Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Footwear, Sports, Travel
Last week I read a report over at BirthdayShoes.com about a guy who completed the Jungle Marathon in the Amazon in Vibram FiveFingers. I was fascinated by what I read and contacted the race director who made the connection. Stuart Crispin sent me the article he submitted to Vibram.
“I recently completed the 2012 Jungle Marathon in Brazil, and in doing became the first person ever to take part in and finish this grueling event wearing a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs). With the help of a pair of VFF Spyridons men’s 43 I even managed to finish the worlds toughest endurance race, as listed by CNN, in 5th place overall. I did not wear toe socks at any time during the race. [Stuart's overall time was 47 hours, 43 minutes.]
The race is a six-stage, seven-day self-supported foot race. Runners have to carry all of their food, clothing, hammock, sleeping bag/liner, medical kit and other mandatory kit, as well as 2.5 litres of water (picked up at every checkpoint). My rucksack at the start of day one weighed about 12.5kg. The longest stage on day five is a non-stop 108.5 km ultramarathon. The total seven-day distance covered was over 255km across swamps, dense jungle, mangroves, sandy beach, creeks, rivers and dirt roads. (Details at junglemarathon.com).
Before flying out to take part, I wrote to the race director who advised me not to wear VFFs suggesting they might not offer enough support for such a long distance race. I also emailed a previous competitor, who is also a physiotherapist for her advice on wearing VFF. Her response was ‘… FiveFingers will be a disaster… they will not offer your feet the support they need… they are not designed for such long distance running… and they won’t have enough grip to help you stay upright on the seriously wet and muddy terrain, particularly on the severe ascents and descents.’
Despite this advice I opted to go with my Spyridons. Thanks to the clever Kevlar lining in the sole I had every confidence they would give my feet enough support to avoid injury to the sole of my foot while running through the dense jungle, where the floor was covered in sharp spiky objects as well as spiky stinging insects like scorpions. I felt no impact at all underfoot and the Spyridons’ grip was more than adequate to cope with the muddy terrain. A week before going to Brazil for the race I wore my Spyridons to hike up Snowdon, the UK’s third highest mountain. They were great for that too, although while walking across large, wet slightly tilted rocks and boulders I could feel my feet slip slightly, but I think that may have happened in walking boots also. The hike up to the summit left me in no doubt that my Spyridons were the right choice for the Jungle Marathon.
The tough material used for the upper is still in exactly the same condition it was before the 255km race. There are no tears or cuts at all to the upper of both shoes, and the soles too are also damage free. The only minor sign of wear and tear is a very small section of the material on the outside of one of the big toe pockets, where it has very slightly come away from the sole. But in order to see it you have to look closely and after such a long way in some seriously aggressive and tough terrain, including deep bogs and swamps I think that is extremely impressive and shows how robust the Spyridons are.
I did have a concern about using the Velcro strap version as I wondered how it would hold up in the swamps and bogs. Some of the bogs were up to 1km long and over knee deep with mud. My concern was whether the strap would stay secure and tight when pulling my leg up out of the mud, as I did not fancy losing a shoe. However, the VFFs are designed to fit snugly to the foot so although on a couple of occasions the strap came undone the shoe remained firmly in place on my feet. But this did not happen during every swamp or bog, and there were many.
Every single day of the race I had several other competitors asking me about my choice of footwear, often questioning whether I would be able to finish the race. My reply was the same every day, that they were extremely comfortable and I felt no pain or any objects under foot at all. They looked amazed but also looked very impressed. Many of them said they were going to try using VFFs after the event. Perhaps even more impressive than the toughness of the shoe, is the comfortableness of the Spyridons for running and hiking. After running 255km I did not have a single blister on either of my feet, and that is dispite starting and finishing every day with wet soggy feet. The only sores I had on my feet were between a couple of my toes caused by sand getting between them during the 108.5km long stage. I had already run several miles on sand during the previous four stages without any problems with the sand at all. During the long stage I think it only happened due to having had wet feet since 4.30am at the very start of the stage when we started with a river crossing, and by the time I ran on sand I had been running with wet feet in 35 degree heat in almost 100% humidity for over 12 hours. Perhaps if I had put on a pair of toe socks I may have been able to prevent the sores at all but as they were only minor I opted to just carry on to the finish.
The race director, who advised against wearing VFF, saw me on day four at the first checkpoint and said she couldn’t believe I was still going wearing them, and going so well. She said every day she expected me to pull out with trashed feet and after the race told me how seriously impressed she was with me for finishing in 5th place and wearing VFFs for the entire race.
I had reservations myself about wearing VFFs and I don’t think my Bikilas, KSO’s or Classics FiveFingers would have been up to the task. But thanks to the Spyridons trail running qualities I was able to wear them. In my opinion the Spyridons are the most comfortable running shoe I have ever worn. I have run over 20 marathons on both road and off road, and several ultramarathons including multi-day events in the Sahara, the Atacama in Chile, the Himalayas and Scottish highlands, as well as 100km and 100 mile non-stop races. I have worn several different brands of running shoes, some of which have left me with horrendous blisters. Some have been ok when it comes to blisters, but even if I finished blister free I always felt ‘hot spots’ which is the start of a blister. I have never worn a running shoe that has left me with zero blisters and zero hotspots.
