To Run, or Not to Run, in the Vibram Five Fingers?

There has been much debate about the benefits of running in the Vibram Five Fingers, and while it is indeed a bit of a controversial topic, I think the following post by fellow WOOT member Carey Hicks is worth reading. I have my own thoughts about Vibram Five Fingers, as I’m sure many of you do too, but I also enjoy hearing and reading the views of people like Carey, who have an educational background in occupational therapy, and thus a professional perspective to offer. Please do not see this post as an attempt by WOOT to deter you from buying, or running in the Vibram Five Fingers; it is merely an alternative argument presented with the intent to have readers explore both sides of the debate. 
Jannine Myers

Post by Carey Hicks

What do you think about VIBRAM five fingers?

What is the most popular question that I am asked when other runners/joggers discover my educational background and realize that there is indeed a brain behind the stay-at-home-mom-of-three/pretty face…. “What do you think of the five fingers?”

I have been taught by well meaning, polite parents to never answer a question with a question so I hesitate while my brain runs through the following:

Do you already own them? Have you read any of the actual research? Do you want to try them because you have seen other people running in them? What are your running goals? Has your doctor prescribed orthotics for you? Do you have pain in your joints before, during or after running now?
I could go on and on….

Our bodies are different. What works for one person won’t necessarily be the best for someone else. Does “one size fits all” really fit everyone? No matter what I do, I am never going to be 5’8 with long, lean limbs. (I relinquished modeling as a long -term career goal at a very early age since I could never even get on the height/weight curve at my checkups.)

Before I give you MY answer, let’s read what the authors of the research say.

The first sentence of the journal article states “ humans have been engaged in endurance running for millions of years”.

This statement may be true, perhaps our ancestors ran barefoot or even covered their feet with leather wrappings but were the societies the same then as they are now?

Let’s compare apples to apples here…
Think about it. Did your great grandparents multiple generations ago sit behind a desk for 8-9 hours a day and exercise for a mere hour of their day? Did they drive a car the majority of the time? Was the time that they exercised a structured workout?

Consider the “hunter gatherer” society this article is referring to. Their ideal day consisted of physical activity for 12 hours a day. They were moving: climbing, crawling, walking and sometimes running. Even after they hunted their food they still had to spend hours skinning and butchering. We do not even walk to the commissary much less hunt it down or spend hours looking for berries and greens to subside on.

The point is their lifestyle was one in which they were on their feet the majority of the day, conditioning their leg and feet muscles. Perhaps they did run long distances barefoot, but they could do so without injury because their muscles were already strong.

Let’s also consider the conditions that they ran on. What was the terrain like? Forests, grassy fields, rolling hills that all varied by seasonal changes. Pretty sure they didn’t spend hours wandering around on asphalt and concrete.

There are numerous other aspects of things we do differently in our society today, so this assumption that just because the cavemen were barefoot means we should go barefoot too is a critically weak argument. The fact is, our bodies are not prepared for hours of physical activity like our ancestors were.  If you click on the link to the Skeletal Biology research website:

You can scroll down and read:
“Please note that we present no data on how people should run, whether shoes cause some injuries, or whether barefoot running causes other kinds of injuries. We believe there is a strong need for controlled, prospective studies on these issues.”

Basically, they haven’t studied “whether barefoot running causes other injuries” and they feel strongly that the research should at some point be conducted. The research did NOT prove that running barefoot was less likely to cause injury from impact forces in the lower leg. Also, the research did NOT prove that running in shoes causes injuries. To date, there is still no evidence to prove either.

What have they studied? “In Daniel Lieberman’s Skeletal Biology Lab, we have been investigating the biomechanics of endurance running, comparing habitually barefoot runners with runners who normally run in modern running shoes with built-up heels, stiff soles and arch support.”  Who are the “habitual runners” the authors of the study refer to? Well, to determine this, I went to the research published in “Nature”.
The authors had five groups, which consisted of:
Group (1): 8 adults from the US that always run with shoes (6 male, 2 female)
Group (2): 14 adults from Kenya that recently started wearing shoes. (13 male, 1 female)
Group (3): 8 adults from the US that habitually run barefoot (7 males, 1 female)
Group (4): 16 adolescents from Kenya that were barefoot (8 males, 8 females)
Group (5): 17 adolescents from Kenya that wore shoes (10 male, 7 female)

First of all, there was only a total of 18 females in this study. A mere 3 females were from the good ol’ USA and only ONE female was a habitually barefoot runner.

