Vibram’s Lawsuit Settlement: Don’t Believe Everything You Read

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

This past week, my inbox, Twitter account and Facebook feed have been inundated with the same article about how Vibram settled the class-action lawsuit against it, to the tune of $3.75 million.

Honestly, I think that there was a case against them, and that they may have been premature about making claims about injury prevention. However, there is one part of the case which has me fuming, and which is conveniently the core argument of most of the articles I’ve read. Note: I’m not going to link to any of these articles here, but Google “Vibram Class Action” if you haven’t read about the case yet. 

What I’m referring to is the now famous Foot Bone Marrow Edema after 10-Week Transition to Minimalist Running Shoes (pdf) study published by the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Every article that I’ve read so far about this issue has held this study up as proof-positive that Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) are the devil’s work, and will cause severe injury to anyone who tries a pair on.

Having actually read the report, I find it surprising that anyone would use it as the basis for an argument, let alone a court case. Though it was carried out by a reputable organisation, with good intentions and, for the most part, careful measurements, in truth, the study falls down in several areas:

  1. Sample Size: There were 36 participants at the start of the study. 10 of these were used as a control group, meaning that only 19 runners were wearing Vibrams. This is a tiny sample size, which could very easily cause statistical anomalies to corrupt the results.
  2. Runner choice: The participants (men and women) were all running 15-30 miles per week for 6 months prior to the study. This shows that each runner was likely quite experienced, and probably used to a particular style of running. Transitioning to a new strike style for this group may have been more likely to cause injury than for runners with different levels of ability, especially beginners.
  3. Unclear Transition Instructions: The study claims to have used the transitioning guidelines published on the Vibram website in 2011 (or 2010, depending on where in the study you look). Unfortunately, these are not described, and not correctly/adequately cited. We don’t know what the guidelines were, so it’s hard to assess if they were followed correctly.
  4. Concurrent Running in Regular Shoes: As per the study, participants in the VFF group were also running most of their mileage wearing regular running shoes. It’s pretty difficult to determine whether or not the use of VFFs is the cause of the reported injuries, or the combination of VFFs and running. Eg it can’t be ruled out that a hybrid transitional period is more detrimental than a cold-turkey approach.
  5. Runner Nationality: From what I can tell, the participants in this study were all Haitians, and I assume the study took place in Haiti. There don’t appear to be any concessions made to the runners’ nationalities. The study cannot conclusively show that the injuries demonstrated are not exclusive to the Haitian population. Unlikely, sure, but there are significant differences in diet, fitness levels, environment between Haiti, and America or Australia.
  6. Uncooperative Participants: The participants of the study were required to record their progress in a journal, detailing their mileage in and out of VFFs. However, as the study states, “this did not happen for the majority of subjects“. A study is not a study when the subjects are not adequately supervised or their progress recorded. There have been several studies in the past that have made this same error, and IMHO it completely invalidates the research being performed.

What really worries me though is not the study so much as the media/blogosphere beatup that ensued. The study concludes with:

Thus, to minimize the risk of bone stress injury, runners who want to run in VFF should transition over a longer duration than 10 weeks and at a lower intensity (miles per week) than the subjects in this study

That seems to me a fair conclusion given the results of the study. Note that it is not said that VFFs are inherently dangerous or that running in them will always cause injury. As Vibram and countless others have done, the study recommends patience and prudence, building up mileage slowly and not pushing too hard. Sound familiar?

Studying running, and especially, it would seem, barefoot running, is tricky work. There are thousands of variables to be taken into consideration. There are ways of going about it, but unfortunately, this requires money, time, and willing participants, all of which seem sorely lacking.

What we need to do in the meantime, however, is look past the sensationalist claims of both sides of the argument, and do our best to make sensible choices. The jury’s still well and truly out on the barefoot/minimalist vs Big Shoe (you like that? I just made it up), so until we get at least 1 decent study (please!), we’re left to work it out for ourselves.

Ultimately, when making any major change in life, it’s important to do your homework, tread carefully and take responsibility for your actions. Anyone that’s taken up barefoot/minimal running since 2009 has no excuse for not educating themselves and learning about the risks of transitioning, which have been widely cautioned against.

So remember, take your time, listen to your body, and learn your limits. Switching from bulky sneakers to minimal shoes or barefoot is a big adjustment that shouldn’t be treated lightly. We’ve spent years getting accustomed to running around with marshmallows on our feet, and for most people it will take a long time to fix that.

