Saturday, April 16, 2011

From Bunions to Barefoot

Eight years ago I began seeing a podiatrist about foot pain. "Your foot shape lends itself to over pronation and bunion development. Slap these custom made orthotics in your Merrells and things should shape up." Well in short they didn't. My bunion pain began to increase and felt raw and sore after any long walks and runs. In retrospect I imagine I put my feet through the perfect hell. A narrow rigid shoe coupled with a big heel and oppressive arch support.

My KSO Treks after months of wear.

Flash forward to the end of my college career. At this point I had given up on my feet and resigned myself to getting corrective foot surgery later on in life. Running and long walks left me in serious bunion and arch misery. Fortuitously my college roommate, Foster, inspired me to make some necessarily large changes in my footwear. During the '10 winter, Foster began to experiment with five fingers . Throughout the entire winter and spring he literally couldn't and wouldn't stop evangelizing them.

"Dude you should really read this book Born To Run." I probably heard that multiple times a week.

Before he was "Born to Run" Foster, like myself, hated running. To us running was a painful activity geared for the psychotic. We'd rather go down to Maine's beaches and freeze our faces off surfing in 35 degree water. Unlike running, surfing didn't hurt our feet and knees - only our exposed skin as we dove below the waves. But hey, atleast a brain freeze only lasts a few seconds.

Considering Foster and I were attached at the hip five fingers and barefoot running quickly became a part of my life through osmosis. A rather annoying part too. Telling me that running/walking barefoot could help my feet was like telling a catholic school girl god didn't exist. Orthotics and arch support reigned king in my mind. How the hell could removing arch support actually build arches? How could the doctors I trusted know less about foot health than some yahoos on youtube running barefoot? Conceptually it didn't make any sense.

Our latest sandal with a thinner webbing strap. I've been testing it against all the gnar Nor Cal trails have to offer.

Throughout that spring Foster continued to run around in five fingers - loving every mile. It was an incredible transformation to witness. Essentially a change in footwear enabled Foster to passionately love something he once hated. In the summer I finally jumped off a podiatric cliff and ordered KSO Trek Five Fingers. At the time I realized a massive change in my footwear might be the massive catalyst I needed to fix my feet. For 4 months I wore my five fingers constantly while walking and trekking. Immediately I loved how my feet felt. My bunions stopped hurting entirely. Although they still protruded they became like any other part of my foot. The KSO Treks allowed me to walk "barefoot" while still protecting the skin on my feet. Over the next 4 months I only walked in my five fingers - I waited to run until my feet and body adjusted. I most likely didn't need to wait that long but the idea of running for enjoyment still puzzled me.

I moved out to California and took to the beach. At first I ran the beaches in five fingers and gradually shifted to "Raw dogging" aka barefooting. I soon realized that running could be a blast. Barefoot running forced me to completely change my running style. Without any shoe support, striking the ground heel first hurts. It hurts enough to make you improvise and strike with the side/front of your foot. That motion will in turn decrease the amount of impact on your body because the calf muscle absorbs it. In other words no more foot and knee pain.

As I got into running I got inspired by another friend experimenting with running sandals. A few months ago Nick, my fellow geology enthusiast, ordered a pair of Do It Yourself (DIY) Luna Sandals.

"Barefoot Ted just called me!"

Barefoot Ted called Nick and gave him some advice about Vibram soles, huarache sandal lacing, and his DIY kit. Ever since then we've been tinkering with different types of Vibram soles, tying methods, and tying materials. Our goal is to build running sandals that both adjust and tie easily while retaining tightness on gnarly wet pacific northwest trail runs. We also want running sandals that serve equally well for walking/trekking.

A picture of my feet in our sandals.

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