I would have no hesitation at all in recommending VFF to other runners and for trail/off road running at the moment in my mind there is no better option than the Spyridons.
I will definitely be using Spyridons for my future off road running and will continue to recommend them to other runners who always approach me at races and while I’m out training, asking about them and how they feel.
I would be happy for you to use this review if you wish, as I would like other people to know about my experience of using VFFs. I searched the web before the race looking for other reviews or advice on using VFFs in such extreme environments but the information out there was limited. No one has ever worn Fivefingers in such an event and I would be happy to share my experiences with others. I am also a qualified personal trainer, as well as a London based firefighter, and will recommend the sensible and safe use of VFFs to some of my clients where suitable.
I asked Stuart a few questions and here is what he wrote back, “The Jungle Marathon was my first multi-day race wearing Vibrams. Before that I ran the London Marathon in VFF Bakilas but since I hadn’t run further than 12 miles in them before the marathon the jump in distance was rather silly and I did get some minor pain in my left foot. But I didn’t get a single blister or hot spot and like in the jungle I ran with no socks. My longest run before the Jungle was 14 miles off road and I ran with wet feet and again had no blisters. I have run several multi-stage ultras and marathons and only the VFFs left me with no blisters. I know they probably won’t work for everyone but I won’t run in trainers ever again. Before wearing VFFs I used Injinji toe socks and they definitely helped reduce the amount and severity of blisters I got from running than when I wore normal socks (including two socks).”
Thank you Stuart for this great report and congratulations on your finish.
If you are interested in learning more about the Jungle Marathons, the links are below. Shirley Thompson, the race director, puts on challenging races, well run with a great safety record, and a professional staff. It is my hope to be at both these events next year.
In October 2010 I wrote a blog post about a runner at the six-day ThanksRockies who wore FiveFingers for the 115 mile race. If you want to check out the link, here’s the post: Vibram FiveFingers at the Gore-Tex TransRockies.
You may recall that in August I was part of the TransRockies Race, a three day and six-day footrace through the Colorado Rockies. I was impressed with the athletes. Most were very prepared for the rigors of covering 115 miles through the demanding Rockies.
I had contact with many of the runners each day. I would see them at breakfast and dinner, and of course, when they came for foot care.
One of the runners impressed me every day. John Cutroneo wore Vibram FiveFingers for the full six days. I saw him on at the end of day one. He also wore Injinji toe socks. Here’s a photo of his FiveFingers. His feet stayed relatively clean.
John came into the race with a few scrapes that bothered him. One was on the top of his foot, a bit back from the big toe on his left foot. It had been rubbed raw by one of the seams or creases on the FiveFingers. I taped that several times.
After each day’s run, I asked him if he was going to run in his FiveFingers the next day. I expressed surprise that he could run the rugged and rocky course day after day. He assured me he was doing fine.
Many runners were coming in with heel and bottom of the heel blisters. Toe blisters were common. The worst problem he had was heel blisters. I treated these and he continued on the next day.
I saw John most mornings and he always wore his FiveFingers and Injinji socks. He told me he had been running in FiveFingers for about 10 months. While that is not a long time to build a FiveFingers base, it worked for him. Running in these takes patience and a slow build-up to longer distances.
In spite of the FiveFingers’ lack of cushioning and support, he finished all six days. The photo here was taken at the finish line. The sole of his FiveFingers look no worse for the wear.
Yesterday I worked an aid station at the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 Mile Run. I saw two runners wearing FiveFingers. If you choose to wear FiveFingers for trail runs, be sure you have put in the training miles to avoid injury.
One of my coworkers has become a FiveFingers convert. He used to run but knee and gait issues caused him to stop. FiveFingers, he realized, allowed him to run again. He is in training for a triathlon this fall. His runs are short – two to three miles.
FiveFingers are all the rage. Many runners are buying them. Non-runners read Born to Run and decide to by a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs). Many do not understand the basic tenets of barefoot running and become injured. Others preserve and love the unique footwear.
This sudden surge in popularity has led to a host of fake FiveFinger being sold on the Internet. The only surefire way to protect yourself from fakes is to be informed.
Vibram has the image (shown here) on their VibramFiveFingers.com website homepage. It opens an alert to inform readers about issues with fake FiveFingers. In part, it says, “We want to inform you about our efforts to fight the sale of counterfeit merchandise, a serious menace that has recently surfaced after the success of our authentically unique Vibram FiveFingers. Fake merchandise and trademarks appear daily in the market, often sold from unauthorized or fraudulent Vibram or FiveFingers websites.
Please refer to this website to:
◦ Find the list of authorized Vibram FiveFingers retailers and distributors:
◦ Verify our phone number, address, and contact information; many counterfeit sites won’t provide this information.
◦ Verify the stock list of colors and styles we produce.”
I love this ad that Vibram uses to enforce their brand.