Let’s compare oranges to oranges here…

About one third, 33.8% or 190 million, of U.S. adults are OBESE (Body Mass index greater than 30) as well as 17% (22.5 million) of children and adolescents, according to the Centers for Disease Control. 33% of American women are obese!

Researching obesity rates in Kenya was challenging to say the least. I read numerous health reports on nutritional deficiencies across all age spans until I finally found the stats I was searching for.

The incidence of obesity in women, to include ALL of Kenya, including the urban areas where food and water is more readily available, is 6.3%. The runners featured in this study were from RURAL Rift Valley Kenya where the obesity rate is 5.5% of adult women. Western Kenya and North Eastern Kenya were the only provinces with lower rates of obesity in women (3.2% and 0.4% respectively). The health report states that of all adult men in Kenya, only 0.1% are obese. Obesity in Kenyan children is non-existent….malnutrition is prominent.

What did the research show? Basically, that people that run barefoot strike the ground differently than people that wear shoes. They land on the midpart or forefoot rather than initially striking the ground with their heel, like people wearing shoes do. So they change their running technique based on whether or not they are wearing shoes.

The research also shows that the amount of force with which the foot hits the ground is less for those that were barefoot versus those wearing shoes. That makes sense…you don’t have anything to absorb the impact if you are barefoot so you are going to step lighter. The fact is even if that initial impact is less, it does not mean that someone who has always run in shoes is going to have a reduced risk of injury when they switch to barefoot running.

So, what’s wrong with heel striking in running shoes? Nothing! That’s just the point. Most people run this way. Even the authors of the research state, “We emphasize though, that no study has shown that heel striking contributes more to injury than forefoot striking.”

The final sentence is “controlled prospective studies are needed to test the hypothesis that individuals who do not predominantly RFS (rear foot strike) either barefoot or in minimal footwear, as the foot apparently evolved to do, have reduced injury rates”.

“Barefoot shoes” have developed into a $1.7 BILLION industry…clever marketing has led people that never exercise to sport Vibram FiveFingers on their daily shopping excursions. Unfortunately, those marketing the “barefoot shoes” failed to mention the warnings that the researchers themselves recommend.

For a simpler and less expensive way to try changing your running technique and form, run with WOOT! You will change your running form naturally because hills and sprints are incorporated into the workouts. Another training method used to change form is through drills. Certified running coaches utilize training methods, including drills, which may help to naturally change your form. If you want to know more about how a certified running coach can help you…I know just the ladies to put you through the paces. And you do too!

By the way, take a look at some of the more advanced runners in WOOT and WOOP, or open a running magazine and notice how many elite marathon runners are sporting vibrams. How many Kenyans, who grew up running barefoot, are running the NYC marathon barefoot? The answer: NONE of them.

So, if you really want to spend your money on a pair of vibrams, at least read the recommendations at the vibram website, so you know how to ease into them. Please note the disclosure by the researchers themselves. A lot of people have already and will continue to injure themselves because of misinterpreted science.

Still curious as to my opinion about five fingers? Give me a call and we will lace up, go for a run. Until then, go out and have a great run.

Carey has a BS in Biology, and a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology. She worked in cardiac rehabilitation before going back to school and obtaining her Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy (Carey is a board-certified, state-registered Occupational Therapist). Carey is also a certified personal trainer and pilates instructor!

Focus on What You Can Control, and Don’t Waste Energy on the Things You Cannot

Here you go fellow WOOTers – something to ponder over while reflecting upon yesterday’s race and strategizing for next month’s half marathon races which many of you have signed up for. This is another great post by Bradley Stulberg, and one I wish I had read before yesterday’s marathon! Take some time to read it, you’ll be glad you did.

