Joe Maller.com

An expensive lesson in bad running form

I recently bought a pair of Vibram FiveFingers Bikilas to replace my VFF Sprints which had developed a hole on the bottom of the left fourth toe. The Sprints probably only had about 150 miles on them, but I attributed the wear to some time on especially rough pavement.

But now, after less than 30 miles, the new Bikilas are showing serious wear on the same toe.

People normally get well over 500 miles out of pair of VFFs, so I must be doing something wrong.

Advice from Barefoot Ken Bob:

The purpose of so-called “transition” footwear…is to protect you from the pain of becoming aware that you have not, yet, learned how to run barefoot.

His point is, you can’t learn to run barefoot until you’ve actually run barefoot. Near-barefoot helps, but it’s not enough.

What I had to do was get over my mostly-social anxiety about going barefoot and put down some miles sans-shoes. Whatever I was doing to shred my shoes would be immediately apparent. Even if it turned out to be painful, my body would naturally adjust before I tore the skin off my toes.

If you’re a VFF runner and haven’t yet tried running completely barefoot, do it. It’s impossible to explain just how wonderful it feels.

After the initial euphoria wore off, I settled in and focused on my form, especially my left footstrike. Right away I felt a hot spot under my toe and then noticed the expected change in my landings.

I’m pretty sure the abnormal wear came from a combination of the following:

  1. Pushing off too much with my toes.
  2. A small skid on footstrike from being too far up on my toes, this skidding causes the toes to push down and try to stabilize.

When I first switched to minimal shoes, I think I mentally overcompensated for my heelstrike by running up on my toes too much. There’s a big difference between a forefoot landing and a toe landing. Landing too far up on the toes introduces a slight amount of sliding or skidding before the heel comes down. VFFs let you get away with this, but when it’s just your skin on the ground your body won’t let you. The goal of a barefoot footstrike is kind of a patting motion. The foot lands, the arches absorb energy and the foot is immediately back up. There’s not much toe-springing and absolutely no “sliding into” a landing.

Overdoing a toe landing also redirects a lot of impact stress through the metatarsals, which then pound into the second and third cuneiform bones right over the arch. Coincidentally, I had been having some soreness across the top of my feet, something Barefoot Ken Bob previously attributed to “running up on your toes.” Since making an effort to flatten out my landings, that pain is gone.

Still more from Barefoot Ken Bob, something to work on during my next run:

And finally (at least for now), lift the entire foot – most people just lift the heel, and the toe or ball of the foot, just kind of drags behind – so put a little effort into lifting the front of the foot, at the same time as the heel, so everything comes up, about the same time.

When the barefoot luminaries say to ditch the shoes and learn barefoot, listen to them.

Related: I took my brother Mike out for a short barefoot run (actually I pushed him way too far, but he said he enjoyed it anyway). That was the first time I’d ever gone completely barefoot. I was fine, but he developed a small blister on the exact same toe in the exact same spot as my VFFs. Genetics?


  • I have a hard time with people who say they run barefoot, yet have never ran barefoot. I’m glad you understand, and I’m glad you got out for a barefoot run!

    • Joe

      Most people don’t like to call attention to themselves. Switching to VFFs is a big leap, going totally barefoot is much, much bigger. Hopefully they’ll all get here sooner or later so they can know exactly how amazing it feels.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • A lot of that hesitation has already changed in our society, thanks in no small part to Chris McDougall’s book, “Born to Run”.

    Of course over the past 13-14 years since I started the running barefoot website, the stigma was harder to overcome. Vibrams helped out some, making it socially acceptable to pretend to run barefoot, because, after all, if you’re willing to pay $80 and up to run barefoot, it isn’t because you’re poor, or cheap, or just don’t like shoes.

    Unfortunately, there has been the side effect, of people not getting the real and full benefit of barefoot feedback. I think that’s beginning to change, gradually, as people keep hurting their feet. Hopefully it won’t backlash and revert back to thicker, stiffer, softer-soled shoes…