By Benjamin Markus – October 2011
Picture a pair of running shoes.
Picture a pair of leather gloves.
Now imagine the running shoes fitting your feet just like those gloves fit your hands, and you’ve got a pretty good idea of the design of Vibram FiveFingers shoes.
FiveFingers have emerged as the most-recognizable shoes of the barefoot-running movement that has swarmed, and occasionally divided, the running world over the last several years. FiveFingers are designed with a thin rubber sole, among other features, which allows runners to simulate the movement and feel of barefoot running without the blisters and cuts of the actual practice.
Along with an increase in the recognizability of Vibram FiveFingers has come an increase in sales of the shoes nationwide. Sales increased 500 percent last year and are expected to double this year, said Anne Tommasi, whose public relations firm, Tommasi Public Relations, represents Vibram.
Although Vibram has been around since 1937, its FiveFingers shoes were invented in 1999 and only made public in 2005. The company, Tommasi added, “is more than 100-times larger than it was a few years ago.”
The barefoot-running movement
The popularity of FiveFingers must, almost wholly, be attributed to the barefoot-running movement that has, particularly over the last two years, sprinted into the foreground of the American running scene.
Many consider Christopher McDougall and his 2009 best-selling book, “Born To Run,” the starting pistols of the movement.
Within the book, McDougall highlights the Tarahumara Indian tribe of Mexico, whose members run upwards of 100 miles at a time – the length of, roughly, four marathons – in nothing but thin-soled homemade shoes. And, McDougall adds, they do this into old age and, generally, without injury.
A proponent of barefoot running himself, McDougall says he began the practice after many years of running in traditional thick-soled, padded shoes and subsequent frequent injury. Since adopting the Tarahumara’s running techniques, McDougall says he has been injury-free.
However, McDougall didn’t introduce barefoot running to the United States; he simply brought it to the masses.
Famed runner, Olympian and author Jeff Galloway says he has seen barefoot-running movements come-and-go five times throughout his 53 years of running.
“About every 10 years there will be something in the media that will induce people to do it,” Galloway said at a Florida Track Club meeting on Sunday. “In the ‘80s, it was Zola Budd, who ran in the Olympics barefoot and started a whole trend of barefooted running and minimal-shoe running at that time.”
Budd’s popularity, Galloway said, coincided with the release and subsequent popularity of the Aqua Sock, as well as other minimalist-minded shoes by companies such as Nike.