Post by Brad Stulberg

While reading an interview with a Kona bound age-grouper, Adrian Rishworth, one particular insight really stood out to me. Worrying about whether or not his qualifying race (IM Lake Placid) would be wetsuit eligible, Adrian’s friend told him, “Focus on what you can control, and don’t waste energy on the things that you cannot.” With the second half of the race season fast approaching, this is some of the simplest yet most powerful advice we [as endurance athletes] should keep at the forefront of our minds. I’ll even go an enormous step further, suggesting that this is a pretty good way to approach nearly all elements of life. Since the wisdom largely speaks for itself, my subsequent examination of it will be brief. And in order to avoid overstepping the purpose and reach of this blog, I’ll keep things in the context of endurance sports.

The first part, focus on what you can control, gives us a lot to focus on! Prior to a race, there is a laundry list of things (big and little) to do that we have full control over. And while these tasks often have the power to make or break a race, it is common to hear stories of athletes (and often really good ones too) getting lazy here, and then paying the price. There is no shortage of examples.

The right in-race nutrition, and in the right format to easily take it down; having your 3 Powerbars will do you no good if you can’t get the wrapper off while biking or running. Foam rolling; It’s a pain in the ass (literally), but the 2 minutes it takes in the morning can save you 40 minutes of meltdown causing pain in the later stages of a race. Blister control and other minor bodyshop care; it stinks to spend time duct-taping your big toe, especially at 4AM (when even the smallest things are hard to do), but the one time you don’t do it will be the time the blister grows to performance deteriorating levels. Pre-race fueling; you train so hard and for so long, often scrutinizing a lot of what you eat, so it makes zero sense to mess up your carb-load, yet this seems to happen far too often. Call the hotel and check out the local options in advance, and if they don’t have what you need, pack it! Getting to the race on time; leave early! Again, you put so much time into this, so what’s an extra 10 minutes on race morning to minimize stress? While I could go on forever, the theme should be clear by now; there is a lot that we can control and should focus on in the days leading up to a race.

The second part, don’t waste energy on the things you cannot control, is equally as important! All the things we can control (see above) can really place a sizeable stress-load on us, all in addition to the usual pre-race anxiety, and the extreme physiological stress that racing places on the body. Long story short, there is a lot to do pre-race [within our power] that will demand a ton of energy, and then all the energy that is left over should be expired on the course! So, with that in mind, it makes absolutely no sense to devote a single calorie of energy (mental or physical) to things that are out of our control. For example, wasting energy worrying about what the temperature will be on race morning is pointless; you are not going to change it. But…the lost sleep, raised HR, physical tenseness, and forgetting to do other things (that you can control) because your mind is consumed by worries about the temperature is likely to cost you in a big way.

To summarize, in the lead-up to races (or in training, or really anything in life) the worst thing you can do is worry about the things that you cannot control at the expense of doing the things that you can. Unfortunately, this seems to be a vicious cycle that too many people fall into. The best thing you can do is the opposite. Focus on what is within your control and knock all that stuff out, and believe me, there isn’t likely to be a shortage of it. And for the things that are out of your control, don’t waste energy on them; you simply can’t afford to. It’s OK to be prepared to react to a handful of variable situations, but it’s not OK to worry endlessly about which of those situations might occur.

Good luck to all as we head into the second half of race season!!!

Day before the Okinawa marathon – you girls rocked it!!!

Step-by-step Recovery Tips for Injured Runners

This week’s post has been sent to us by one of our very own WOOT members. As I have mentioned in previous posts, we are so blessed to have amongst our group, a great number of talented women who are able to contribute to our blog by providing us with knowledge on topics that they understand well. One topic that we can all relate to as runners, and which we could ALL stand to learn much more about, is how to prevent injuries, and perhaps more importantly, how to manage injuries once they have occurred. Fortunately for us, WOOT member Carey Hicks, is a certified occupational therapist and she will be giving us some great pointers on this topic (and more) over the next few weeks!