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Review: Xero Shoes Amuri Cloud vs Amuri Venture

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

XeroShoesLogoMinimal shoes have come a long way since the publication of the now famous (or infamous) book Born to Run. They are now available in most mainstream shoe stores, and come in a huge variety of shapes, styles, weights and designs.

Despite the huge selection of shoes available, there are precious few that combine function, style, and a low price tag. With their new line of premium huarache-style sandals, Xero Shoes are aiming for the trifecta.

Xero Shoes was one of the first companies to capitalise on the barefoot/minimalist running boom, and their experience in this niche industry has been put to good use. Their first shoes were very simple huarache sandals that could be assembled at home. The latest offerings come ready-assembled and include several new features that vastly improve their looks and performance.

Cloud vs Venture

The first of the new sandals, now called the Amuri Venture (formerly the Sensori Venture), in many ways resembles the original shoes. It is made of durable FeelTrue rubber soles and nylon cords, however, they now also sport a nicely shaped heel cup, a flexible toe post, a well designed lacing system, and improved anchoring on the sides.

The second is the Amuri Cloud, a new offering from Xero Shoes. It is essentially the same shoe as the Venture, with the exception that the sole is scooped out and a 3mm BareFoam pad has been inserted. This small amount of cushioning is intended to provide added comfort, while keeping the sole thin and light.

Before discussing how the shoes performed, let’s take a look at some of the features that make the new Xero Shoes sandals unique.

Features

Venture1The Amuri Cloud and Venture have many features in common:

1. New Lacing System
2. Toe Post
3. Ankle Mounting Points
4. Silicone Heel Pad
5. A variety of colours

 

Apart from this, the two models differ in several key ways:

Amuri Cloud:Cloud2
1. Uses a 3mm BareFoam insert, inset into the 6mm FeelTrue rubber soles
– Improved Comfort
– Reduces Weight
– Increased Flexibility

Venture:Venture2
1. 5mm FeelTrue sole
2. Better ground transmission
3. Available in camouflage

Performance

As you can see, both shoes sport very similar specs, however performance-wise, the small differences make these sandals feel like totally different animals.

Amuri Cloud:

The first thing I noticed when slipping on my Amuri Clouds was that for the first time ever, I was wearing sandals that felt comfortable! Believe me, this came as a real shock, as I wear sandals nearly every day, and hadn’t realised I was in any way uncomfortable before.

Cloud3

The layer of BareFoam on the forefoot section of the shoes may be thin, but it really is all you need to take the edges off gravel and give you the sensation of walking on a cloud (see what I did there?).

I found that prolonged walking in the Clouds was very comfortable, and not a problem at all. I did experience a bit of rubbing initially on the polyurethane toe post, however after a day or two, I completely stopped noticing it.

Normally in sandals, my feet do tend to get a bit tired after several hours. With the Clouds, however, this was not a problem, and I’ve spent many hours in them without the slightest soreness on my soles.

Running in the Amuri Clouds, while still a pleasant experience, was for me less enjoyable than I had hoped. One thing I love about running in sandals is that the (usually) hard rubber underfoot transmits sensations from the ground fairly effectively.

Adding the foam layer dulls this sensation a bit, which I’ve found a bit off-putting. I had assumed that with less rubber underfoot, that the groundfeel would be more pronounced, but the BareFoam does a surprisingly good job of smoothing out the ride. For experienced barefooters, this may not be ideal, but for those transitioning, or looking for a more comfortable experience, this is a real plus.

I also found that with the thinner rubber underfoot, there was a slightly higher tendency for flapping. I needed to make sure that I tightened my lacing a bit before running to minimise this. With slightly tighter lacing, it was no longer a problem.

On this point, I have to commend the Xero Shoes team for putting together a clever lacing system. It’s very easy to tweak and fine-tune, and switching from walking to running modes on the Clouds is fairly trivial.

Amuri Venture:

Venture3Trying on the Ventures after wearing the Clouds for a couple weeks felt like strapping a pair of planks to my feet. The rubber feels so much harder. This is definitely not a bad thing, however, as the thicker, harder feeling rubber give the sandals a much more solid feel.

I found the Ventures to be a big improvement over the older-style Connect series. The new lacing systems, as mentioned above, is excellent and well thought-out.

