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Running lightly on the earth in minimalist shoes, part II

A novice runner’s detailed review of Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes

There were many reviews on the internet about Vibram FF KSO shoes, but few reports from novices like me — and women. Non-runners, family, friends, old people, young people, and strangers have asked me many questions about my shoes when I wear them. Strangers stared at them. Furthermore, some relatives had never heard of these shoes and thought my shoes were a joke. Therefore, I decided to write this detailed review.

Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes

Side view

Side view

The experience:  Day one wearing Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes

When I finally acquired my new shoes from See Jane Run (where they were selling like hotcakes), I was glad to ditch the aqua shoes. Since the aqua shoes were made of neoprene, my feet sweated during my runs and the neoprene was not designed to wick the moisture from feet. (See the previous post A novice runner’s thoughts on barefoot running and minimalist shoes where I describe running in aqua shoes — to get a taste of running in minimalist footwear).

On day 16 of my running program, I switched to wearing Vibram FiveFingers KSO shoes. (I alternate my running days with cross-training days, when I usually go barefoot for non-running activities.)  I ran 2.75 miles at Berkeley Marina, on flat surfaces to break them in.  I felt soreness on calves afterward — not uncomfortable, they just felt tighter and more worked out. As expected, the soles of the shoe were a vast improvement on my aqua shoes. They were denser, but still relatively thin. They allowed me to feel the texture of the ground, and roll on the balls of my foot comfortably.

They were breathable and felt great for running. Soon after the run, I changed to slip-on shoes to air out my sweaty feet and the KSOs. They are comfy for me for running, but not for lounging. Also, on a cool or cold day, my feet tend to get cold in them if I am not engaged in exercise.

A recent run

On Saturday, April 23 at dusk, I ran five miles slowly in hilly Tilden park with views overlooking San Francisco, the bay, and the sunset. It was run day 19, and day four running in new Vibram FiveFingers shoes. (Note: On a previous five-mile run in Tilden, the shoes started rubbing on the inner, middle sides  of my feet, halfway through the run. I got mild blisters.) On this April 23 run, I made the strap looser to compensate for foot swelling and felt no discomfort whatsoever. To prevent blisters on long runs, runner Barefoot Ted wore Injinji socks.

The spouse left me in dust as usual, to run to end of trail and back to meet the grazing cows. The slow run in nature was beautiful. The forest smelled fresh and earthy, and the rolling green hills made me feel peaceful. Large, dark birds of prey were out plucking small animals off the ground.  My new shoes felt great and helped me, my feet, legs feel stronger! The husband too ran in his new KSO shoes — but longer, eight miles and enjoyed them.



I bought these shoes for my workout and because the scientific research in the aforementioned websites and articles say that the conventional running shoes, with the thick heel and technical features do not necessarily prevent injury. Plus, the shoes are versatile and can be used for other fitness activities. I also personally don’t have a history of foot problems and prefer low shoes.

This past week, I noticed improvements in my other exercises as a result, I believe, of strengthening my feet with minimalist shoes. During “balance challenge” exercises like one leg balances with weights, and the warrior three pose in Vinyasa yoga, I am able to hold a steadier position. I noticed the grip of my foot and my arch feel stronger in these positions (versus the time prior to running in minimalist shoes). The skin on the bottom of my feet became thicker, specifically on the ball area. It has felt exhilarating to run in thin shoes, free my toes for a work out, and feel more of a connection to the ground.

Other benefits from my experience:

  • My senses open up more than with other shoes
  • My feet and arches feel stronger
  • For me, it feels like riding a bike versus an SUV
  • I feel more present when I work out barefoot or minimalist shoes because it encourages consciousness about feeling the ground, not landing in a way that hurts me, and looking out for stepping in glass, pollution, etc.

My future goals

  • I hope to enter my first run this year. Since I am a slow, novice runner, I would like to enter a 5k  for fun, and perhaps to join and support my friend, colleague, and cancer survivor Tita Loreta in a race to benefit cancer research.
  • I hope to work up to barefoot running on the grass or a track.

Shopping tips

  • If you are interested in buying the FiveFingers, look at the chart on the Vibram website to determine which model is right for you and your particular sports.
  • Click on “Size and fit” at the bottom of this webpage for instructions on measuring your feet for a good fit.
  • Be sure to find the right size for your specific model shoe.  Important: not all model shoes have the same size charts! (When I went to REI to try different models on, the staff did not inform me of this.)  Consult with each model’s size chart before trying on shoes.

