A Great Vibram FiveFingers Review

November 25, 2012 by · Leave a Comment
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.]

Stuart Crispin at the Jungle Marathon

Stuart Crispin at the Jungle Marathon

 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.

Stuart Crispin
London

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.

The Jungle Marathon – Amazon (2013 October)
The Jungle Marathon – Vietnam (2013 June)

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.

 

Ankle Sprain: Going Beyond R.I.C.E.

Back in January I had a guest post on the AFX – Ankle Foot maXimizer – Part I. This is part II where ankle sprains are discussed. This is a guest post by Timberly George, a Sport Physiotherapist (bio at the end of the article). Here’s Timberly’s post. The photos demonstrate the Ankle Foot maXimizer.

Slippery roots. Rocks. Deep puddles. Steep slopes. Momentary lack of attention to the trail and suddenly – pop! There goes your ankle. Uneven terrain, speed, fatigue, previous ankle injury, poor balance, weak foot and ankle muscles – they can all be to blame for the ankle sprain that plagues many an outdoor adventurer. In a study of 300 adventure racers 73% of them reported an injury over an 18-month period.i Ankle sprains were the most commonly reported injury.

Most of us are aware of the immediate treatment protocol for an ankle sprain, following the old acronym R.I.C.E (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation).  Do this! It definitely helps in the initial phase of injury management. But, recovering from an ankle sprain doesn’t end there. Just because the swelling has gone down, and the pain has diminished, that doesn’t mean your ankle is ready for the trails again. Research and clinical experience shows us that a person needs to go beyond R.I.C.E. to focus on the instability of the ankle caused by the sprain, in order to prevent another sprain from occurring.ii

So what exactly is an ankle sprain?

In order to understand why you need to go beyond R.I.C.E, you need to understand what exactly happens when an ankle is sprained.

The term “sprain” refers to an injury that involves damaging a ligament.  Ligaments are passive structures that connect bones to bones and help stabilize the joints. A ligament sprain can be as simple as a minor stretch or as complex as a complete disruption or tearing of the ligament fibers that give stability to a joint.

There are 3 main types of ankle sprains:iii

Inversion (lateral) ankle sprain – Over 90% of ankle sprains are inversion, making it the most common type of ankle sprain. It occurs when the foot is inverted too much, affecting the lateral side (i.e. outside) of the foot.

Eversion (medial) ankle sprain – far less common due to the strength of the medial ligaments and the mechanics of the joint.  Affects the medial side (i.e. inside) of the foot.

High Ankle Sprain – An injury to the large ligaments above the ankle that join together the two long bones of the lower leg, called the tibia and fibula.

Ankle sprains can be classified in to 3 categories: iv

Grade 1: minor damage to a ligament or ligaments without instability of the affected joint. Mild swelling may be apparent but you can usually walk without too much discomfort;

Grade 2: partial tear to one or more ligaments, in which they are stretched to the point of becoming loose. Moderate swelling and some bruising are likely apparent; and,

Grade 3: complete tears of one or more ligaments, causing instability in the affected joint.Moderate to severe swelling and bruising will occur around the ankle and most people will be quite hesitant to immediately bear weight on their foot.

Once ligaments have been damaged, the ankle is left with a loss of range of motion and a mild to severe level of instability. As a result, it is more susceptible to further injury and recurrent ankle sprains are very common. Unfortunately, a ligament does not regain its ability to stabilize the joint and therefore, we are left to rely on the muscles and tendons surrounding the ankle to provide the active stability.  A solid rehabilitation program guided by a physiotherapist to regain full mobility, proprioception, and a proper strengthening program is crucial to getting you back on the trails and running again with confidence.

What do you do to recover from and/or prevent an ankle injury? 

To begin with, do your own R.I.C.E protocol and get some help from a physiotherapist as soon as possible.v Many people choose to “wait and see” how the ankle repairs itself with time.  The trouble with that approach is most Grade 2 and 3 ankle sprains will never regain full mobility and strength on their own without assistance.  Even a simple Grade 1 ankle sprain, left untreated, will likely result in another ankle sprain down the road.

Seated Balance Exercise – non-weight bearing exercise, good for early-stage rehab. Improves proprioception, balance and strength. For added difficulty, close your eyes.

Seated Balance Exercise – non-weight bearing exercise, good for early-stage rehab. Improves proprioception, balance and strength. For added difficulty, close your eyes.

Rehabilitation following an ankle sprain cannot be overemphasized. Restoring the normal mechanics and improving the stability of the ankle will allow for a return to safe activity and will decrease the risk for another sprain.ii Your physiotherapist will also be able to determine whether you may have caused other damage, outside of just ligament damage, such as a fracture or cartilage damage which may require further investigations such as x-rays or other imaging.

