Running a Marathon in Vibram FiveFingers Shoes: My Review

It’s a New Year and our first post of 2016! Happy New Year!

Let’s start the year off chatting about fitness. Two months ago I ran my first full marathon in minimalist running shoes, the Vibram FiveFingers, and I was incredibly nervous!

Running a marathon in vibram fivefingers

I started running in Vibram FiveFingers shoes in 2012, shortly after my first marathon, to help improve my running form and reduce some of the knee pain I was experiencing. You can read more about why I switched here, but essentially, because I was new to running, I never really knew if my running form was correct. And when I did make proper adjustments, I found it difficult to keep that form throughout an entire run. So after a bit of research, I learned that wearing minimalist shoes, specifically VFF, could help me. The more connected to the ground I could be, the easier it would be for me to feel where my feet were landing. Here’s an idea of what I looked like running with traditional shoes before, and what I look like after with VFF.

Comparison Vibram five fingersAnyway, four years and two half marathons later, I started training for the NYC marathon in my VFF.

This is what I learned.

Lesson #1: Once you go barefoot, you can never go back

While I loved running the two halfs in my favorite running shoes, I was nervous for the full 26 miles. After the first race, my feet felt a little raw from the distance. So I added these socks for the next race, and while I felt significantly better, I still had doubts that my feet would hold up for the entire marathon.

marathon vibram five fingers

~ May 2014 after the Long Island half marathon ~

My skepticism got the better of me, and I bought a lightweight running shoe for the race and to use for the long runs in my training. Unfortunately, they didn’t last more than one run. They hurt my feet terribly. My toes were sore and the arches of my feet were on fire. I use them now for boot camps and other fitness classes where there’s a lot of jumping, but sadly they never made it out for another run. 

Lesson learned. It’s very difficult to return to a traditional running shoe, even lightweight ones, after experiencing VFF.

Lesson #2: Don’t ignore the aches and pains

I started seeing a chiropractor weekly about a month into my training. I went to him so he could help lengthen my back and realign my joints after long runs, but he also helped me significantly with my feet. Once I’d started running 13 plus miles, certain muscles and tendons I never felt before were now working overtime to keep up with the mileage. He’d work his magic so my feet wouldn’t get too tired or sore. This is an important lesson. Be sure to see your doctor right away if you feel any straining, pain, or unusual aches.

Lesson #3: Others will think you’re crazy

If I had a dollar for every comment I received over the years from people who thought I was crazy to run long distances in these shoes, well, I’d have a good bit of cash. On our way to the marathon while sitting on the Staten Island Ferry, I heard a nice long story from the guy sitting across from me about how he’d tried VFF, was unsuccessful, and was now really impressed that I was going to manage the whole race in them. 😟 After that conversation, I spent the next 10 minutes freaking out that I’d made the wrong decision!!!  

Lesson #4: Try out all shoe accessories before the marathon

Just like energy gels, clothes, where to put bandaids, and the like, try out any adjustments needed for the shoes during the training months. I love these Injinji socks and wore a pair during every single training run. I also added these Spenco gel pads to give the balls of my feet a little added cushion. I started using them when my long runs reached 15+ miles. Both worked great and helped a ton during the race.

vibram fivefingers accessories

Lesson #5: There’s a chance you might run through them

The only con during this whole experience, which however did not affect my run, was that I wore a small hole into the shoes. I only noticed it after I’d crossed the finish line and sat down to rest, so it wasn’t a factor in how well I performed. However, these particular shoes were only three weeks old at the start of the race, hence my surprise. I can still run in them as the soles are in perfect condition, but just a note.

vibram fivefingers review 2

Lesson #6: Come to your own conclusions

I stressed and stressed, and researched and researched whether running in these shoes would be a good idea. Unfortunately, there really isn’t a ton out there on long distances in minimalist shoes. I read this article from a trainer which gave me some confidence. I also talked with my doctor several times on the subject. The only way I really knew for sure was to train with them. So I did, and it went well. While I was still nervous on the day of, my gut instinct told me I’d be okay.

So how did they do?

Would you believe that my feet were the only things on my body that didn’t hurt when I finished the race? I know it sounds crazy, but it’s the truth. My lower back, knees, hips, all screamed for some R&R. But my feet, they felt great! So overall, I’d say they did pretty damn good! 

Marathon picture vibram five fingers

Would I do it again?

