08 November 2012


This isn't the first time that this has happened.  I scoff at some thing that's different from what I'm used to, and some number of years later, I've completely reversed my position on it.

When I was younger, and spent more time in malls, my friends and I would make fun of the kids spending time on the DDR machine with their wallet chains flapping all over the place.  Fast forward several years, and I myself was standing at one of those very same machines, pounding out more and more aggressive rhythms.  It turns out that DDR is actually excellent for cross-training: it builds coordination and timing, in addition to aerobic fitness.  I even went so far as to purchase a used PS2 and a RedOctane Ignition mat specifically for the purpose of practicing DDR at home.

Trekking poles are another great example.  While out on the trail I would inwardly jest at the fools (so I thought) walking past with their poles.  "What in the world are they doing with those poles?  Just walk!"  Fast forward several years, and I'm bringing mine on almost every hike.  They serve a number of purposes, but my primary use is to increase traction, especially on the descent, where my injured knee becomes a liability.  They can also assist with the ascent, helping you up the random small rock steps and ledges you're bound to encounter, and they also help engage the whole body in the hike, which helps to build fitness.  As Dave "BIGfoot" Felkley puts it, in one of his sidebar notes on Gene Prater's Snowshoeing treatise:  "There is no reason to be in two-wheel drive while in four-wheel drive country." Obviously, he's referring to the additional balance that poles give you on snow, but the statement stands true on terra firma as well.

Which brings me to the point of this post:


These.  When I started this journey into running, I made a decision to that I was going to go minimalist.  It falls in line with the work I've been doing over the past few years to shed as much weight from my body and my pack as is possible while still being safe.  Shedding weight from my feet is a natural extension of this reasoning.  When I started looking for trail running shoes, one of the sites I looked at was Merrell, since I was already familiar with and a huge fan of their hiking boots and shoes.  I found their minimalistic Trail Glove, which was available in my odd foot size and positively reviewed on many of the sites I frequent.  I picked up a pair, and so far I'm loving them for trail running.  I wore them around the campsite at Lake Colden, too, and they did incredibly well in that capacity as well.  On that occasion, I wore a significantly thicker sock than I do for running, but I never felt like my foot was being squashed.  The Vibram sole on the Trail Glove also gripped the rocks just as well as the Vibram sole on my boots and hiking shoes, despite having almost no tread depth.  I was impressed.

The Trail Glove, however, still looks like a shoe.

I had already made up my mind years ago that I would not try on those funny toe shoe things.  My friend Rob had been running barefoot and minimalist for a while, and I just couldn't fathom it.  Furthermore, the shoes just looked... weird.  I openly derided them, and the whole concept of running barefoot, especially on trails.

I was up near the summit of Colvin last year, attempting to assist a few other hikers who had gotten stuck on the very last problem before the summit, an 8-10' scramble up a sloped rock.  There are excellent holds once you look at it (at least for someone who is in the 6' range), but I completely sympathized with the stuck hikers.  It had taken me a few minutes to work it out, and I know that when I was younger, it would have confounded me.  I simply didn't have the mind for it.

I tried to help them out, by offering a boost, to no avail.  It looked like they were going to have to turn around 20' below the top because of this challenge.  Then a mother and daughter came by, and the mother was able to help the stuck hikers out, by showing them how to climb the rock instead of just offering them a boost and a spot.  It hadn't occurred to me to try that approach, for whatever reason.  She got the younger of the stuck hikers up, and then I assisted the other up by bracing her foot so that she could make it past the steepest section.  (A definite advantage to wearing full boots: I could create a virtual ledge.)

The other thing that impressed me about the mother/teacher was the fact that she had just climbed Colvin (and Blake) wearing Vibram FiveFingers.  I asked her about them, and she said that they were excellent, and she couldn't imagine hiking in anything else. I was a bit freaked out, wondering how one would deal with sharp rocks, pointy twigs and knobbly roots with so little protection, but I was also impressed. A few days ago I met another woman on Giant Mountain who basically said the same thing about her VFFs.

When faced with the reality that I wouldn't be able to effectively build a trail running habit right now (with winter coming on fast) due to the lack of nearby trails that are open in the dark, I realized that I would need to add street / track running to fill in that gap, and save the trail running for the weekends.  I had already proven that running in "traditional" (thick soled) running shoes on pavement wasn't going to work for me.  My knees ached way too much, and that was a surefire way to destroy the habit before it was established.  I also knew from the reviews on my Trail Gloves that running on the street would wear them down unreasonably fast.

So, I decided to try the Bikila LS.  Rob had discussed them on his site, with high marks, and they are designed specifically for running, so I figured it was worth a try.  I measured my foot and then ordered that size and the next size up from EMS, along with a pair of toe socks.  Worse comes to worst, I figured, I could just return them to the store.  I picked up the socks because I was unsure about my skin's reaction to the fabrics being used, and because I knew I'd most likely have to return at least one pair.  I thought it would be more respectful to the future owner if I used a sock.  I ended up having to return both pairs, and go up one more size to fit my foot volume, but I managed to get them on.

I've done just under 3 miles in them over the past week, and I'm amazed.  I have been following the advice on Vibram FiveFingers' site about walking for a few weeks before running in them.  Despite hiking at least once a month for the entire year, and walking regularly, I've found that my calf muscles ache after walking a mile in the VFFs.  Most of my other leg muscles ache as well.  If nothing else comes out of this experience, I can at least say that walking in FiveFingers is an excellent way to round out your leg strength.

Who knew?

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