13 March 2010; A report by Doc Runaway
Doc Runaway Bares Her Soles!
My story starts at the Adventure Megastore in Kent St, Sydney. I had just, with some trepidation, bought my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers, a pair of ‘sprints’ in Lilac and was about to embark on my own barefoot career! Five Fingers were the idea of industrial designer Robert Fliri, and made commercially by Vibram, being named one of Time Magazine’s best investions for 2007. The company promotes them as a new way to stimulate and exercise the delicate balance of bones and muscles of the foot, improving mainly proprioception, but also balance and agility.
I began conservatively with the, possibly ambitious, goal of completing an adventure race in them. To start with I began with wearing them around my house each afternoon after getting home from work, noting a bit of tenderness at the webs in my toes, but otherwise finding them quite comfortable. I progressed the following weekend to wearing them all day and taking them for a small jog around a nearby cricket oval.
Slowly, over the following week I increased my jogs from ten to fifteen minutes. The limit was sore calves and toes for me. I discovered I have to keep my toenails trimmed as short as possible to reduce becoming sore around them. Slowly I was able to increase the time to 25, then 30 minutes over another week and found myself upgrading surfaces to being able to jog home over concrete paths and bitumen roads.
As my time limit increased beyond 30 minutes, I found my limits became... well... limitless. This seemed to be the point where you’ve become tolerant and can take on most surfaces over most distances. Thus I found myself lining up for the Nelson Bay AROC in my Vibrams last weekend. I was nervous to begin with, and the glances I got from a number of competitors as they perused the thin 5mm rubber soles with individual toe pockets, made me wonder whether or not I was crazy.
The race started over sand dunes, and the shoes were fabulous. Light and agile, they proved a perfect fit for the soft, sandy surface. I became less certain of my choice as we progressed from the sandy dunes to the rocky surfaces as we wound our way to One Mile Beach. Unless I was careful, some sharp rocks could cause a lot of pain, and of course being more careful means being slower. However, as we dashed up along the beach surfaces and through harder packed sand, I was getting the hang of it and felt a lot more comfortable heading into the bike leg.
There were no issues with the choice of footwear on the bikes. The shoes were nice and grippy, and I could really feel the pedals through the thin sole. It was nice not having to carry a pair of bike shoes, which I thought I might when I first considered the idea of wearing them into an AROC event. It should be noted, I had tried the Five Fingers on my bike before the race, as it’s never a good idea to try out new gear on the day!
After navigating our way through the Tomaree National Park, we set our bikes down at the Southern end of Fingal Bay and proceeded to run around the bay to the Island on the eastern side, picking up and dragging a kayak on our way, that would take us home when we had finished the coasteering leg.
As we scrambled over rocks along the northern side of the Island, I had finally fully adjusted to the Five Fingers and this is where they really shone. I was able to rock climb and scramble my way around using the full range of movement of my feet, whilst they were semi-protected by the 5mm thick rubber sole, that gave them the added benefit of a small amount of grip. As I scrambled up the last precipice, I gave my fellow-Vibram wearing teammate Marti a knowing grin - we were onto something here...
We dashed along the sand track back to the kayaks and motored across the bay, towards the home flags. As we ditched our kayak and jumped onto the bikes, we glared at the Red Bull kids for being so blonde and perky and headed for the finish line.
As we crossed and dashed for shelter we cheered as we heard our Trihard Mates, with whom we share a friendly team rivalry were not back yet. But this was short lived when we heard their bus had broken down on the way to the start, so they’d started later and when the calculation was finalised as they arrived, they had beaten us by 20 seconds!
Summing up, if I did the race again I would reach straight for my sprints every time. The main benefit was their versatility, in that you had a great coasteering/biking/sand/dirt/road running shoe in one, the comfort, not getting wet socks, and the lighter feeling of the shoe. The downside was going slower over some sharp rocks at the start and being stopped every 30 seconds by fellow competitors asking questions about the shoes!
So what does the future hold for me and my lilac (not pink) sprints? Well, they’re a permanent fixture now, however I will be careful to consider the surfaces before I go into each race. Our next big goal is to wear them in the Wild Endurance in May. I’ll be heading up to the track in the Blue Mountains with the Add Venture Training Crew in late March to try it out for real. Watch this space to see how I go...