VFF KSOs: First Impressions

My Vibram FiveFingers KSOs (for Keep Stuff Out) arrived a couple of days ago, thanks to the good folks at FastTrax in Edmonton and courtesy of Canada Post. Took only seven days to come 3,500 kilometers!

I’m a happy guy now.

I started my journey towards VFF-dom about a month ago, when I ordered a pair of Classics directly from Vibram in Boston, Mass. Unfortunately, that didn’t pan out. I eventually found out that my order had been returned to Vibram marked “undeliverable,” presumably by the afore-mentioned Canada Post. Between then and now, my VFF lust turned from the Classics to the KSOs. Then Tina, on the BirthdayShoes forums, steered me towards FastTrax. Thank you again, Tina!

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My new shoes are KSOs in black/black, size 40. I chose the KSOs over the Classics because I’ll probably do most of my training runs barefoot and just use my VFFs for long runs and for races. (I really like running barefoot.)The Classics are very minimalist, while the KSOs offer a tension strap to “lock” the shoes on the foot, and also offer a little more protection from the kind of gravel, sand, etc. that might be an issue on trail runs. (I plan to do some ultra trail races next year.)

First, a caveat. I started running barefoot about 3 1/2 weeks ago. As I do with most of my new enthusiasms, I overdid things a bit. After about 10 days of running BF, I did a 14K run over some pretty rough surfaces. The resulting blisters have healed nicely, thank you, but I’ve done some soft tissue damage to the tops of my feet. My feet are a little swollen, just behind the toes and towards my ankles. I haven’t run for a couple of weeks. I’ve walked, gone to my regular yoga classes, have swum lengths in the pool, and have also done some water-running. I want very much to run, but have learned that I must be patient in order to heal properly. So this initial review is a little skewed in the direction of “hurting, hurting, must be careful.”

Of course, as soon as I found out that my KSOs had arrived, I tried them on. My first thoughts were “Gee, they look great!” and then “Good grief, these things are really hard to put on!” My toes seemed to go in the toe pouches OK. I’ve got really high arches anyway, and, with the slight swelling on the tops of my feet, I seriously wondered if I’d ordered the wrong size. But go on they did, and I puttered around the house happily all evening.

Initial reactions – positive, very positive. I liked the feel of the KSOs. I liked the feeling of compression around my entire foot. And I liked the odd but cozy feeling of having my toes in those little pouches. (Surprisingly, as I really love being barefoot.) So far, so good.

Yesterday morning I headed out for a 3K walk in my KSOs. That meant another struggle to get into the things, but I found I was getting better with practice. (There are minimal instructions on the box the KSOs come in about how to put them on. But, to tell the truth, the process is more of an Insertion than a Putting On. Maybe someone should write a manual…)

The walk was good. I really missed the feeling of road, sidewalk, grass, etc. on the soles of my feet. But the payoff was that I could walk more easily than I had on my recent barefoot walks. Just that little bit of protection at the bottom of my feet meant that I could adopt a more natural stride and gait. That, in turn, meant, I wasn’t punishing my feet the way I had been previously. Less pain, more comfort, resulting in more pleasure. (To say that I’m essentially a pleasure -oriented animal is something of an understatement.) Got a couple of odd looks from the few other folks I met along the way, but they normally see me barefoot, so for them it was probably just another “Here’s the old guy being weird again” moment.

When I got home and took the KSOs off, I checked my feet really carefully. They weren’t any more swollen than when I’d started, so I decided that I was wearing the right size after all. No evidence of pressure points anywhere. (I’d been warned of possible blisters on and
around the toes, but I think my distance was too short to bring those on.) My feet felt well exercised. All good – except that I missed feeling those surfaces under my feet.

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A shower, a change of clothes, and off to work. I wore the KSOs all day, at the office (that’s the BirthdayShoes home page on my netbook’s screen, by the way), and out and about doing some banking and purchasing of supplies. That meant more walking on tarmac, and a fairly extended period of time walking on the very hard floor surfaces of a big shopping mall. Once again, all good. In fact, walking on the hard-as-marble surfaces at the mall made me feel like I was gliding along. Got no funny looks at all – but then again, this is a very multi-ethnic and multi-cultural place, and shoes with toes are far from the oddest fashion choice you’ll see.

By the end of the day, the top of my right foot was a bit more swollen than I’d want. But the swelling went down considerably after I took off the KSOs, so I think it really had more to do with walking a lot than with pressure from the VFFs.

I’m still a little concerned about the fit, though. I’ve pretty much decided that size 40 is the right one for me – 41s would be far too loose around the toes. KSOs fit tightly anyway, I’ve heard and read, and with my high arches that’s going to be exacerbated. Add the slight soft tissue swelling, and I think it’s all understandable. But darn, these things are tight!

So I’m still happy. I didn’t wear the KSOs today, just as part of the ongoing experiment, and didn’t walk this morning anyway, doing lengths at the pool instead. But I’ll wear them tomorrow, and see what happens.

The other thing I’m doing, of course, is taking care of those soft tissue injuries. I’m in that familiar “injured runner” space of going around the twist because I can’t run, and yet knowing that I must not run now if I want the injury to heal. This is important, because I’ve registered for a charity 10K run at the end of August, and am aiming at doing a half marathon in early November. Must be good, must not be impatient!

I like the VFF experience. I like the KSOs. And I’m already looking forward to owning a pair of VFF Bikila’s, the first running-specific VFFs, which are due to come to market early in 2010. Pretty, aren’t they?

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7 comments

  1. I’m following your blog from the beginning, interested in the transition to barefoot. You say:

    The resulting blisters have healed nicely, thank you, but I’ve done some soft tissue damage to the tops of my feet.

    I’m curious about the damage to the tops of your feet. I’m feeling constrained by the adaptation of the soft tissue on the bottom my feet, but have not felt anything on the top. I’m running barefoot on asphalt chip seal for now.

    1. The damage I was referring to was beginner’s top of foot pain (TOFP). It happened because I took on too much barefoot running, at too long distances, at the start of my barefoot journey, rather than easing into it. The soft tissue damage was, more accurately, sore muscles on the top of my feet.

  2. I got my first VFFs yesterday and they were also KSOs. So, I am now looking forward very much to trying them out on a run. One problem – there are lots of snow outside right now. Have you tried running in snow with your KSOs? Is it OK?

    1. Running on or in snow in KSOs is alright, with one caveat – you get no traction at all. So you’ll end up going more slowly and carefully.

  3. Great review – I too am enjoying the VFF KSO experience. I’ve done about 25 miles total running in them so far, and after some initial soreness, they feel great right now. The Bikila’s look like a big improvement in the heel – I’ve had blister issues when running in KSO’s without my Injinji socks.

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