At mile 10 of the marathon, I was running up the rising road alone. The older gentleman I had been chatting with had stopped to take a pebble out of his shoe. I was enjoying the rising sun through the low-lying clouds. The elite runners had passed us about 10 minutes earlier, flying the other direction on Palomar Airport Road, as we cheered the thrilling sight. Suddenly a flash of red on the opposite side of the road caught my eye. It was toenail polish, on a smiling 40-something woman, running in the other direction, her bare feet silent on the hard pavement. Seeing her quickly-moving bare feet made my own feet, clad in Vibram FiveFinger Bikila LS, look well-cosseted by comparison.

I was running the Carlsbad Marathon because of our 27-yr. old son Brian. When he ran it in 2011, I got caught up in the excitement of the event, and vowed to run it myself the following January. I was running in FiveFinger (FF) shoes also because of Brian. Sometime before his marathon, he blogged about how FF had restored his love of running. He talked about how running had become a chore, a forced tying of laces and dragging himself out the door. With FF, he felt like a kid again. As a kid, you run everywhere, because life is so exciting, you can’t wait to see what’s around the next corner. On the strength of Brian’s comments, I got a pair. I read Born to Run. I was hooked.

Starting with a Scare

I had just been through a scare with an emergency angiogram, and was told by my cardiologist to consider getting more exercise. Friends found this amusing, considering my 6’4”, 180-lb., 53-yr.-old frame can crank out 20 – 30 mile days on backpacking trips. So I started running on the trails behind my house. In the beginning it seemed to take forever to tease my toes into the separate pockets of my FF KSO shoes. I’m sure my form could be better, but I found the stride adjustment to be pretty intuitive. With no heel padding, you quickly figure out to not heel strike! I started with 1 – 2 mile runs, and was soon doing up to 8 miles a day on the weekends.

With a Christmas gift card to REI, I bought a pair of the Bikila LS. I really liked the smoother interior finish, and the speed lace system. They were easier to put on with the added room the laces afforded. The speed lacing, and the simple but effective spot of hook and loop to secure the free end of the laces work great for me. I have never worn socks in my FF, so the nice smooth feel of the inside is a big plus. I was still just running on weekends, but I always looked forward to it, even though I didn’t seem to gain any conditioning. Running 8 miles felt the same as it did the weekend before. The only injury I experienced running in the FF was a sprained calf muscle while running on some uneven trails on Orcas Island. That required some time off from running to heal. I ended up getting some physical therapy, although by the time it had been arranged, the calf was basically healed. The physical therapist did point out some sloppiness in my gait. I was turning my feet out when I brought them forward, so it got me to concentrate on keeping them straight.

Training for the Marathon

15 weeks before the Carlsbad Marathon, I printed out the Hal Higdon training schedule (Novice 1) and started in. My typical schedule during the week is up at 4:30, at work from 6 to 6, then time with the wife watching news and having dinner. This meant I was heading out the door in the dark after dinner during the week to ‘pound’ the pavement. Having the printed training schedule to check off, and a novel on my iPhone, helped to get me out the door after a long day. Now I started to see some conditioning. Having my runs logged on Runkeeper gave me tangible evidence of my training. I didn’t drop any significant weight, but my pants are a little looser.

On January 22, I finished my first marathon in 30 years. My time was a modest 4:21, but I was happy with a steady 10-minute mile pace, as I had settled into an 11-minute pace on my training runs. My feet were slightly tender for the last 10 miles, but not unduly sensitive. I had thought that when I finished I would want to rip off the Bikilas to let my feet cool off and relax, but I ended up wearing them around for some time. I definitely didn’t set any records, but it seemed like I was in pretty good shape at the end compared to many others. I was a little stiff the next day at work, but pretty much fully recovered the day after, and running again later in the week. I’m now looking forward to the three half-marathons I have scheduled this year, and thinking about an ultra-marathon in 2013.

Other Applications

Read Miller hiking the PCT in his VFFs

With around 1200 miles on the Bikilas, they are wearing thin in a couple of places, and I expect to have to replace them soon. After looking over the current offerings recently, I’m planning on replacing them with another pair of Bikila LS. As far as my other love, backpacking, I’m not quite ready to take the FiveFingers on a trip. My buddy Read Miller took his FiveFingers on a 3-day trip along the Pacific Crest Trail last year, and swears by them. I’ve worn the Merrell Trail Gloves on a trip, which I liked, although mine were a half size too small. My next trip I’ll either take a larger size of the Trail Glove, or my Stem Origins, which are my preferred non-work, around town shoe.