I use a slip-on/slip-off tying method for my Connect sandals, which causes my heel to be a little more free-moving than with traditional huarache tying. The addition of a heel scoop to the Ventures allows for a slip-on tying method without the heel movement. A big improvement in my books.

Walking in the Ventures is fine, with the sandals staying comfortably on my feet. They are nice and thin, which allows for good ground feel, but when walking, I found that the Clouds were far superior.

Where the Ventures come into their own is with running. I strapped these on, and just wanted to keep running and running. They have a brilliant combination of thin, yet rigid rubber, which is somehow still flexible enough to allow excellent foot movement. The lacing system is solid and flexible at the same time, allowing me to tweak the fit slightly to sit right on my uneven feet.

On top of all this, they of course have all the features tha make running in sandals so much fun: they’re lightweight, airy, and inexpensive.

I normally do my sandal running in Luna Sandals, and may still do so for rougher trials, but for everyday running and light, local trails, I think it will be hard to find a sandal that will beat the Venture.

Conclusions

When the Amuri Cloud was first released, I was shown a preview where Steven Sashen, the company’s founder, said that they were to be a comfortable ‘everyday’ sandal, where the Venture would remain a solid trail sandal.

I couldn’t agree more. I’m quite happy wearing my  Clouds pretty much everywhere, and have no qualms taking them for the odd run. At the same time, when I know I’m going to head out the door and hit the trails, I’ve been looking first to my Ventures lately.

VennAll in all, I think that the new line of sandals on offer from Xero Shoes are a huge improvement over the original DIY kits (which are still awesome IMHO), and bring the company a huge step towards the mainstream. I look forward to the day that I see a pair in stores here in Australia!

Beginning Barefoot would like to thank Xero Shoes and Stepping Out Footwear for providing sandals for review. Please show your support by purchasing a pair for yourself at xeroshoes.com!

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Xeroshoes Amuri Cloud Launches Today

Well, today’s the day!

As many of you who follow my Twitter and/or Facebook accounts may already know, Xeroshoes have been hinting at the release of a brand new shoe. After much speculation, it’s finally been released, and is on sale now.

It’s called the Amuri Cloud, and is a thinner, lighter, prettier version of the Sensori Venture (now renamed as the ‘Amuri’ Venture).

Have a look at the launch video and tell me these don’t look fantastic:

I can’t wait to review them! (shoes are on their way, so watch this space)

In the meantime, if you’re quick, you can grab a pair at 20% off by following this link

Just a heads-up: Beginning Barefoot is a Xeroshoes affiliate, but we’d still link to these shoes even if we weren’t! Don’t worry, it won’t cost you any more, and buy via our site helps keep the great barefoot running articles coming!

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Ankle Mobility And The Floppy Foot Cooldown

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been seeing a lot of chatter in the barefoot underground lately about ankle mobility. It may be one aspect of your running that you have not spent much time thinking about, but in truth, it’s something well worth paying attention to. This is especially true for barefooters.

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned in the past, when we trade in our sneakers for bare feet, it transfers some of the impact created during running to other parts of our legs, especially the ankles and knees. Having nice, deep bent knees can help absorb this impact, and make for a smooth ride. When we bend our knees, naturally our ankles bend as well, to take their share of the strain.

What can happen, however, especially on longer runs, is that we run the danger of keeping our feet in a dorsiflexed (toes up, making an acute angle of our feet and leg) position for a long time. Habitually running this way can cause your ankles to tighten up, which will reduce their mobility and ability to respond to impact. This in turn can lead to all sorts of problems down the track. (I’m not a doctor or physio, but I have been affected by this in the past, so I’m speaking from personal experience. If you are experiencing pain that worries you, contact your doctor).

With a little bit of management, this condition can be easily avoided and needn’t stop you from enjoying nice, long, barefoot runs. The fix is something I call the Floppy Foot Cooldown (yes, I did just make that name up).

Basically what it involves is, once you’re finished your run, slow down to a walk. Now, as you’re walking, point the toes on one foot downwards, and give your foott a flick. The motion is something like flipping over a toy car with the top of your foot.

While you’re doing this, consciously relax your ankles, and try to feel the stretch where your foot meets the front your ankle. Keep doing this every step for about 100-200m and by the time you’re done, your ankles should be feeling nice and loose.

