Goodbye My Friend Bikila #VFF


In March 2011, after doing 2 Half Marathons and a 10k, I was close to giving up on running. Every time I got on a treadmill in my ASICs, I got crippling shin-splints within minutes. It was like trying to run with two solid wooden peg legs. Running on grass was only slightly better.

18 months prior to that I had also destroyed my ankle by going over sideways on it twice in quick succession. A bunch of physio had helped and given me back some proprioception but I was still very nervous on uneven surfaces. I also got terrible pains during running in my ankle and foot where all the damage had occurred. Did I mention my scarily clicky knees? And of course, I was diagnosed with “fallen arches” as a kid after complaining that walking hurt. Picking up pencils with my toes never really sorted that out :-)

So the day I tried running in my socks on the treadmill was hugely momentous for me. I ran like a small child on a beach. No pain, none. All gone. Then a bunch of people recommended Vibram Five Fingers and everything changed forever.

I got my first pair, Bikilas, in John Buckley Sports in Cork and they were a revelation. I have honestly never looked back. Those Bikilas did The Bandon Half Marathon, the Amsterdam Half Marathon, The Bandon 10k and finally, last Monday, the Cork Half Marathon. They have also done a few hundred km on a treadmill and some local road and grass running.

Of course they get laughs, questions and stares, rightly so. I’m always up for the slagging about them. Hell, I now own them, a pair of Trek Sports and a pair of KSO Treks so I’m setting myself up for some ribbing. But I’ll never go back to traditional running shoes. I can’t.

The only issue I have found with the Bikilas is running on Irish back-roads in those races. Unlike footpaths or nice tarmac, we have a horrible surface on most Irish R routes. The stones rise up out of the tar and create a really knobbly surface. After 21km on that, I always end up with two big blisters on the balls of my feet. I’m probably exacerbating it by landing on the inside of my foot.

Most people worry about the impact on your feet, ankles, knees and hips of running with no padding but it’s honestly the complete opposite. You land on the front of your foot, not your heel, so your foot does what it evolved to do: take the impact. My problem above is surface quality, not the fact that it’s a road.

I’ve also been getting new blisters on the Bikilas so my guess is that they are knackered. I’m not sure they were designed to handle this amount of weight :-) I’ve worn the heels away quite badly but I don’t feel like I am heel striking so maybe that’s just a natural outcome or the treadmill is catching the back of them.

So it’s time to retire them and plan my next moves. First I’m going to try my Trek Sports for running. I see people complaining they lose foot-feel with them but that’s what I want on Irish roads. The extra knobbly bits on the sole may be perfect for the bad surfaces. I’ll also focus on adjusting how I land on my foot to aim more for the middle. And of course I need to do more road running to toughen the skin on the balls of my feet.

If I find the Treksports too clunky then I think my next pair will be Bikila LS. They have an expandable top which for someone with a high instep like me, should make them a slightly better fit than the Bikila.

If you are thinking about Vibrams or similar shoes but are afraid to try, please leave your questions below. I am the most atypical runner ever - I’m still 3 stone overweight and apparently (according to my sister-in-law) I run awkwardly.

Oh a final side-note. We found out recently that the main disties for VFFs in Ireland,, are based in the Rubicon Centre in CIT in Cork. So support local!

UPDATE: How could I do a post on Vibram Five Fingers and not mention this brilliant XKCD from last week:

Conor O'Neill

Tech guy who likes running slowly

Bandon, Cork, Ireland