The next day, Friday, I wiggled into the shoes again, with a few hours of training in the gym ahead of me. I was focused on my clients’ activities, and didn’t pay much attention to my own feet (other than fielding the bemused questions as people showed up). Once I was alone, however, I began to notice something. Something strange. An odd sensation spread through the the balls of my feet, which would normally have been encased in my puffy, well-padded running shoes. It felt as though they were softening into putty and oozing outward in all directions! The space between my toes, and between all the bones in my forefoot, was increasing. A feeling of relief and pleasure spread over me. I could almost hear my feet thanking me for setting them free.
A little background: like plenty of kids, I spent my summers barefoot, running on the beach in California, climbing trees in my back yard, roaming the neighborhood in search of my friends and some adventure to fill the long, leisurely days. My feet would develop a leathery toughness, and I was blissfully happy with the sensation of earthy soil, tickly grass, or hard pavement underfoot. The occasional bee sting or encounter with a piece of glass was a minor bump along the wandering road of summer.
Then things began to change. Life as a young adult in New York City catapulted me into the wild and wonderful world of big-city fashion. High heels, platform shoes, and then, in icy winters, pointy-toed boots…I wedged my feet into shoes a half-size too small, because, after all, in 1977, what woman would dare admit she actually wears a size 9B?
Running shoes of the same era
Then, in the early 80’s, people started running, en masse, for exercise. I jumped on that bandwagon, and soon after moving back to California, I was a regular 3 miler, running about 4 times a week. I remember spraining my ankle regularly that first year. The running habit stuck to this day, with time off for childbirth (I ran through all 3 pregnancies) and periodic diversion to other forms of cardiovascular exercise. I had pretty much given up high heels by then, except for date nights and parties. Fitness as a planned activity had moved into my life.
On Saturday, I decided to give the Vibrams a chance to show me their stuff during a workout. This workout included plenty of squats, lunges, and ladder drills (pictured above). That means, not only was I weight-bearing in multiple planes, but also I had to contend with ballistic jumping, or plyometric movements. I felt light and springy, and my feet were exploring all kinds of ways to help me land and push off again. With each lunge, I could feel my plantar fascia stretch, my toes splay, and my weight balance in different parts of my sole as I transitioned through each pattern. The bottoms of my feet had transformed from a flat, unbending landing surface, to an intelligent and cooperative team of many neurons and muscles contracting and releasing synergistically, in a beautiful counterpoint of movement.
But would I be sore and immobilized on Sunday? Stress fractures? Aching knees? Nope! There were only two drawbacks that next day. The first, as usual, was getting the right toes in the right holes. The second was when Smokey and I were about to head to the big home improvement store to shop for a new dishwasher, and I heard him say “Are you going to wear THOSE shoes?” Of course I was, and did.