Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Vibram Five FIngers SeeYa

We live in confusing times: One of the best known shops for running shoes in Madrid is named after a man who did not wear them (Bikila). The latest fad is for the oxymoronic "barefoot shoes". You can find qualified medical doctors who will tell you that you will injure yourself running with minimalist shoes and yet you can find qualified medical doctors who will tell you that you will injure yourself running with cushioned shoes. We now have five fingers on our feet. (My youngest son still says that he has hurt his "little finger" when he really means his little toe.)

In the end I see it as a investment / return choice. Some people like jogging and others like running. Some people run to lose weight faster and others lose weight to run faster. I have friends who have gone down the minimalist shoes path but it is not something that I recommend to everyone. It takes a significant amount of investment to change your running gait and the return you get on that investment depends very much on why you run in the first place. A good reason to try minimalism is if you find you are getting injured in spite of running in cushioned shoes with stability control that were supposedly designed to prevent this. On the other hand, if you are prone to injury, then you are more likely to fall into the trap I fell into by adopting minimalist shoes too quickly and without allowing time for your body to adapt to the changes.

Since I got a stress fracture in my foot just over three years ago in New York, I have since avoided wearing my Vibram Five Finger KSOs (Keep Stuff Out). Neither my wife nor my boss would have been very impressed if I had literally stepped on the same stone twice. Since then I have made a fairly natural transition to very minimalist shoes as each time I have come to replace my current pair, they have seemed to me to be bulky and clumsy until finally settling on my Soft Star Run Amocs which have been a staple part of my running training for over a year, and my super-light Vivobarefoot Ultras which I have been my racing shoes over the same period. Actually, the real reason for not donning my KSOs is that they are slightly too small for me (size 45).

I have been waiting for Vibram to bring out a model which competes on weight with my Ultras as, lately, they have been bringing out models which are less and less minimalist. Personally, I find the huge array of models of Vibram Five Fingers to be baffling: it was much easier when there was basically just the Sprint and the KSO to choose between. The other issue is that size is extremely important when buying a pair of Vibrams as they have to fit snuggly but not too snuggly. My local Vibram retailer - Pies Libres in Pozuelo - has recently got some models in the biggest sizes in stock (for my benefit, it would seem) so I was able to check the fit (47 as it turns out) this time, rather than risking it again by buying over the internet. As far as the model goes, the brightly coloured SeeYas being the flimsiest and lightest Five Fingers to date called out to me from the crowd.
I've done a couple of runs in them (one easy, one tempo run at 16 kph and some 200m strides at 19 kph) and they feel fast. They are slightly heavier than my Ultras as you can see below but they have a harder sole which feels as though it returns more of the energy: it may just be a psychological thing but psychology is important. My complaint about the Utras has always been regarding its slightly soft sole (which also makes it less hard wearing). I couldn't see how this could be made harder without a trade off in weight but the Vibram  Five Fingers are able to minimalize this penalty by cutting away a large part of the sole that doesn't really make contact with the ground. (You might think that they could save some extra by getting rid of the heel as well but I believe that even midfoot runners should have their heel "kiss" the ground). Other reviews I have seen say that they are a very specific model - one reviewer likened them to a triathlon bike which is only really good at one thing: triathlons - but, after my experience with other (truly) minimalist shoes, they seem fairly sturdy with good grip and reasonable protection against treading on small stones. Having said that, my plan is to use them for all my tempo and speed work on treadmills and pavements and to stick to my Run Amocs for trail running. What I haven't yet figured out is whether they will overtake my Ultras as being my racing shoe.

There is one drawback, however, and that is that they give me blisters on the tops of my toes and the side of my feet where the strap pulls across. Actually, they are not really blisters but more like small open wounds as this happens so rapidly during a run that there is not really a chance to go through the blister-callous-hard skin cycle but instead the wound-scab-wound cycle. I've spent a fortune on Compeed plasters already. To be fair, if I were to run in my Utras with no socks, the same thing would happen but I really think that I should be able to run in my Vibrams without socks (apart from it being annoying to have to always find a pair of socks with toes).

When I have got some more miles (kilometres) under my belt with the Vibram Seeyas (not to mention my recently acquired Run Amocs with leather sole) I'll write up how I've been getting on with them.

Vibram Five Fingers SeeYa size 47
Vivobarefoot Ultras size 48
Soft Star Run Amoc Original Lite with leather sole size 13A
Soft Star Run Amoc Original Lite size 13A (old pair)
Decathlon New Feel size 48
For reference: the Mizunos I ran my first Marathon in


  1. Ah mate, you can run with those? I have the black Vibrams and I cant think of running on them. I have no support and, sometimes, the sole of my foot feels stretched out. PLease do post on how you get on with them once you have more mils. Un abrazo

  2. Hi Miguel, how is life in South Africa? The photos on your blog make me very envious...

    I've been running with minimal shoes for about 3 years now although I would say only a year with shoes as minimal as the one I currently run with: the RunAmocs, the Ultras and, recently, the SeeYas. If you are going to run in these kind of shoes take it step by step literally... I have personal experience of going too far or too fast too soon.

    The problem I have with the SeeYas are the blisters that from the rubbing of the material on the top of my foot and toes. I think I may have to accept that I can only run with them with socks but this detracts a lot from the feel. Right now I have to wait for my foot to heal and try building up more slowly with them, perhaps putting some vaseline on my foot beforehand...

    In any case, they're not much use for triathlons: you'd lose 5 minutes just trying to get them on!