Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Introducing my new shoes

Near the midpoint of my vacation in America, I began to seek out a new and exquisite shoe: the Vibram FiveFingers. Unlike most shoes which help to pad your feet and dampen any vibrations from locomotion, these shoes are a far reach in the other direction. In fact, there is very little difference between these shoes and walking around barefoot, except for the protective rubber sole. Essentially it is a glorified watershoe, with a better rubber sole and articulated toes and heel (a la the toe socks of yesteryear).

Maybe I should say that more bluntly: it looks like a rubber foot. This is the aspect which probably matters the least in the functionality of the shoe, but is most noticed by anyone else. In both America and Japan (even as i'm riding back to Sendai on the Tohoku Shinkansen as I write this), total strangers and friends alike manage to work up the courage to talk to me about my shoes. The little attention whore inside of me just loves all the excitement aimed near the lower half of my body.

The more important aspect of these shoes from a functionality standpoint (pun intended) is that there is no support at all. None, nada, zilch, zero. Neither is there any padding to speak of: while wearing the shoe, I can quite readily tell apart whether i'm walking on concrete, pavement, marble, or a grooved escalator step. This is intentional, and the only thing you are paying for with this shoe is a protective glove around your foot. Things that make barefoot walking dangerous, such as metal scraps, nails, broken glass, and so on are not able to penetrate the rubber sole. Like normal shoes, stepping on a big nail or sharp rock may very well bruise your foot, but at least you won't bleed to death or get an emergency tetanus shot.

Speaking of bruising.. that is what will happen to your heel if you walk heel-toe barefoot. Accordingly, the new wearer of the FiveFingers shoe will need to adjust (and probably unlearn) their ambulating style and gait to be appropriate for barefoot walking. In general, the strategy is to use the ball of your foot as the main impact absorber, since that is how your foot is designed to work in the first place. Walking only on the balls of your feet is basically tiptoe-ing, and is not sustainable for long distances unless you have extremely well-conditioned feet/legs. For a smoother gait, I roll through with all of my toes (its much more productive when your foot is wearing a glove instead of a mitten).

Next.. how does one buy such exotic footwear?

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