Vibram Five Fingers …For Recovery?

Update: After writing this post, I did in fact do the 2011 Thanksgiving Atlanta Half Marathon and it went surprisingly well. At the last minute, after some nudging, I switched out the Vibrams for the Hoka Bondi shoe. I wrapped the ankle with a small amount of sticky tape, laced ‘em up tight, and started out trying the 5/1, run/walk thing.

That run/walk stuff is no good for me, but I did find an easy sub-9 pace that was just right and prevented any ankle aggravation. I set the body at that cruising speed and just clipped off the miles one by one, pain-free.

1:52 (8:43/mile) – 22 minutes slower than my Half Marathon PR, but obviously I’ll take it!

Trail running ankle injury, day 1
photo: a couple of hours after my spill. Worry sets in.

Injury Sucks

For those who have somehow ducked my whining and balloon-ankle photos on Facebook, I am currently in the middle of my first real injury of my running “career”; and while I’m sure there is no optimal timing for any kind of injury, mine happened right towards the latter end of a strong, productive period of fast marathon training where I was showing solid improvement each and every week.

Having brought my half-marathon time down to 1:30, and with 5-weeks yet to peak for that sub-3 marathon at Rocket City, December 10, I did the most stupid thing a marathon trainee could do – raced a short, 15K trail race.

Cruising downhill, and having a couple of close calls and all-out falls already, I was wondering to myself if racing this thing was really a good idea or not… then, C-R-A-C-K, OOMPH!  I stepped in a hidden, leaf-covered hole, heard a snap, and dropped to the ground crawling around and screaming at the top of my lungs like a wounded seal.

All those heart-exploding speed training episodes, the half-marathon PRs, those sadistically painful, yet pleasurable, workouts where I swore Jennifer Vogel, my coach, was trying to kill me…

Just like that. Game over.

Oh, But it Gets Better

RICE, they say…

Well, this is what happens when an idiot like me, with great intentions, tries to follow directions…

I frost bit my own $%* ! foot. Say hello to my blistered ice burn:

The ankle injury continues to swell, now day 3
photo: cool. freeze-burning my skin as an added bonus. Swelling, at its worst.

I blame the seven Vicodin the day after; and yes, they were prescribed.

Well, not seven, but, well, you know how it goes…

I felt no pain.

I should never do drugs. Any drugs. I do not know moderation.

A Student of Discovery

It’s sort of a paradox, really. I’m well known for being unconventional, hard-headed, arrogant and a little crazy in my thinking. People much smarter than me advise me. I don’t listen. Doctors, other runners, friends, family, they all experience this with me. Some continue, some give up.

(thanks to those who don’t give up, by the way)

I’ll bet I’ve seen more head-shaking and gotten more “told ya so” comments and emails than anyone else on earth.

Thing is, I’m a student of discovery. The proverbial “gotta touch the stove to see if it’s hot” kinda dude. I really don’t believe anything until I experience it, and usually, the way my brain works, believe the opposite until I prove otherwise.

It’s a disease.

Enter Vibram Five Fingers

I had pretty much written off Vibrams. For one, it’s not really barefoot training. Barefoot training is “without shoes”, and I live in the city, so when I want to train barefoot for all its benefits, I train barefoot on a treadmill to avoid debris, rocks and glass.

Second, ironically, new Vibram models are starting to look more like shoes. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I find that my Mizuno Wave Universe, or my all-time favorite, the Saucony A4 racing flats work best.

But, once I could walk again, though still hobbling, limping around with my lower lip all poked out and sad, I came to realization that I was most comfortable, with less pain, when I was barefoot.

Desperate to run, and yes out of better judgement from docs and friends, I tried running about five (5) days into recovery – and everything hurt. Even big-ass, balloon Hokas hurt like crap, and out of all of my shoes, and I have a lot, they were the absolute worst with this injury.

But, off in the corner, still stained with a little dog poop stuck to ‘em from when one of the new puppies found the same corner, were the old Vibram Classics. Quite a bit dusty, with a couple of small rips in the toes, and a little curled-up from lack of use, but still wearable – and just as damn hard to put on.

I chuckled at how goofy they looked, ‘cuz, I’m sorry, but Vibram Classics really are ridiculous looking shoes, and I stepped on the treadmill to give it a go.

Day 11 of Recovery

And, I haven’t worn anything else on my feet since.

Wearing Vibrams to help with my ankle sprain
photo: Day 11, Hoping they carry me 13.1 tomorrow in the Atlanta Thanksgiving Half-Marathon.

