this year I was running but not really paying much more attention to my diet. My weight dropped from 222 to 215 by the end of March from just being more active, and I was pretty comfortable running three or four miles at a time.
3) My toes are the happiest they have ever been and I don’t have any of the “flat foot” pain I used to have after being active on my bare feet without shoe support to my arches. I can only assume that means my feet are stronger and healthier.

My family gave me a Fitbit for my birthday on March 31st, and beginning in April of this year it’s helped me to be far more mindful about my activity and food. Weight gain for me is a simple equation: I’ve always eaten a ton of calories each day and burned a lot less. Weight gain and weight loss might be way more complicated for you. I’m only saying how it works for me. Since the beginning of April and my greater mindfulness of food (about a month and a half), I’ve dropped my intake of calories and monitored my activity closely, and my weight has dropped to 208. I can actually imagine the day I will drop under 200 lbs, a dream I’ve had for several years. (I weighed 165 when I married Teresa.)

I guess you can make fun of me for my shoes if you want to… it’s a free country and all that. You can even now make fun of me for the Fitbit I wear on my wrist each day. You might decide that I’m a trendy faddist who gets suckered into every lame fitness myth. Some of you on Facebook have already made fun of my shoes being ugly and decided I’m stupid for buying them, but here’s the deal, I want you to know that I’m not immune to your sarcastic meanness. I wish I was, but I’m not.

I do what I do because of how I want to feel, not because of how I want you to feel about me. I wear what I wear so I can comfortably run and be active, not because I want to look stylish. But that doesn’t mean your ridicule hurts less or makes me feel less sad or less mad when I’m lumped in a group and generally lampooned and denigrated. It sucks when you intrude on my life to score some humor points at my expense. I won’t change anything about myself because of your ridicule, but it does steal some joy from the day.

Would other minilaist running shoes work for me? Maybe, but I’m concerned about the narrow toe boxes. I do own a pair of VivoBarefoot’s Tera Plana, and I wear them for daily walking. Still, the Tera Plana toe box is way too narrow for me to comfortably run in them. By the way, I got those Tera Plana shoes on a crazy store closing sale, like 80% off or something. I also learned that brand new FiveFingers come along much cheaper on eBay than in a local stores. Once you get fitted and know your size, eBay is your friend!

Here’s my humble request: Next time you want to judge someone or generally lampoon something based on what you think you know and understand, take some time to consider that you may not know everything there is to know. You may not ever wear a pair of FiveFingers because you can’t stand the way they look, and that’s OK. Your opinion that they are ugly doesn’t mean that everyone who does wear them are doing so because they think they are good looking! It just might be that FiveFingers are the shoes that helped them get active and feel better. And I do get it… I would have to admit that I’m pretty good at making fun of others. I spent a lot of years of my life picking up humor points at other people’s expense. But guess what? I grew up. Learning to be civil and to consider the other person is not always an easy transition, and old habits die hard. I know. I’ve been there, and I’m still struggling to do that.

The moral of the really long-winded blog post? Next time you just absolutely hate someone’s shoes, you can still try to spread some joy and make the world a better place. Free the love. Cage the hate.

AMDG, Todd

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