My Experience with Minimalist Running Shoes

Here’s my experience over the past three years with so-called ‘barefoot’ running.

I bought a pair of Vibram Fivefingers Komodo Sport shoes last week, mostly for running. They’re the shoes on my feet in the photo, and they’re working out perfectly. I expect years of use out of them. Here’s why.

In 2010 I purchased a pair of KSOs to try a different style of running. I’ve been running those KSOs ever since and only noticed that the soles are about to wear through last week. As you can see in the photo, the soles wore out long before the uppers would have. The KSOs are the only pair of running shoes I’ve ever gotten more than about six months’ use out of. There’s no foam padding to wear out, only an extremely tough Vibram sole, a 3mm insole, and my own feet. That’s it. I had a little heartburn paying around $100 for them in 2010, but that seems now to have worked out to half what I’ve paid in the past for traditional running shoes that I have to replace twice a year.

I should say that I didn’t wear the KSOs to Army physical training because they aren’t allowed with the P.T. uniform. However, I’ve always done most of my running on my own, before or after work. I’d estimate the KSOs would have lasted me at least two years if I had worn them as my only running shoes the entire time. Since I’m leaving the Army this summer, I can now relegate my foam-padded shoes to lawn mowing footwear.

After running on traditional shoes for seventeen years, pain in my knees and hips was about to force me to stop running. As a professional soldier, running is not only a way of life, but a part of my job. As of 2010, I was good for about four miles, then the pain set in. Looking for a way to alter my running technique to squeeze a few more miles out of my body, I read Christopher McDougall’s Born to Run and got the idea that if I discarded the artificial foot support I’d been taught to wear, perhaps my body could do its thing more naturally. That turned out to be true. Running has become one of my life’s joys rather than a chore to be endured.

It’s important to say that back in 2010 it took at least three weeks in the KSOs to work back up to a regular four-mile run. I started with two miles and wished for the next few extremely sore days I had kept it to one. ‘Barefoot’ shoes force one to run on the balls of the feet, striking mid-foot rather than on a cushioned heel. This takes some breaking in. It’s like learning to run all over again, and it’s not for everyone. My wife gave it a try, got shinsplints, and had to go back to traditional running shoes. For me, barefoot running is the most natural way to go. Maybe it has something to do with growing up in Florida and spending a lot of time barefoot as a kid. My brother and I used to challenge each other to run across a cow pasture full of sand spurs to see who could run lightly enough not to have feet full of the painful, thorny seeds on the far side. We got pretty good at it.

So, the Komodos appear to be of the same lightweight, quality construction as my old KSOs, but have a bit more protection for my feet without sacrificing road feedback. One thing I love about these shoes is being able to feel the textures of whatever I’m running over without worrying about things like broken glass. If you’re planning to go minimalist on rocky trails, I suggest trying the KSO Trek or another Fivefingers shoe with the similar thicker, lugged sole.

I took a close look at Vibram’s Bikila model as well, but it seems too specialized for road running. The Komodos are a bit more versatile.

As for Cons or drawbacks, the only things I can think of are that if you’re going to run in these, you have to look where you put your feet. If you step on a rock, you’ll feel it and possibly bruise your foot. They’re basically a foot glove. Also, and this is kind of negligible, you may get dandelions stuck between your toes when running through a meadow. Just laugh and pull ’em out.