An Idiot’s Guide to Why This is Working

I promise, I don’t know anything. I’m really, really stupid when it comes to doing the “right” things for training and recovery, so take all this with a grain of salt; but as this student of discovery thing I talked about, I think I have some good ideas why this is working so well for me:

  1. I have a neutral gait. Therefore, I do not need any stability or corrective orthodics.
  2. Because of this neutral gait, when barefoot, my foot is in its most natural state.
  3. In Vibram Classics, my feet stay flat and as close to ground as possible.
  4. Because of this more natural state, and low center of gravity, my foot is never being pulled, pushed, nor sliding around in any one direction that causes pain or aggravates the ligaments further.
  5. The Classics have a super wide collar. This prevents any squeezing of the foot or tender ankle.
  6. This lack of collar-squeezing, combined with increased foot freedom discourages additional swelling

Here’s the thing: I think shoes, and especially the huge sole-lift of the Hokas, were hurting me because they squeezed my foot and created instability. Even folks without injury have complained that the Hokas created instability for them, so it only makes sense that the same would be the case WITH injury.

When your ankle is that sensitive, even the slightest movement in the direction of, or away from, the injury center is enough to cause agonizing pain and aggravate the ankle sprain even worse.

What do you think? Am I crazy?

Ready for Even More Stupidity?

Tomorrow will be day 12 of recovery, and I’ve decided I’m still running the Atlanta Half Marathon.

…in Vibram Classics, of course.

I’ve never run more than six miles in them, so this should be interesting.

I know, I know, but would you consider thinking I’m less stupid if I said I’m running side by side with my wife? She doesn’t “race”, but instead runs 5:00 and walks 1:00, over and over again, until she finishes. I think it’s called the Galloway Method, but she could care less if it was called the jack sh!t method. I get the biggest kick out of Babette’s approach to running. No real training, no stress, no outrageous goals, no ego – just all fun and smiles and games.

She’s also never had a DNF.

I suspect if I can complete the full 13.1 in Vibrams, at her pace, I’m looking at 2:30 minimum on that hilly intown course.


But who cares? At least I’m running, and while I love to run fast, It’ll be cool to chill alongside Babette for this Thanksgiving event.

Next Steps

I know a lot of people think I’m nuts, but I’m used to it. If I’m wrong in my approach, then I have to live with it, no one else; but aren’t we are always told to go with our gut and do what feels right?

This feels right.

I believe that I can heal myself actively and nutritionally. Like an animal.

The moping game is over. The sadness is over. The “woe is me” is OVER.

I have to try it my way because I believe its the right way for me.

Maybe not everyone - Hell, maybe not anyone

But it feels like its right for me.

Eye on the sub-3 at Mercedes

So nope, I won’t get to chase that 2:55 marathon goal at Rocket City, and while that really bums me the #$%! out, I’ll just set my sights a little further out in the year and come back with a furious focus.

I can do that. I will do that. And if you’re a betting kinda person, put your money on me.

But I’m still running Rocket City, and even though he’s been training like Rocky IV in Russia, I’m still gonna beat the crap outta’ Weezy.

Whatcha got, kid? Come get me. The prey is wounded, sucka.



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You have confirmed youyr question with this post. You are absolutely crazy, if not a little unbalanced. Not taking the propper amount of time to heal and to even consider a 1/2 on pavement in VFF’s is a very self destructive approach to something you seem to love so much. Hope you can look back and laugh about this later, and not look back and say “darn, why did I do that to end my running for life!” I did lots of trail running in my VFF’s and then hit the pavement for an easy 6 miler, ended up with a cracked metatracel, not good and ruined a year of running. Hope you fare better. I have never heard of anyone icing to the point of frost bite, you take the cake on so many levels! Good luck and start taking a little better care of the machine!

Sounds like a plan Christian, go for it. Hey you can always bail. Then again I’ve been known for not always using the wisest judgment. I wish you the best :-)

I echo Rob’s sentiments. I just switched to a minimalist shoe – the INOV-8 150s, which are completely flat and only have a 7mm sole. I started out doing 2-3 miles in them. Then I did 6.5 miles on Monday and 5 miles Tuesday and my calves have been so sore I can’t stretch them and it’s hard to walk down stairs. I’m running the race tmo, too, but I’m doing it in my older shoes that have a bit more support. I don’t want to be completely hobbled.

I worry that you’re going to really hurt yourself. Especially because you don’t really feel your calves fatiguing during the run. So, please, take it REAL easy. Maybe even walk a lot more than you plan…

Best of luck. I know you’ll come back. Just don’t make that come back any later than it has to be.

Oh F. I was laughing. You do it right.
I have to give a Knit-Bone recipe:
2 ounces crushed/chopped comfrey root.
find the biggest pot you can.
fill with water, bring to rolling boil and add Comfrey root.
Cook at rolling boil for 20 minutes. (NOTE this is for external use only, and is poison if pets drink it)
Let cool or add cool water to prevent scalding
Soak injured part for one hour with out moving.
Repeat three times over the course of a weekend
and this may greatly reduce recovery time to normal.