Absolutely! I don’t think I’ll ever run a full marathon again (I’m happy with completing two), but I continue to run in Vibram FiveFingers and can’t wait for my next race.

NOTE: If you do try Vibram FiveFingers, be sure to try them out very slowly. Don’t attempt a 5-miler right away. It takes time. I was already running in them for a year before I began training for my first half marathon in them. It can take 3-6 months to make the transition to VFF even for a strong runner. 

Bre Signature Glitter

 

 

Please note I have not been compensated for this review. All opinions are my own.


37 Comments

  1. 1

    This was such an interesting review! I’m glad you were able to complete the marathon without any issues! All your training and research paid off : ) I’m not sure if I could ever personally run in vibrams, but I would like to test them out one day just to see what they felt like.

  2. 3

    Ah these are so interesting! I’m not much of a runner but I do like the lighter style workout shoes. That’s awesome you found shoes that help your aches and pains!

  3. 5

    Great review! I haven’t heard about VFF’s in a long time, it’s good to know that they do work well for some people. I considered going minimalist for awhile but ended up getting injured in the “transition” process, so I stick to the more conventional shoes now. But congrats on running your marathon, I plan to run my first ever this year!

  4. 7

    I bought a pair of these shoes and although I haven’t used them for running, I do like using them when I work out at home….for aerobics and step. I haven’t tried them at the gym, but have seen several other people in them. Since we will be doing more walking and hiking this spring, your review has prompted me to consider the idea of getting a better pair to see how they would work, especially since I tend to be very hard on my heels.

  5. 9

    Great review. Congrats on your marathons!
    I have several pairs of five fingers and mainly use them for obstacle course racing and paddleboarding/ kayaking, and hiking in our parks. I love them them imensely, and agree that the transition can be lengthy. I still recommend them to people all the time. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. 11

    Great review! Congratulations!!! I run using my forefoot and after last marathon i felt hard (very hard) pain in my “bunion”. So, recently, i decide to run whithout shoes!!! This week I run 12 km oly by socks. But here, in Rio, sometimes the floor is burning because of the sun.
    But, after this review, I’ll give a chance to fivefingers! ๐Ÿ™‚
    Pls, confirm which one you use: is the V-Run?
    Tks, Fรกtima

  7. 15

    I love this review! I started running in VFF in about 2012 also! I have run 5 half marathons and 1 full – now training for 2 more half and a full in January! I have always run in the Bikila LS – these are getting impossible to come by though! I tried out the Bikila EVO but they did not fit my toes right :/ I was excited when I saw the V-Run. I am hoping they are a better fit. I will be trying them on soon! My last pair of LS are not gonna last much longer! haha

    • 16

      So glad to hear someone else in love with these shoes, and bummed they’re getting harder access. I wear through mine every six months and always hope and pray I don’t find mine discontinued. Good luck with your year in running!!!

  8. 17

    I’m trying to get my BQ in 2 weeks at the Baystate Marathon, and I’ll be doing it in VFF KSOs. Similar to your experience, I could never go back to conventional shoes after running in VFFs. I’ve run a few trail ultras in VFF Spyridons, but never a road marathon. I’m a tad nervous about my feet getting bruised, but I did a 20-mile training run at 8:30 per mile a couple of weeks ago, and I wasn’t sore during or after. I’ll be running the Monument Valley 50-miler out West next year in Spyridons. I’ll probably give up running before I switch out of VFFs.

    • 18

      I agree, I think it’ll be me giving up the sport before I run in traditional shoes again. I wish you the best of luck!!! If you completed the 20-miler with no problems, you’ll breeze through the race!

  9. 19

    Thanks for your review. Before read your story, I’m really nervous and not confidence to use VFF for marathon race. (I’m just start running for 3 month) I start running with normal shoes and it cause knee pain. So I try to check barefoot style and found VFF, so I stick with it for a month, I never pain my knee after that and I like the feeling of my feet contract the ground. Now a day I can run with VFF for 10k and I will go along with it. Hope you do great and have fun. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • 20

      So glad you found the VFF. I no longer had knee pain after wearing them as well, it’s been incredible. And if you can do 10K in them, soon you’ll be able to do 20 and then who knows, you might be running a marathon in them as well. Good luck with your running!