And that’s it! If you’re already cooling down after your runs, this is a simple little thing to add to it. If you’re not doing a cooldown walk, I strongly encourage you to do so, as it will help with all manner of ailments.

So how about you? Got any neat tricks that you do to stay fit and flexible? Any cooldown hacks that you want to share? Let us know in the comments, or post to our Facebook wall, or send me a Tweet!

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What Ever Happened to Invisible Shoes?

Written By Barefoot Dawsy

Invisible ShoesjpgOne of my first ever shoe reviews on this site was for the ultra-minimal running sandal “Invisible Shoes“. Back in the day, this start-up was trying to change the world, one shoe at a time, by selling DIY sandal kits with incredibly thin soles. What ever happened to these guys?

A Brief History

Back in 2009, sprinter Steven Sashen and his wife Lena had the crazy idea of bringing a high-tech version of the centuries-old running sandal, the huarache, to market. Steven had become a recent barefoot convert, and was looking for a way to help people find out about and begin to enjoy it as well. Having heard about the Tarahumara in Mexico, and their amazing sandals, made of old tyres and rope,  he found a terrific vehicle to do this.

Xero-Shoes - Promo

Not long afterwards, with a lot of R&D, and testing, the Invisible Shoe was born. It featured a simple nylon rope tying system atop a very thin, very flexible, and very durable Vibram sole. They were inexpensive, comfortable, and soon became a favourite within the barefoot running community. One of the big reasons for their popularity was the availability of a DIY kit that let you build your own shoes for a few bucks (you can still get them!)

XeroShoesLogo

Fast-forward a couple years, and Invisible Shoes took a major step forward. Due to the ever-growing popularity of the DIY huaraches, Invisible Shoe as a company decided to expand. They changed their name to Xero Shoes and began to update their existing line and launch new products, such as coloured soles and accessories. This culminated in the February 2013 appearance of Steven and Lena on the television series The Shark Tank.

Though they didn’t get the funding they were after, the exposure from appearing on the show was a turning point for the company. It wasn’t long before they announced a new product, the Sensori Venture, which has turned this small company into an up-and-coming competitor of even the big shoe companies.

So Why Am I Telling You This?

The minimal shoe revolution, which has in many ways boosted the barefoot running revolution, was largely started as a backlash to shoe companies selling us over-engineered, over-priced shoes. The original idea was to go back to basics and wear less shoe, allowing your feet to move as they were designed.

There are some incredible new shoes on the market, and I’ve reviewed many of them, but on average, these shoes are over a hundred dollars a pair, and here in Australia, finding a decent pair for less than $200 is getting harder and harder.

sensori-venture-4-colors

Xero Shoes, in contrast, have always done the right thing by barefooters. Of the truly viable and durable minimal shoes out there, theirs are by far the cheapest, with their priciest shoes coming in at less than $40! I still run in my original 4mm Connects that I paid $20 for 2 years ago.

On top of this, Xero Shoes have always been big supporters of the barefoot running community. This year, they’ll be sponsoring the Barefoot Runners Society’s International Barefoot Running Day (May 4th, 2014).

Full Disclosure

Invisible Shoes/Xero Shoes have been a favourite of Beginning Barefoot since the beginning. Steven was the first prominent barefooter I ever interviewed, and we have collaborated several times in the past with giveaways and contests.

We have been a part of their affiliate program for years, and yes, we do get a small commission on sales referred from this site. Despite this, I still think that Xero Shoes are the perfect first shoe for anyone interested in trying minimal shoes/running sandals out for the first time. Our affiliate status is merely a reflection of this.

More To Come

Xero Shoes is an exciting, young company that is doing great things for barefoot/minimal running. We’ll be reviewing many of their products in detail this year, so if you’re interested in finding out more about Xero Shoes, be sure to click the follow button, or find us on Facebook and Twitter!

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The Embarassing State Of Barefoot/Minimal Running

By Barefoot Dawsy

I’ve been running barefoot now for four years, and blogging about it for two. I admit that I started out, alongside many others, after reading the now famous book ‘Born To Run’.

At that time, the barefoot running resurgence was just starting out, amid criticism of the large shoe companies. The majority of this criticism was centred on the question of whether or not they were misleading the public as to the safety that their shoes provided.

There was an interesting study that came out of Newcastle University[1], in Australia, which basically stated that despite a huge and time-consuming search, there was no evidence that the pronation and motion control features of modern running shoes had any benefit at all.