 

Once the swelling and range of motion have improved, the next step is strengthening and regaining the control, or proprioception, of the joint.  Proprioception refers to our ability to sense where our joints are in space, and to be able to control them without necessarily looking.  This is essential when hiking and running in trails when your ankle is constantly adjusting to the terrain of the earth beneath your feet. Proprioception is controlled by nerve receptors in the ligaments around a joint.  When the ligaments are damaged in an ankle sprain, so too are the proprioceptive nerve endings.  Some simple balance exercises are a good way to start.  See the Balance Standing photo at the start of this post.

 

Standing Balance Exercise – progression from seated balance exercise. Improves proprioception, balance and strength. For added difficulty close your eyes but have something close-by that you can hold to maintain balance.

Standing Balance Exercise – progression from seated balance exercise. Improves proprioception, balance and strength. For added difficulty close your eyes but have something close-by that you can hold to maintain balance.

In order to build the active stability system around the ankle, strengthening the muscles that cross the joint is critical.  There are 4 main motions that should be focused on.  Your physiotherapist will assess the strength of each muscle group to determine which muscles need the most work, and to ensure balanced strength across the joint.

 

Strengthening can be done using resistance bands and tubes, or more preferably for many therapists recently, using the AFX-Ankle Foot maXimizer TM foot and ankle strengthening system (www.afx-online.com).  The AFX allows for far more controlled and specific strengthening in more variety of planes of movement than the typical bands and tubes, as well as for more balanced strengthening across the ankle joint.  The photographs shown here demonstrate the motions.

 

 

Plantar Flexion – The motion you do when going up onto your toes, or pointing your foot like a ballerina. Primarily uses your big calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus), but also gains assistance from some deeper calf muscles helping to control the position of the foot.

Plantarflexion

Plantarflexion

 

 

Dorsiflexion

Dorsiflexion

Dorsiflexion – the opposite of plantarflexion. Required for lifting the toes off the ground as you swing your leg through in running and hiking. Necessary for clearing the ground and not tripping on rocks and roots. The muscles involved cross the front of your ankle joint.

 

 

 

 

Eversion – Movement of the sole of your foot away from the midline of your body. Requires strength of the peroneal muscles running along the lateral or outside border of your calf. Strong peroneii are crucial to help prevent the ankle from rolling over, into inversion, and spraining the ankle.

Eversion

Eversion

 

 

 

 

 

 

Inversion

Inversion

 

 

 

 

 

Inversion – Movement of the sole of your foot towards the midline of your body, similar to the direction you would move into as your sprain your ankle in an inversion sprain.  Although one might think this would be counterintuitive to strengthen, it is an important motion as the muscles that cause it to occur are crucial for the strength and stability of the arch of your foot.

A thorough ankle rehabilitation program is essential for protecting ourselves from further injury.  An ankle that does not re-gain full range of motion, strength, and proprioception will learn to adapt to its new, less than ideal, way of functioning.  This in turn leads to overcompensation of other muscles and an imbalance of strength and flexibility around the joint.  This imbalance can not only be the cause of further ankle sprains, but potentially also the cause of overuse injuries in the feet, knees, hips and back. In addition, because we rely on our feet and ankles to take between 7,000 to 10,000 steps a day (and endurance athletes much more!) even minor strength and stability issues can lead to major problems.

But it is not all doom and gloom. The good news is that with a little bit of effort and a good rehab program you can get back on your feet, hiking and running the trails, perhaps even stronger than before.

References

  1. Fordham S, Garbutt G, Lopes P. Br J Sports Med. 2004 Jun; 38(3):300-3.
  2. Barr, K, Harrast, M. Phys Med Rehabil Clin N Am. 2005 (779-799)
  3. Brukner, P & Khan, K. Clinical Sports Medicine. 3rd edition 2007
  4. Brotzman, SB, & Manske RC. Clinical Orthopaedic Rehabilitation. 3rd ed 2011
  5. Levin, S Early mobilization speeds recovery. Physician Sportsmed 1993; 21:70-4

Timberly George’s Bio

Timberly is a Sport Physiotherapist holding a post-graduate Diploma from Sport Physiotherapy Canada and is a clinical instructor at the University of British Columbia. She is very active in the sport physiotherapy community at the regional, national, and international levels. She was Venue Medical Manager for the Richmond Olympic Oval during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games and is a therapist for Rugby Canada. Timberly is one of the Vancouver Sun Run’s “Ask an Expert” panel members and provides injury prevention advice to runners through the Vancouver Sun newspaper and at local running clinics throughout Vancouver. In her spare time, Timberly can often be found running the trails or riding one of her bicycles around the mountains of the North Shore and Sea to Sky corridor.  Her primary areas of interest are treating sport related injuries, injury prevention and pre and post-surgical rehabilitation. *Timberly has no financial interest in AFX.

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