“I frost bit my own $%* ! foot.”

Christian, don’t do that to me. I nearly died laughing.

7 vicodin in one day???

I never took more than three with the worst of my three kidney stone episodes. You’re an ultrarunner. You should be able to endure a little discomfort. And you dream of doing Barkley??

“What do you think? Am I crazy?”

You don’t really need an answer because that isn’t really a question.

“I know a lot of people think I’m nuts”

Only those who know you

“The whoa is me is OVER”

Whoa! That’s woe. Are you testing me?

Having spent almost a year recovering from a sprained ankle (technically 2 as I resprained it after I had finally gotten it back to pain free) I would say be careful. I do think the VFF idea is a good one, oh not the 1/2 marathon but using them to aid recovery so I would keep that up. My second sprain I think was caused as much by my ankle being weaker and wearing normal running shoes in the snow and the VFF’s would have helped in the strengthening and my awareness of the ground.

You should think a lot about how to get your ankle back to normal, one thing I was recommended to do (and it helped a lot) was walking on a plank (4 x 4), it really helped me get my proprioception working again and it made the ankle stronger. I had ART on it as well and I think that helped get rid of the scar tissue on my ligament tear.

Best of luck, try to be smart and maybe skip the 1/2 but keep working the VFF’s and do other rehab exercises.

@steph: I just might do that. I won’t push through anything really painful, that’s for sure. Just see what happens

See you at water stop number 1 (mile 4-ish)! If your foot (or calves or toes start) bothering you, you can always stop and chill then Waffle House with us.

For recovery and walking around, those Vibrams really are great.

Here comes the ahole….IF something goes wrong during the half ad you cause damage that will take months or year TI recover why then? Do you proceed to run on it some more? Do you tell yourself “I can do this, just ignore the pain!”?
As much as I would love to {beat} you in a race, I want to know that it was cause I ran a better race! Not because your an idiot! :-D

Just telling you like it is! Either way be safe and have a good run.

As I was reading, I started thinking: “He’s crazy.” As I continued reading, I got introspective and figure I’d probably do the same. Best of luck. Looking forward to reading about how it went.

Christian, I think you are just like most of us who push and push and push, trying to work though whatever curveballs are thrown at us. The fact that you have found something that encourages you is awesome. I hope the recovery continues and good luck with the race. Just getting through it without making things worse would certainly be a victory in my book.

It’s a roll of the dice and I get it… The thing is, IF your overall form is more compromised than you think and you suddenly do 13.1 in Vibrams, well you could be looking at PF on Monday. And IF there is more damage to your ankle than you know…etc..

But you know all this, so the only thing I will say is “don’t get so caught up in finishing that you ignore your body if it starts talking to you.” Any fool can run himself into the ground, it takes a real competitor to STOP in the heat of battle in order to win the bigger war.

Great luck to you and the Mrs! That Galloway stuff will kinda blow your mind.

Tape that ankle and go for it. It probably only hurts if you wobble so set it up so it won’t be able to wobble much. After all, you are going to running on roads and how hard can that be?! I really would tape though. Might want to add an anchor or 2 to keep you throttled back as well!

Good luck from someone who trashed an ankle like that on the way west to ride the Tevis Cup 100 mile endurance ride over the same trails as WS100. No way was I going to miss out! I even did a little trail hobble the weekend before because, by golly, I had entered and I was there so I was doing it. I wanted to see CA trails on foot, even if one was bad. So I can understand where you are coming from.

I enjoy reading your tales of running. Maybe one day I’ll get back to doing some serious running (well, if back of the pack is serious) and run into you somewhere.

Christian. You sure don’t know when to ease up do you? ;)

For starters I think you’re going to really regret doing a half marathon in VFF Classics for a variety of reasons. To just name couple:

1. Like you said, you’ve never done more than 6 miles in them. Dumb! If you’re lucky all you’ll get is some very sore Calf and Achilles muscles. If you aren’t you could risk a metatarsal stress fracture or and this leads me to..

2. You have an ankle injury! Why do you insist on aggravating it more (VFFs aside)? Do you really want to risk more injuries or possible long term injuries for a short term “running fix”?

Seriously, don’t do it! This is possibly the worst thing for you right now for a variety of reasons: nursing an ankle injury and pushing over TWICE the distance in VFFs that you haven’t worn in a long time.

As for Mercedes marathon, good luck at a sub-3 hour there, that course is very hilly and not a fast course. A sub-3 hour there is more like a sub 2:52-:55 on a flatter course. Seriously, it’s tough! But hey, go for it! I still got a sub-3 there last year but I really had to work harder than I ever have for it and I thought I was in shape!

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