This questioning of a hitherto nearly universally accepted truth was one of the fundamental drivers for the barefoot/minimal revolution, which saw the exponential rise of the minimal shoe, and the unprecedented uptake of barefoot/minimal running.

Here was our chance. There was a vacuum of useful, relevant data and proper studies, which was damning in its absence. The shoe companies were lying to us, and we were all being played for fools.

I, like many others, embraced the new style of running, and waited impatiently for the inevitable mountain of studies and evidence demonstrating the superiority of barefoot running.

It never came.

In fact, just recently a new study did come out[2], and it was woefully reminiscent of the Newcastle study. This one, however, tells the story of a lack of evidence that barefoot running has any benefits at all. It points to the few studies that exist, most (all?) of which are poorly crafted, and even unscientific.

Barefoot had a chance to become something more than a fad, and become the next big thing in running. Instead, its legacy is more overpriced shoes with questionable usefulness in injury prevention.

So, what do we do now? We can’t sit back and hope that somebody, somewhere manages to get the funding together to put together a clever, well-crafted study. Or hope that someone publishes one that proves conclusively, one way or the other, which style is better. 

What we can do is to take responsibility for our own testing and assessment of whichever style of shoe, or lack thereof that, we choose. We need to stop looking to major corporations to hand us the magic pill that will stop us getting injured. We need to take the time to learn how our own bodies want to move, and what style of running feels right, whether shod or unshod.

There are no one-size-fits-all solutions in running. Each of us has slightly different styles, preferences, pain thresholds, etc, so it’s on us as individuals to intelligently weigh up the options and make the best choice for ourselves.

What brought you to try barefoot running? Have you got any views on how the scientific community or running shoe industry are handling things? Let us know in the comments!


[1] C E Richards, P J Magin and R Callister. 2008. Is your prescription of distance running shoes evidence-based?, Br J Sports Med 2009 43: 159-162 originally published online April 18, 2008 (doi:10.1136/bjsm.2008.046680)

[2] Hall JP, Barton C, Jones PR, Morrissey D., 2013. The biomechanical differences between barefoot and shod distance running: a systematic review and preliminary meta-analysis. Sports Med. 2013 Dec;43(12):1335-53. (doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0084-3)(Pubmed: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23996137)

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Review: Vivobarefoot Stealth

Written by Barefoot Dawsy

VivoBarefoot StealthVivobarefoot have been one of the best kept secrets in minimalist running circles since the early days. They have been very consistent in producing high quality, thin-soled, lightweight shoes, and it’s amazing that they are not more commonly seen in running shoe stores around the globe.

Vivobarefoot have produced some fantastic shoes over the past few years. I use their Gobi boots for most smart-casual engagements, and completed the 100km Oxfam Trailwalker earlier this year in a pair of Breatho Trails with nary a blister. With their latest offering, the Stealth, however, they are approaching perfection.

Vivobarefoot Sole

 

Like all Vivobarefoot shoes, the Stealth’s best feature is its puncture-resistant sole. For those of you who haven’t seen these yet, they are truly a marvel of shoe engineering. Coming it at a mere 3mm, these soles provide marvelous ground-feel, and are so flexible that they move with your foot like a second skin.

 

 

 

toeboxThe wide toe boxes that feature prominently on Vivobarefoot shoes are also present in the Stealth. Unlike many other shoes with this feature, the Stealth don’t give you the Clown Shoe appearance (you’ll know it when you see it).Instead, they look sleek and fitted, while giving your little pigges all the room they need to wiggle around in.

 

 

 

VivobarefootCloseup

 

My favourite part of these shoes, however, is without doubt the uppers. They’re made of a very fine mesh that weighs next to nothing. They aren’t waterproof, but have more than adequate airflow to dry out wet feet.

 

 

The Stealth fall into that wonderful new class of minimal shoes that are stylish, functional, and hard-wearing. I’ve had several runs in them, and each time, I’m amazed at just how well they perform.

SoleCropped

VivobareootStealthBack

 

I’ll definitely be adding the Stealth to my usual shoe rotation, and look forward to racing in them this summer.

Beginning Barefoot would like to thanks Vivobarefoot Australia/NZ for providing sample shoes for testing. If you’re interested in tryin pair for yourself, be sure to check out one of your local retails (here’s the list), and be sure to check out their Facebook page for news and giveaways.

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