Who bought Vibram FiveFingers for the health claims?

The rubbered, uncomfortable tale of Vibram FiveFingers comes to a close.

Vibram FiveFingersThe maker of the funny minimalist shoe is settling a class action lawsuit brought on a couple of years ago over claims that the shoe decreased injuries and strengthened the foot. Ends up that you’ve got to have scientific backup for claims like that if you’re using them to sell stuff. There’s a lot of reporting on the matter, namely Washington Post, Runner’s World, and, where I first learned about the announcement, 0n The Dallas Morning News‘ Health Blog.

Way back in October 2009, I blogged about receiving a pair of the digit-y foot coverings. I said in the post that I’d report back on my thoughts after giving them a go, am I’m just now realizing that I never did. I’m trying to remember why. I think that I tried them, hated them, tried to find redeeming qualities about them. I likely decided to let some time pass and allow a few more tries help me discover a reason not to completely pan them. Then next thing I knew, this particular personal assignment simply slipped through my fingers. Now, years later, here’s what I remember.

I was excited about the barefoot and minimalist shoe thing enveloping running culture. I tried barefoot running and wrote about the phenomenon, and I decided that I loved the idea of it more than the practice. Also, that book Born to Run had recently come out. It set the running world on fire for a time and further fueled interest. The Tarahumara Indians are beastmode personified, and we were all right to be inspired by their story.

I tried the FiveFingers. Well, first I had to successfully cram each and every little bitty toe into its corresponding toe pocket. That was my first clue: If I can’t quickly throw on whatever it is I’m wearing for a run, you’ve lost me.

I went running in them. It’s easy to see how a runner would think the shoes aided in muscle strengthening. A day later, my calves screamed at me. But they screamed at me a day after my first try at barefoot running, too. It wasn’t the shoes themselves delivering that benefit; they were simply along for the ride while I tried running in a way my body had yet to become conditioned.

I even went out socially in them. Later they became something of a symbol of slight douchebaggery, but they hadn’t just yet. They were still a curiosity in 2009, and I enjoyed the stares they received.

Have you ever worn a pair of socks with toes in them? At first they seem fun, even cute. Then you wear them around the house and think, This is one of the most bizarre-feeling, uncomfortable things I’ve ever done to my feet. This totally blows. Bottom line, that’s what FiveFingers felt like on. I couldn’t ever get used to feeling each of my toes cradled in its own lonely compartment.

Basically, you had to already love barefoot running itself to care for wearing FiveFingers. For all practical purposes, it mimicked being barefoot but offered a layer of protection against gravel, stickers, gum and other scary detritus. That was the real value they offered. I ended up appreciating how the shoe influenced major shoemakers to offer lighter, pared-down options. I’ve bought just one pair of heavy, cushioned and overly structured shoes since then, and the rest have been fairly minimal. The lighter shoes have performed well in a variety of activities.

I don’t know of anyone who owned a pair of FiveFingers who thought they would give them health benefits. If foot strengthening and injury avoidance were their motivation, it was the barefoot/minimalist running aspect they believed would deliver, not the Vibram FiveFingers.

Still, I appreciate that a company isn’t allowed to use empty claims to play a huckster game. Be straight-up with your fellow human beings. “If you like barefoot running, you’ll enjoy our minimal FiveFinger foot coverings even more” would have done just fine for the target audience.

One thing I’m not going to miss is forcing all 10 individual toes into 10 individual, teeny weeny rubbery spaces.

 

 

New Nike running shoes and socks: pass up or play

The folks in Nike’s running department waxed slick and technical when describing its stable of new and upcoming products. As I sat in the dim room at Cloud Place in Boston with other media types last April, I was engrossed in the geeky details of superior shoe and apparel construction presented by designers. I heard about floating heel support, biomechanics, Cooper’s ligament and gender-specific cold zones. It was fascinating and informative, but Nike’s got stiff competition in the running shoe and apparel market. What I wanted to know was, at this price point, which of these Nike pieces are worth it for runners of the non-elite variety? After three months of testing a few items, I’ve got answers. I’ll give different answers in different posts.

Feet

Nike Free Run+

$85
Nike Free Run
What this is: This shoe appeals to consumers who like barefoot running in theory, not really in practice, although I’m sure there are real barefooters who would put this shoe in their training mix. For those of us who’ve tried barefoot running, like it, but prefer some cushioning and protection from the mean streets, this shoe meets those needs. In fact, this incarnation of the Free provides a little more framework than past versions but still preserves freedom.

The cushy sole is scored deep with fingers to help the foot “articulate,” i.e. let the foot flex and do its natural thing. It’s impossibly light, airy and comfortable, and the lack of uber-structure forces your leg muscles to work harder. Because men and women’s feet are different, construction is gender-specific.

I’ve worn these to run, walk, strength train, and as regular kicks, and performance has been great (plus I get compliments on their cuteness). It’s Nike+ ready, if you track your progress that way.

There are a lot of high-tech specifics, but the translation is: this shoe rocks in striking a balance between freedom and forgiveness.

Pass up or play: PLAY

More: The media preview also trotted out evolved versions of other Nike+ shoes: LunarEclipse, LunarElite, LunarFly, LunarGlide, and LunarSwift. The Nike folks do a mess load of consumer testing, trying to nail how to “get inside their heads but also inside their hearts.” One question that comes up often is one of my biggest gripes about shoes: Why do running shoes have to be so ugly? I paid $135 for my last pair of road shoes. Performs amazingly, but blander than homemade soap. Nike gets a big A+ on these lines for going bananas with color and breaking away from the standard-issue running-shoe look. Athletes have an emotional connection with their footwear, and Nike seems to get this.

Nike Dri-FIT Elite No-Show Running Socks

$12

Nike Dri-FIT Elite No-Show running sockWhat this is: Pretty straightforward, these are synthetic no-show running socks. The Elite no-show isn’t new, but it’s new to me. Apparently, these only come in men’s, so I’m not sure why they ended up in my testing bag along with all my other women’s Nike apparel.

It has a tad extra cushion for the big toe. It comes in a white or black color combo, and I love the deep orange (go Longhorns). Unfortunately, that’s all I love about these. My biggest gripe about no-show socks are their propensity to slip down my heel and into my shoe. I have to buy brands at this same price point to get no-shows that stay put, and they do. These socks seem constructed in the same way, so my trail-walk with them seemed promising. They didn’t hold up even for a simple hike. I typically wear no socks or higher ankle socks on trails, but I can’t think of a reason for these socks to have tanked the way they did. I stopped several times to adjust and stretch them. I finally gave up and just dealt with socks bunched up in the back of my shoe. Totally annoying.

I read the comments section for this sock on the Nike site, and there’s only one commenter who agrees with me. Still, the socks were the right size for my foot, but it could be the man’s sock/woman’s foot thing.

Pass up or play: PASS UP

‘Born to Run’ book signing and lecture in Dallas

Christopher McDougall, the man who put a spotlight on barefoot running and the Tarahumara tribe of Mexico earlier this year, will give a free lecture, answer questions and sign copies of his book, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, at the Cooper Aerobics Center. Details:

When: Noon-2 p.m. Tuesday Nov. 10
Where: Cooper Clinic Auditorium, 12200 Preston Road, Dallas (Click here for a map)
More: This is free, but it’s limited to the first 100 guests. Call 972-233-4832 ext. 4329 by Nov. 9 to reserve a spot.

Thanks to DMN editor Mike Merschel for the tip.