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 (check another interesting case for settlement and compensation, cancer-related, at https://mesotheliomaexplained.com/compensation/). 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. Otherwise check the similar class action lawsuit info about Xarelto.

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.

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!