5 Tips For Surviving Your First Run In Vibrams

By Barefoot Dawsy

There’s something about running in Vibrams that makes you want to run farther. Unfortunately, for most new Vibram wearers, this feeling can often lead to the dreaded sore calves that are the trademark of doing Too Much Too Soon (TMTS). The problem is that it just feels so good to run with light feet that can feel the ground beneath them!

The disadvantage to taking your first ‘barefoot’ steps in shoes versus actually barefoot is that Vibram makes excellent soles. What this means for you as a new runner is that you can run and run and your own soles won’t hurt at all. Try this barefooted, and your foot pads will be screaming.

At this point, the best advice is of course to go slowly, spend a good few weeks building up your strength and improving your form. This is great, and highly recommended, but the reality is that you’re probably going to get caught up in the moment and ignore the whole tranistion thing (shame, shame 😉 ).

With this in mind, I’ve put together a few tips to surviving your first Vibrams run. If you do nothing else but these things, you still stand a good chance of making it home with your Achilles tendons intact.

1. Stretch those calves!

Normally I don’t advocate stretching before a run, however if you are used to wearing conventional shoes, you’re  going to need a bit of rehab before hitting (caressing, really) the pavement. So, while you’re shopping for your first pair of Vibrams, making your mind up, etc, spend some time getting your calves ready. Every day, and especially before that fateful first run, do some simple calf exercises. 3 sets of 10 calf raises should be enough. This will let your Achilles tendon lengthen a bit and your calves develop a bit more strength. The longer you can do this before your first run, the better, so start now!

2. Take Small Steps

You’re making a big transition by moving from regular shoes to minimals, so you’re going to have to start catering for this. I can’t go through everything about proper form (see the rest of this site for details), but if you’re going to do just 1 thing to start working on this, it’s to take small steps. The smaller your steps, the more likely you will be to keep your feet under your centre of gravity. Doing this will reduce your tendency to heel strike and overstride, and will reduce the impact forces on your feet and joints as you run.

3. Take It Slow

You will be tempted to ramp up the speed on your first run. By all means, do a couple little sprints, but try to keep the speed down at first. The slower you go, the easier it is to tread lightly, make corrections, and to react to changes in terrain, etc.

4. Walk It Off

Waling is an excellent way to let your body recover from a run, and should especially not be excluded from your first minimal run. As a rule of thumb, once your run is done, walk for 30 seconds for every minute that you ran. This will help your muscles stretch out and cool down gradually, which will make all the difference to your recovery.

5. Take A Break

A lot of time with running, the day after is nowhere near as painful as the day-after-the-day-after. This is especially true when you’re wearing minimal shoes as there is very little protecting you from your own mistakes. When easing into running ‘barefoot’, make sure that you give yourself at least 2 days off after your first run.

There are thousands of tips that I gan give you to take with you on your first run, but if you stick to these 5, you will greatly improve your chances of making it home in one piece. Running in Vibrams (or better yet, barefoot) is a joy that has turned many a couch-potato into a distance runner (myself included), so get out there, and enjoy yourself!

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15 Responses to 5 Tips For Surviving Your First Run In Vibrams

  1. bry27 says:

    I have never run barefoot. My feet sometimes hurt with my Mizuno’s .

    How do you suggest trying it out for the first time?

    • Barefoot Dawsy says:

      The first time is always the scariest, so I’d suggest just dipping your toes in in first…Take your shoes off and go for a short 5 minute walk around. After that, I’d recommend easing in slowly. Have a look at my 6 Weeks To Barefoot Running series, and give it a go. If you have any questions as you go, feel free to ask!

  2. Pingback: Rather Be In My Vibrams :) | Internet Hoarder

  3. Pingback: Rather Be In My Vibrams :) | Internet Hoarder

  4. Genny says:

    I had no idea about this easing into vibram shoes.. I ran about 10km for my first go and I honestly could not walk the next day and for two weeks after that. Then each time I ran I hurt my calves. My calves never get hurt and are so incredibly strong now I think people should just suck it up and take it. You can’t ease yourself without a little calf damage. Maybe not as excessive as I did, but just take it. Good luck people, I’ve been using mine for soooo long now and loving them!

  5. ben says:

    I own a pair of vibram kso shoes. Ive only walked in them, but if i walk for more than 20 minutes, my feet start hurting and eventually ill get blisters on the balls and heels of both feet. Do you know if there are gel insoles i could buy to help keep my feet from rubbing against the soles so much?

