Trail Running With Vibram FiveFingers

by Emily Wednesday, August 25th 2010

How I Learned to Not Hate Running

I started my first trail run ever with the goal that I would just run as much as I wanted to. A quarter of a mile in on the Marshall Gulch trail, I started thinking I should have set some loftier goals, seeing how I only seemed to want to run a few paces at a time up the small but steep rises and dips and rock-hopping creek crossings. From hiking this trail, I had always considered it a mellow walk on a soft shaded path, and now suddenly I was noticing there were rocks and hills everywhere, and they were hard to negotiate at the clumsy speed I seemed to be favoring. There's that spot a little ways in on the trail where if you cut into the creek you run into a small little bouldery waterfall and the sides of the water basin below it are covered in moss; it's always been a favorite spot of mine, as I'm sure it is for many people, and I decided to stop there, sit on a rock, and reset.

My favorite rest stop along the trail.

I've never really liked running. Even when I was running fifteen plus miles a week, I liked the adrenaline and energetic exhaustion I felt afterwards, but never liked the feel of the activity itself. It's so repetitive, and if I didn't have headphones piping music into my ears, I'd get a song I didn't like stuck in my head (which was sometimes beneficial, because I'd get so furious at some whiny little melody that I would run faster, as if I could somehow get away from it). Running is just . . . uncomfortable. So I sat cross-legged on the rock next to the little waterfall in Marshall Gulch and just concentrated on feeling the balance of my back sitting up straight, listening to the water instead of my inane I-hate-running thoughts, and relaxed. Finally a bee urged me to keep moving by trying to crawl under my palm.

On Attempt Number Two I let my strides be shorter as I pranced up the little ridge, and instead of thinking about running I looked around at beautiful yellow columbines, and the stark tree trunks on the side of the hill that got burned. I looked up instead of at the trail in front of me, and realized that my feet in their Vibram Fivefingers could take care of themselves; I could feel and adjust to all the rocks instead of watching and avoiding them. Two women were resting on a tree trunk in front of me and graciously offered me sunscreen when I admitted I'd forgotten mine. One woman asked me about my shoes, and after I explained they were basically just a little piece of rubber to protect my feet, she said she thought they were neat but worried that her ankles would roll on her. "Well, you just don't go that fast," I said, which was something I'd just realized. If you stay at the pace your body likes and can respond to, then it does a pretty good job of protecting itself. It's pretty neat to feel so connected and receptive to the ground you're on.

Women’s Vibram FiveFinger KSO

I made it to the saddle and started in on the Wilderness of Rocks trail. As I slowly minced my way down the slope, the thought popped in to my head that it would be fun to run up it on the way back. (Really? Fun? I thought I hated running . . .) I had some time to scramble around on the rocks and watch beautiful purple storm clouds roll in before thunder sounded and I remembered that a valley full of burned and fragile trees was not a place to be in a lightning storm. So I ran back, and running up that scree-covered hill was fun, and so was running down the switchbacks on the ridge back down to the creek, and there were no songs stuck in my head and no inane thoughts rattling around. My feet felt strong and my posture felt comfortable, and halfway back a smile accidentally crept its way onto my face. A rocky little gully came at me too fast, but my feet found just the right places to keep me from tripping and I let out a little whoop, so thankful that my body found a way through without my brain getting in the way. The way back seemed to be taking no time and barely any effort at all. Among darkening clouds and thunder that sounded like gunfire and the felling of trees, I found myself wishing the car was further and further away.

Yellow Columbines along the trail.


Comments (5) -

9/2/2010 11:25:23 AM #

Lovely columbine photo and great review. I've always wondered about those shoes. I think I'd feel like a dork in them but lots of people love them.


9/2/2010 4:04:14 PM #

Thanks for the praise!  As for the shoes, you should give them a try; they're dorky, I'll agree, but they're so much more fun.  

p.s. Your gardening blog is beautiful!

Emily Gindlesparger

9/3/2010 10:05:00 AM #

Hey daughter, your blog was beautiful and inspiring. I shall put on my five fingers and run the midwest trails on our property! Keep up the sunshine!

Sue Gindlesparger

9/3/2010 9:26:29 PM #

Hi Emily,
I am just now re-reading "Born To Run" which is why i am at the computer Googling Vibram Five Fingers (it is a really great book in case you have not read it!).  Your blog article came up and i have a question--Do you recommend a certain style to start with?  There are so many to choose from....what model are you wearing?
I do NOT run, but walk my dogs in the Rillito riverbed almost daily.  If i'm feeling ambitious, i'll jog a few paces.  I think i could enjoy that more with the VFFs.
Thanks for a great article and pix!

Taza G.

9/4/2010 10:21:22 AM #

Hi Taza!  Thanks for reading.  "Born to Run" is definitely a fantastic book and has so much awesome information on running barefoot (or nearly so).  As for the shoe model, I've got the KSOs, which are the thinnest style: just a durable sock, essentially, with a thin (4mm) rubber sole.  The Classics and Sprints have the same sole.  I really like this pair because they're super flexible and you can feel the ground really well.  This also means you feel rocks, so if you have more sensitive feet you can try the Treksport or the Bikila; both of those have a midsole to give more cushion.  The Bikila is the more flexible of the two, and the Treksport offers better rock protection.  For the Rillito, which is mostly sandy, I think the KSOs would be great!

Emily Gindlesparger

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The Authors

Dave BakerDave Baker

I'm Dave Baker, founder of Summit Hut, an independent outdoor retailer based in Tucson, Arizona since 1969. As an experienced and passionate hiker, climber and backpacker, my blog is intended to be an informative and interesting look into the outdoors and the outdoor industry.

Dana Davis

Dana Davis

I’m Dana Davis, co-owner of the Summit Hut. I mostly enjoy hiking and road biking though I often do other things to keep it interesting (mountaineering, motorcycling, backpacking, climbing, you name it!) My biggest challenge is sometimes finding the balance between career, family, and fun but it’s working out so far!

Dan Davis

Dan Davis

I'm Dan Davis, after retiring from the National Park Service as a Ranger and manager, I worked for the Summit Hut until 2009, then retired for good (maybe). I'm now spending my time traveling around the southwest writing and working on my nature and fine art photography business.

Emily Gindlesparger

Emily Gindlesparger

I’m Emily Gindlesparger, a member of the Summit Hut floor staff. Since moving here from the Midwest, I’ve been taking advantage of all possible adventures in Arizona: rock climbing, mountain biking, backpacking, whitewater kayaking, caving and trail running; I’m always excited to see what’s next!