Post by Carey Hicks

Anyone that has run long enough has had an injury of some sort. According to the Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, an estimated 70% of runners will suffer an injury. Research and experts agree that the top cause for injuries is self inflicted, in other words…training errors. Yet we keep on running and hope we don’t end up a statistic.

If you are part of the majority, you eventually find yourself describing the circumstances of your injury to another runner. Mid story, you notice that their eyes are glazing over and when their facial muscles start twitching you realize that they are fervently praying for 1. Your story to end, and 2.that they remain healthy and uninjured.

In light of the statistics mentioned above, a four step intervention has been devised to help deal with an injury when it occurs.

Step 1: The first step to recovery is admitting to yourself that you have a problem (sound familiar?) You are injured and you need to take time off. “Who me? I’m not really hurt. It’s only a little swollen and it doesn’t hurt that badly.” You think you have a slight limp but everyone else wonders if you are hiding a recent amputation.

Step 2: Admit to your running partner/group that you do indeed have a problem. “I rolled my weak ankle this morning at 5:30 running in the dark.” What were you doing up at that hour to begin with?

Step 3: The third step is actually TAKING TIME OFF to allow your body adequate time to heal. For those of us that are endorphin addicts this is the hardest part. We need our run like a crack head needs their pipe.

Step 4: Finally, after taking time off, you need to return to your routine SLOWLY. Sure, you have been getting an hour in on the elliptical, rower or swimming ‘cause you need your fix. “I can do an hour on the precor without pain and I’m not hurting so I am headed out for a quick six. Be back in an hour.” Only you return 3 minutes later, limping and pondering how you are going to meet your running goals. At least you listened to your body this time.

Why can’t you just jump back into your normal routine? The biomechanics of running are completely different than walking, swimming, biking, rowing, elliptical training, etc. Let’s take a quick look at what is happening when you go out for a leisurely jog or run…we aren’t talking about sprinting or racing here. Ideally, it would look something like this:

  • Your core muscles (abdominals) are engaged to protect your spine, you lean slightly forward and your limbs (arms and legs) are relaxed and free of tension. Your muscles alternately perform concentric (shortening) and eccentric (lengthening) contractions and you move fluidly with great efficiency.

We’ve all seen THAT runner that makes it look effortless (and hopefully you get to run with her every week). This is the mental image you have of yourself, where back in the land of reality, you may look, well, downright deranged.

This week, try these tips to stay injury free:

1. Warm up properly…run easy for 5-10 minutes then STOP (I know it’s hard) and stretch. Stretch your hamstrings, glutes, calves, quadriceps, lower back and chest. See Anna’s post below on stretching!

2. Check your running shoes. How long have you had them? You should replace your running shoes every 2-3 months and only run in your running shoes- don’t wear them around casually.

3. Start listening to your body. If it hurts to walk, you shouldn’t run. If it hurts to run then don’t. And if it hurts to move, then make an appointment with your friendly family doc.

I hope that you have laughed, learned a little and reminded yourself of things you already know. Now, go out and have a great week.

Carey has a BS in Biology, and a Masters of Science in Exercise Physiology. She worked in cardiac rehabilitation before going back to school and obtaining her Masters of Science in Occupational Therapy (Carey is a board-certified, state-registered Occupational Therapist). Carey is also a certified personal trainer and pilates instructor!

For those of you who need some tips on dynamic stretching, see Anna’s post below:

Post by Anna Boom
Dynamic warm up
A hot topic of debate

Do you stretch?

There has been a lot of talk about whether it is right or wrong to stretch before or after your run.

We have all been through gym class where the teacher has us bend over and touch our toes and count to 10. Is this worthy of our time? Or is it possibly causing damage?

When Jeff Galloway came here to speak, he recommended against static stretching, comparing your muscles to rubber bands. Keep pulling them and they are bound to one day snap.

One area that has agreement is to do dynamic warm-ups. This is a way to activate your muscles without the risk of static stretching. It also leads the body gently from easy running into a hard race or workout.

Have you tried it yet? There are numerous sites that lead you through various types of warming up. I found good examples on Runner’s World and Running Times:

Running Times lists the following dynamic stretches to warm up:
Light jog for 10-15 minutes (always try to do this as it does prevent injury); then for 10-20 meters, try the following:
REACH for the SKY; walk and reach up one arm at a time, as high as you can. You should feel it all the way down your side to your hip.