  10. 21

    Congrats and good job! I finished the Bay State Marathon on Sunday in VFFs, and despite having done a few trail ultras in them previously, I strongly suspect that I ended up with a metatarsal stress fracture on Sunday. This would be the second time I suffered from that injury. Different foot this time. The other time was also from lots of road miles. But you’re right: I could never switch back. I think I’d almost sooner quit running.

    • 22

      Oh no Kevin! I hope your fracture heals quickly!!! That’s amazing though that you’ve finished trail ultras. Running on the road is definitely hard; I wish we had trails here in Barbados. Heal up quickly and good luck with your next run!

  11. 23

    Thank you very much for your story and opinion about VFF. I’m one of those who is looking for someone who has experience with long distance in these shoes and you are right there are not a lot out there. However, I met someone who ran all marathon in these shoes and recommended me try. After I have been reading Natural Running Center and Chi running, I am really confident that this will be a great choice for my next marathon. I just finished my first NY maranthin 2016 with ultraboost but I felt I need to change my form. I just ordered a pair of Vibram Spyridon and feel so good after I read your story. Slow transition for a better tuning. Thank you

  12. 25

    Hi, I have been running short distances in vibrams for years. Have done a few 5k’s and one 10. Recently started back (about five months ago), everything has been good until the last week and my calves and shins have started to hurt just like when I first made the switch. I wondered if you had any advice as to why that would be happening suddenly again?

  13. 26

    Thank you for your post. After learning about the VFF’s and the benefits of minimalist running, I decided to get back into running after 15 years off due to the problems I had with my knees. A friend of mine who runs Iron Man’s said they did not work for him since he is flat footed, but since I have a high arch, I figured they would be worth trying. Making the switch to the VFF made all the difference in the world. I’m still trying to improve my form, but I am running around 20 miles per week in my VFF’s with no arch or knee pain. I want to run my first marathon before I turn 50, but I was not sure if the VFF’s would be a good choice. Your post has boosted my confidence.

  14. 28
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  16. 32

    Thank you for your review. I want to transition soon. My time is current 5hr30 for marathon. I have been using asics gel nimbus to run. I have completed 2 marathons, couple halfs 2hr15 and doing 5K to 10K throughout and running longer ones in between and also yoga to stretch out. Which VFF would you recommend starting out with and then upgrade to eventually?
    Many Thanks!!!

    • 33

      Hi Yvonne, I went from the Asics Gel to the VFF Bikila. I now run in the V-Run, but there’s not much different. VFF, however, took me tons of time to fully transition into. I didn’t run my first half in them until a full year after I’d transitioned. I started quite slow in them, almost pretending I was running for the first time. Your legs and feet use such different muscles in the VFF that it will take time no matter which shoe you select. This is what I used to help me prepare: http://us.vibram.com/company/education/fivefingers/getting-started.html

      Good luck! I hope the transition goes well.

  17. 34

    are you sure that your black v-run are original vibram? in the close up photo (with the tear) the material of the top part of the shoe looks very different from my v-run ( i have the same model in the same color combination, but the material is completely different and it has lots of tiny holes, which yours doesnt have)
    for comparison, this is how they should look:

    http://us.vibram.com/shop/fivefingers/women/running/v-run/W31-2.html?dwvar_W31-2_color=Black%20%2F%20Yellow%20%2F%20Purple#start=1

    apparently there is a very big market of fake VFF…

    • 35

      Thanks Linda! Mine are from the Vibram site, but I know they’ve changed models over the years so we could just have different versions. Now I have a new pair as I’ve used up the old black pair=)

  18. 36

    I LOVE THESE SHOES. I’ve been wearing them for about the same amount of time and have never had any injury (fingers crossed). Am running NY this November and excited for it. Had no idea re the gel pads–going to try those, for sure. THANKS.

    Quick question: from your picture, do you really land on your toes first, now? I don’t. I have tried and it feels like jumping…but I do land on my outsides more than I used to which I think? is good…

    Do you have a favorite VFF for road running? I still like the old Bikila. By the way, oddly, I took to mine the first time I wore them. Felt like a kid running, and never looked back! And I’m in LI too! Go us! If you haven’t read Born to Run, you must. This is what got me started on these shoes.

    • 37

      Hi Katie, I land more on the front part of the middle of my foot. And my favorite VFF is still the Bikila=) I’ve downloaded Born to Run, but haven’t read it yet. It’ll be my next book. Thanks!!

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