It’s about time that a major shoe company asked for my endorsement of their shoes. So, Nike sent me a pair of Free 5.0 running shoes to evaluate. Thanks Nike! No seriously, I really mean it. Like I really needed running shoes! But, I really did appreciate the opportunity to speak about Running Barefoot at the Los Angeles Marathon expo in March, even if it was for a running shoe company.
- Footwear: Nike Free 5.0
- Distance: less than 1 mile
- Response: eh, it’s a shoe…
Opening the Box
Anyway, if Nike can spend millions of dollars developing a shoe, based on Running Barefoot, I guess I can sacrifice my feet for a few minutes and try them out…
This was my first run with shoes since 1998, when I ran a total of about 30 miles, in shoes, for the whole year (ran another 2000+ miles barefoot the same year). I probably ran twice that much with shoes in 1997, but I hadn’t started a running log yet.
When I opened the box, after being assaulted by a toxic-smelling synthetic odor (may have been anti-fungal agent – since shoes are often made in countries with very humid climates), the first obvious goof is the design of the sole. It’s way too thick, especially in the back towards the heel.
Wearing the Shoes
It also feels like my heel is being squished on the sides. See the whole idea of a fatty pad in the heel to absorb impact, is that it will spread out as weight is applied. This is exactly how the pads on an elephants feet work. Also, pneumatic tires. If the pressure is increased in a tire, it absorbs less shock. If we squeeze our fatty heel pads in at the sides, they too, will become more stiff, and absorb less impact. Of course the real flaw is that the shoes is still designed, not just for heel-first landings, but because of the raised heels, it almost forces a heel-first landing.
And did I mention my toes felt pretty crowded, despite the shoe being a half size bigger than my feet. Simply too narrow for a someone with un-deformed feet.
For some reason, Nike felt I needed some support for my arch! So, of course, the arch support was already starting to make my arch sore, since I couldn’t flex naturally. And I haven’t even started walking yet.
Since I’m used to shifting my weight forward while running, I’ve also become used to standing with my weight slighting forward. Which is really nice, because this pulls much of my weight off my heels, distributing it more evenly across the whole sole, and I believe, helps prevent plantar facsiitis and Achilles tendinitis. Well, with wedge-soled shoes like the Nike Free 5.0, when I shift my weight forward, by the time the weight is distributed evenly, I actually am falling!
As per my own recommendations, start short, start slow, blah, blah, blah. I ran easy with the dog for just a short distance, maybe 50 meters. I couldn’t help but notice, that it felt so much like I had… hmm… what are those things… It feels so familiar, so deja vu. Oh yeah, shoes! ON MY FEET! Arghhh! get ’em off me! OK, it wasn’t that bad. But it did remind me of why I do love going barefoot.
Cathy, my wife, was video taping the experiment, but we didn’t have much time before we lost the day’s light, so that’s about all for now. Happy to get home and kick off my shoes (boy, I haven’t said THAT in quite a while) and set my feet free (literally).
The Color Purple
Nike also gave my wife a pair of “Free” shoes. Since I waited until tonight to open mine, so I could document the experience, she opened her’s first. I was, of course a bit disappointed when I opened mine and they weren’t the same lovely lavender color as hers 🙁 Just boring black. Maybe I can use them as dress shoes at my niece’s wedding this summer? Hmmm..
Post Shoe Tension
A few hours after removing the shoes I noticed a pain, feels like the skin is cracked, just behind the outer (little and large) toes, on the outer edge of the soles?
This is something I vaguely remember, back some 8 to 10 years ago when I actually did wear shoes regularly to work, but still went part-time barefoot.
It seems that by squeezing the fatty padding in my feet, it kind of tenses up. Now I have to do some serious toe wiggling to get them back to a nice relaxed state.
Or maybe it’s toxicity from the synthetic material. These things really do stink, I mean outgas, especially when I first took them out of the box.
Nike Convinces Me … to Keep on Running Barefoot
Man, if Nike gets nothing from my feedback, I can tell you that my understanding of the benefits of going barefoot has probably tippled in the past few hours! And I only wore the shoes for about 15 minutes, 30 at the most.
And these are supposed to be an improvement over normal running shoes? I guess it really has been a long time since I put up with this kind of self-inflicted torture! I feel almost like the guy in the movie “SuperSize Me!” Except I’m not committed to wearing these shoes full-time for a full month!
On a Lighter Note
One positive note. The tops do remind me of the aqua socks that Barefoot Jon likes to wear in colder weather and on rough surfaces. So if you ever want a thick clunky sole and arch support, you can buy a pair of Nike Free 5.0s for $80-$100 instead of wasting $4 on those aqua socks.
I will just add one more caveat. I realize that these shoes may fit someone else’s feet a bit better. Someone, who, like many Americans and Europeans, spend so much time in shoes, that their feet have been reformed to the shape of most fashionable shoes. Mine, fortunately, since I don’t need to wear shoes, have not.
-barefoot ken bob
2005 February 26
OK, so that first short run in Nike Frees wasn’t much fun. But, most times you just got to start short, start slow, build gradually, before you get used to something new. So, I invited my friend Todd Byers over, and we both gave the Nike Free shoes a try, while the other of us video-taped the experiment. Unfortunately, it was so windy that the microphone on the camera didn’t pick up any of our highly articulate, intelligent and witty comments.
Anyway, pretty much like I said from yesterday’s run. It definitely felt like something alien was wrapped around my feet, preventing me from feeling the ground. But I guess that’s pretty much the purpose of shoes. I just don’t see that lack of sensation and feedback as an advantage.
One other note, my little toe was bleeding after wearing the Nike Free shoes, even just for about one mile of running. Granted, I already had a sore that had scabbed over on the top of my toe, before wearing the shoes. I think the injury was from one of my dog’s friends, a rottweiler dancing on my toe a day or two before. But, still, this would not have been any problem if I had been running barefoot, even over a much greater distance.
Todd Byers goes back to Nike – for a few minutes
Todd, as a long-time Nike-wearer, had a different take on the Nike Frees than myself. Since he was already used to both running barefoot and running in Nike shoes, he felt that the Nike Frees were confusing his feet, and he wasn’t sure if he should run as if he were wearing shoes, or as if he were barefoot.
Of course, my wisdom always tells me to run as-if I were barefoot, no matter what I’m wearing on my feet. It’s just impossible to be certain if we’re actually running as-if barefoot, or not, with shoes blocking our perception of how we’re running.
Though I declined an endorsment deal with Nike (they did NOT tell me whether it would be worth millions, or just a free pair of shoes), I did offer to speak at the Los Angeles Marathon Expo about my experience running barefoot, since that was something I do know. They agreed.
Update2012 October 30
Oddly, I’ve gotten some nasty criticism for even talking with Nike. Remember, as pretty much the best known barefoot runner back then, Nike asked for my opinion. And I told them honestly. As a result, no money came my way from Nike, and no other shoe manufacturer asked my opinion of their product since… though I did get a free pair of Nike Free shoes, how disappointing…
Nowadays, of course, it seems that nearly every other famous “barefoot runner” has teamed up with a manufacturer of, or started their own business making “barefoot shoes” (the oxymoronic term coined, I believe, by Nike)!