If you have questions or concerns about suspicious websites, on-line discounted sales, or counterfeits of Vibram designs please contact Vibram at www.vibramfivefingers.com/info/contact
A great website to bookmark as a favorite is http://www.BirthdayShoes.com. This huge website does a fantastic job of informing readers of what’s new with VFFs. Their website says,
“ALERT! As many as half of the search results on Google for [Vibram Five Fingers] are fake five fingers retailers and MANY fake five fingers retailers are utilizing Google Ads to hock their counterfeit wares!
“All authentic Vibram Five Fingers are going to have the Vibram yellow octagon stamp on their sole. Additionally, any “Vibram” branding should be yellow (and not white or blue or some other color).
The site adds, “The BirthdayShoes Store lists out many (but not all) online retailers of Vibram Five Fingers. Realize that in the United States retailers are only allowed to sell Vibram Five Fingers online if they have a brick and mortar store. Ever wondered why VFFs weren’t on Zappos? It’s because of this policy. To my knowledge, there are no brick and mortar stores that exclusively sell Vibram Five Fingers! By extension, there should be no online retailers who only sell Vibram Five Fingers and no other products – except for VibramFiveFingers.com, of course!
“If you’re on a website that is selling Vibram Five Fingers to U.S. buyers, look for a physical address. If the site indicates it will be shipping you the product from some place around the world, raise an eyebrow! If said online retailer appears to be only selling Five Fingers (and no other products), this is a red flag!
“Many of these fakes are making it onto eBay. Reality is that no legitimate retailer of VFFs is allowed to sell Five Fingers on eBay! So apart from one-off eBayers trying to unload a single pair here and there, be very suspicious of eBayer resellers who are selling VFFs!”
BirthdayShoes.com even maintains a list of known fake Five Fingers retailers – and the list keeps growing.
When I started running in the early 80′s, there were the usual “brand” name shoes. I remember buying my first pair, New Balance, and that they cost $45.00. Since then, I have owned many pairs of shoes. Some for road and many for trails.
In all that time, there have been only one or two pair that were bad choices. They simply weren’t right. The rest have served me well.
Now, shoes have become more complex. There are many more to choose from. Companies are coming out of the woodwork to get a piece of the running shoe market. They all have their acronyms and fancy names for the features their shoes offer. Some of this makes we wonder how different are some of these features? Many shoes seem to be so similar. Every company wants us to believe that their shoes are perfect for our feet.
Now the tide has turned.
Shoe companies have designed footwear that takes us back to our roots. Born to Run has inflicted athletes with a desire to run natural. In bare feet or something as minimal as possible.
So now one of the big sellers is Vibram’s FiveFingers. With their individual toes, many runners are trying them. People are finding FiveFingers help them walk and run in spite of old injuries that, with “normal” shoes, they could not do.
So, what’s next in footwear?
I found this photo and thought it was great. Maybe this is where we are going. Vibram will offer a new design in their FiveFingers line. You’ll be able to but the shoes in a variety of skin colors, with or without toenails, or with a few black toenails. Maybe even a fake blister painted on.
Would buy a pair. Just for fun?
As a disclaimer, I wish I knew the source of the photo so I could credit it. Sorry.
When I posted the piece the other day about going barefoot I remembered a great new footwear that was important to tell readers about. I saw these last summer at the Outdoors Show in Salt Lake City and I almost missed them because they seemed strange. But, they are the right footwear for those wanting a barefoot experience but also wanting to protect their feet.
FiveFingers is the first and only footwear to offer the exhilarating freedom of going barefoot—with the protection and surefooted grip of a Vibram sole. These are great for those wanting the feeling of going barefoot—with protection. Toss them in your backpack for walking around camp after a day of hiking. Use them for walking, running, hiking, boating, kayaking, canoeing, canyoneering, coastal approach, and after-sport recovery.
FiveFinger gives you a gecko-like grip on slippery surfaces. They protect your tender feet from scorching sand and sharp rocks. They allow you to go barefoot—without leaving yourself exposed.
The Fivefingers Web site says, You were born barefoot and FiveFingers encourages you to walk that way. With little to them, they enhance your natural walking motion, gently spreading your toes to strengthen foot muscles, increase your range of motion, and improve general foot health. The muscles in the feet and lower legs are stimulated for greater balance, agility and strength. Because you are more aware of how you walk and your stride, they help straighten your spine, improves posture, and reduces lower back pain.
If you have any doubts about how durable they are, check out the Web site of Barefoot Ted. He typically runs marathons barefoot. Lately, he has used Fivefingers for the LA and Boston marathons. Here is his Boston photo. For those who don’t know the distance, that’s 26.2 miles of asphalt in Fivefingers. If they can hold up to that, they will work for whatever you toss at them. He gives a good report on how Fivefingers worked for him.
I plan on picking up a pair this summer. They look like fun. On the Fivefingers Web site the price is $70.00 and they are available in a variety of colors. Still not convinced? Here are to more Web sites with reviews. The first is Meraner Land and the second is from a site called I.D.
FiveFingers footwear was the brainchild of industrial designer Robert Fliri. He proposed the idea to Marco Bramani, grandson of Vibram founder Vitale Bramani, who invented the first rubber soles used on mountaineering boots in 1936.