SWIM; walk and swim freestyle. Swim fast enough to feel momentum, and let your hips rotate naturally.

HUG those KNEES; walk and bring your knee up to your chest and give it a hug. Stay upright. Bring your knee to your chest, not your chest to your knee.

KICK-OUTS the HAMMIES; walk and kick out your legs while reaching for your toes with the opposite hand. Bend toward your outstretched leg.

Try this before your next race or hard workout. See how you feel and report back if it worked, please.

Use these dynamic warm-ups anytime during the day to loosen up after sitting at work or after a long study session.

Stay loose!

Announcing the Arrival of

Post by Anna Boom
Let me be upfront and share that a few of us are certified running coaches. So as I write and you read, know that I don’t have a hidden agenda. Not all people want someone telling them what to do but if you are someone who is looking for some different motivation or respond well to having a peer mentor, then having a coach may be right for you.

How do you decide if it is right for you? Or is it worth the money? Both great questions and what I ask when I am deciding, well any decision, really.

Consider the following checklist:

-Do you like having someone else take your goals and draw out a simple or detailed plan for you to follow? If yes, I would recommend a coach.

-How well do you take direction from another peer? If very well, I would look into finding a women’s running coach.

-How precise is your goal? With this question, I mean, are you trying to run between a 3:40 – 3:45 marathon or trying to improve your 5Km run by a minute or trying to hit your Personal Record, PR on a half marathon. These are specific goals that a coach can help with. If you are looking to finish without injury, you could hire a coach or just go find a generic training plan on line.

Let’s say you’ve decided to hire a women’s running coach. You’re next task is to see if you fit together and yes, this is important. We all have different personalities and respond to different methods. If you don’t fit, make sure your coach knows. You will not hurt her feelings, I promise. It is better to be upfront, get the right coach and thrive, rather than worrying about offending the woman. Trust me, if it isn’t right for you, it will not be right for her either.

Post by Jannine Myers

Why hire a running coach?

When I first began to seriously run long distances I was like a baby taking my first steps. I wanted to run before I walked, and the more steps I took the more my excitement was fueled. I had no idea at the time that there could possibly be so much to learn about something we all instinctively know how to do, and yet as I began to immerse myself in “running talk” with my new running friends, a whole new world started to open up to me.

Being a naturally competitive person, unable to do things half-heartedly, I went from running 5k races, to running a full marathon within seven or eight months. I won a third place award in my second 5k race, and although my finish time in my first marathon wasn’t anything to boast about, I have a picture from that race which sits on one of our walls and serves as a benchmark from which I have been able to set all of my latter race goals. Since that very first marathon I’ve learned many things from many friends, as well as from websites and books, and also from experienced coaches I’ve been fortunate enough to meet along the way.

One thing I’ve also learned, is that people run for all kinds of reasons. Some run for pure enjoyment and set no goals or agendas for themselves, while others run with a set purpose in mind. Those who tie goals into their running tend to fall into one of two categories: a) they’re self-starters who like to take full control of their training plans, based upon the research they do themselves or their own past experience, or b) they thrive best under supervised conditions where someone else is in control and providing step-by-step instructions (coaching can be an invaluable resource for this type of runner).

Since WOOT was formed in early 2010, we have seen our membership grow from a meager ten or so women, to more than four hundred. The steady growth of members has resulted in a collective group of female runners with vastly different levels of speed and experience, and many of the newer runners often seek tips from their more advanced running peers. Anna and I love that “sharing” aspect of WOOT, but we also recognize that some women might be looking for a little more than friendly advice.

While WOOT will always remain a purely social running network with no intention other than to draw female runners together, we are now also introducing a side service for women who wish to pay for coaching services. is not something we wish to impose upon any of our members who do not want or require coaching, but it has been set up to meet the needs of those who do want professional guidance.

If you are interested in this new service, please visit our website for more information:, or you may contact either Anna or myself at the following email addresses: ;