New models
If you are in no hurry to buy the shoes and can afford to spend more money, you may want to wait for the new models of the shoes. According to the fan site birthdayshoes.com (see photos of the new models in different colors on this site), “Rumors put the suggested retail price at $100” for the new FiveFingers Bikila model, designed specifically for running. (When I purchased my KSOs, the retail price was $85, on sale for about $68  at the See Jane Run store, during their anniversary sale.) The new Bikila model is apparently named after the Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila, who ran the 1960 Summer Olympics marathon barefoot and won.

The original Bikila. "Running without shoes, Bikila, an Imperial Guardsman in Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie's court, pulls ahead in the 1960 Rome marathon." Photo: Popperfoto/Getty Via: Time.com

Vibram CEO Tony Post reviewed the Bikila.  I found product descriptions, specs, and photos of the new Bikila and new Speed models on the New Zealand Vibram site. (The new models did not appear yet on the US site at the time this article was published.) The new models were built on a “new platform,” different from the previous models. Post said the Bikila should start “hitting the first stores in late April.” However, the New Zealand site says these new models will be released in June.

New Vibram FiveFingers Bikila shoes in gray. Via: birthdayshoes.com

New Vibram FiveFingers Bikila in blue. Via: birthdayshoes.com

How to transition to Vibram FiveFingers

There are no instructions that came with my shoes on how to transition. Prior to buying the shoes, I recommend doing as many indoor and outdoor activities with bare feet. Here are some important tips on how to transition from your old shoes to the FiveFingers on the Vibram website, and from coach Michael Sandler, author of Barefoot Running, a former professional cyclist and skater, who “has coached both cycling and professional running teams.” In his article, Sandler describes “ways in which our feet are weak” and “how to get strong for FiveFingers.” (I recognized the condition of my previously wimpy feet in his descriptions– from formerly wearing traditional sport shoes.) These important articles must be read before one’s first workout with the new shoes. Enjoy!



(as of 4/1/2012)

May 8, 2010
It was day 24 of my running program and day nine wearing KSOs. I ran five miles on the Nimitz trail in the Tilden park hills. (Like the previous Saturday, two-thirds into run, the toes on my left foot got tingly. The feeling went away before the finish.) I realized that this feeling happened every time I ran up two hills toward the end of the run, and started lazily dragging my left foot close to the ground. When I adjusted my use and lifted my left foot more when running up hills, the tingly-numb feeling went away. Since I have been wearing non-cushioned shoes, I found I have been able to feel when my form was bad immediately and correct it right away.

May 21, 2010
The new VFF Bikila model is available online for pre-order at See Jane Run and REI.

November 2010
My husband and I ran the half-marathon portion of the Bangkok marathon, Thailand in our VFF KSO shoes. We met and conversed with Thai runners on the course who were curious about our shoes, which they had never seen before!

April 2011
I bought a pair of silver-green Bikila VFFs to replace my KSOs, which now have holes in them from lots of wear! I use them for my Thursday morning runs on the paved and dirt trails at Cesar Chavez Park, Berkeley and track workouts.


Articles and books

Minimal shoe reviews, Barefoot Runner

Consider Wearing this Shoe if You Want to Run Barefoot by Dr. Michael Nirenberg

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

Transitioning to minimalist shoes
Transitioning to Minimalism, Running Times

Switching to Fivefingers by the Vibram Biomechanics Advisory Board

How To Transition into Vibram Five Fingers, runbare.com

How to Reap the Benefits of the Barefoot/Minimalist Running Movement without Getting Hurt by Coach Jenny Hadfield

Barefoot Ted

Vibram FiveFingers footwear

New FiveFingers Sprints Do Rocks 

Notes:  A look at Barefoot Ted’s form while running briskly on fist-sized rocks, a hill, and VFFs. In real time and slow motion. Notice the quick, small, light steps.

Running with Hiko and Edgar in KSO Treks – Slow Motion – Barefoot Ted
Notes:  A look at Barefoot Ted’s form while running on a flat in slow motion in VFFs.

2007 Vibram FiveFingers Sprint Test – Running & Balancing

VFF/City Sports All-Star Barefoot Running Clinic

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Running lightly on the earth in minimalist shoes, part I: A novice runner’s thoughts on barefoot running and minimalist shoes  (see more related articles here)


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