    As for my calves, they have never started hurting at any time. Thanks:)

    • Sounds like your shoes may not fit quite well enough and you’re getting a bit of movement. I don’t know of any insoles for five finger shoes, but what you may want to try is getting a pair of Injinji or ToeSox socks..they’ve got toes and provide that little extra layer of protection that some folks need.

      • ben says:

        Thanks for your reply. I bought a pair of injinji socks and they seem to help so far. i guess i just need to toughen up my feet more, lol. Thanks for the information and advice.

  6. I wish I’d read this before my first FiveFingers run…I found while I was running that I was running about a minute faster than I normally do without any extra effort, which was so exciting for me that I threw the advice I’d heard to ease into barefoot running out the window and finished four miles at that pace, and now am suffering for it (ie: 4 days of barely being able to move). Just wondering, how do you start if you’ve already messed up the transition? My calves are better now, just a little tender, but I tried jogging just a bit again today in the five fingers and instantly realized it was not going to happen. I don’t know how long this recovery wil take, and will I need to repeat the process every time unless I only run short distances in the shoes?

    • Very good question, Monica. We’ve all been there at some point, and rest is a great place to start. Once you’ve recovered a bit, you can start rebuilding. The best way I’ve found to do this is to start and finish every recovery run with a series of ten deep calf dips. Stand with your forefeet on a step and dip your heels down as low as you can. Slowly rise up onto your toes, then drop back down again.
      Once you’ve stretched, you can run a bit, but rather than going all out, try lightly jogging, with a focus on lifting your feet as little as possible, while keeping your steps small and quick (aim for 3 steps per second).
      Running like this will let you regain your cardio while resting your calves a bit. As you warm up/loosen up, you can stretch your stride out a bit.
      Hope this helps!

      • Monica says:

        Very helpful, thanks so much!! I was able to run yesterday again, and so far am not hurting too badly, so hopefully if I follow your advice for future runs, I’ll continue to get stronger. Having self-control with this is tough, though. Just curious, how long should I expect it to take to get back to the distance I could comfortably run before? The Vibram5Fingers websites recommends starting at no greater than 20% of your prior distance, and each week adding 15-20%, which means it would take me like 3 months to get back to the race distance I’m training for (5K). Does it really take that long, or are they playing it safe to avoid complaints?

      • It’s tricky…there are a lot of variations from person to person, and how they adapt to running in Vibrams. There are factors that increase the amount of time required, such as the length of time you’ve been running prior to transitioning…old habits die hard. Also, things like wearing high heels regularly will cause your Achilles tendon to shrink, which will delay things.
        If you’re careful and mindful of your technique, do some extra stretching and strengthening, then you should be able to reduce the transition time.
        The main thing in the first few weeks is to listen to your body and let it adapt. You’re using muscles and tendons that aren’t used to the new load, so you really want to take it as slow as you can.
        As you can see it’s all pretty variable!
        There’s nothing stopping you from running your usual distances in your old shoes, then tacking on some ‘barefoot’ runs to your workload. That way, the transition doesn’t interfere too much, and you can take as long as you like.

  7. Josh Riebe says:

    Yes….take it very slow.
    I wore my Vibrams at work and during the day for 3 months. During that time I went for a few short and easy runs. Now, I wear the Vibrams for running only, about 30 miles/week.
    Interestingly, I used to wear out and/or blow out the inside of my heel on running and casual shoes. Now, the heavest wear on my Vibrams is in the tips of the second toe (yes, you can actually get a toe push–flexor digitorum). I believe this contributes to the calf pain as the toe flexors are engaged much more than in shoes and the flexor digitorum is in the calf region (posterior compartment). My calfs still are the most sore muscle group after any run much more than pre Vibram.
    Also, I have to run out a 1/3 mile gravel driveway to get to a black top road. A poorly placed large stone under my heel sends me through the roof if I use my normal stide and strike, and this hurts for a while. So I run up and down this driveway in a strange toe gallup (stones never bother a forefoot or midfoot strike). This tells me that my normal stide does have some heel strike, or more of a flat foot strike, even with the super thin See-ya Vibrams.

  8. tommod says:

    i have recently bought a pair of Vibram Bikila evo shoes, and I am loving them. have have been for a mile and a half jog most nights. My calves are aching but not so much that a little stretching and calve rolling wont ease. may increase the distance in a couple of weeks when my lower legs ease the soreness, cant wait to get nout on the road after work!

  9. Devin says:

    I’ve been playing basketball in my FiveFingers and I played way late last night and it cut into my sleep. Holiday parties threw off my routine. This morning my feet are really sore. I think I was on my heels too much. Fortunately I’m afraid of all the injuries that can happen to your feet, but I guess it’d be ok to go for a walk as my morning exercise today. Wish me luck!

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