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Vibram Channels a Barefoot Marathoner Abebe Bikila
To be quite honest I hadn’t thought about looking up where Vibram came up with the name Bikila. So, when I got a Gmail chat from a friend asking, “Have you seen this yet?” and including the Wikipedia link to Abebe Bikila, I was pleasantly surprised. My new shoes are named for a two-time Olympic marathoner from Ethiopia, who just so happened to win his first Olympic marathon barefoot.
Bikila was added to the 1960 Ethiopian Summer Olympics team at the last minute. He went to the Rome games that year as a replacement for another runner who had broken his ankle in a soccer match. Bikila had not grown up training as an athlete. He was spotted by a trainer for the Ethiopian government while working for the Imperial Bodyguard.
When Bikila arrived in Rome Adidas, the shoe sponsor for the event, had very few shoes left. Bikila could not find a pair that fit him comfortably, so a couple hours before the race, he decided to run it barefoot, just the way he had trained. Bikila went on to win the marathon, shoeless, in a record time of 2:15:16.2. He also became the first Sub-Saharan African to win an Olympic gold medal.
When asked why he ran barefoot, Bikila is quoted as saying, “I wanted the world to know that my country, Ethiopia, has always won with determination and heroism.”
The following year Bikila ran 3 marathons, winning them all. In 1963 he finished 5th in the Boston marathon, and that would become the only marathon he ran in his life that he did not win. As Bikila prepared to run in the 1964 Summer Olympics he came down with appendicitis, just 40 days before the event. Despite much speculation that he wouldn’t compete, Bikila competed in the marathon event, this time lacing up a pair of Pumas. After 2:12:11:2 Bikila finished the Olympic marathon, setting a new record, and crossing the finish line 4 minutes and 8 seconds ahead of the silver medalist. Talk about some impressive running! He said he felt he could have run another 10 kilometers!
Bikila became the first person to win the Olympic marathon twice, and he might have done it a third time had he not been sidelined at kilometer 17 by an injury during the 1968 Olympics. Fittingly enough, fellow Ethiopian and Bikilas good friend Mamo Wolde went on to win the race.
In 2010 the Rome Marathon honored the 50th anniversary of Abebe Bikila Olympics Race. Ethiopian runner Siraj Gena, paying tribute to barefoot runner Bikila, ran the last 300 meters barefoot and won the race.
Now, maybe you all already knew this story, but I found it pretty cool and definitely inspiring to read about Abebe Bikila, the namesake for the Vibram FiveFinger shoe.
Buying the Right Size Vibram FiveFingers
I knew buying online was a gutsy move, but I didn’t have any other option. Thankfully, I was able to reorder my VFFs in what I hoped to be the right size, get them shipped to a friend in New York, who brought them down to my little Caribbean island for me. She also took the too big Bikilas and will return them to the store for me. Thank goodness for good friends who facilitate cheaper shipping.
When I pulled out the new FiveFinger Bikilas from the box I was immediately nervous. They were a size 38, two sizes down from what the tried and true official sizing method indicated I wear. They looked really small. Before I even tried them on, I grabbed the size 40 Bikilas which were sitting nearby. Sure enough, two sizes down is a lot smaller. Breathe, I reminded myself. I did, after all, measure how much distance there was left in each toe of the size 40 FiveFingers to determine if I needed one size down or two. After a thorough comparison of the two sizes, I took the plunge and pulled my foot on in.
As with the size 40s, I didn’t feel much of a struggle to put on the 38s. I voice this to my husband who, without missing a beat, tells me I have nimble toes. I smile and pull the shoe the rest of the way on. With my heel situated back in the cup, I stand up. As expected, my big toe on my right foot, which is my longest foot and longest toe, is pressed right up on the edge.
I am pretty sure that it is a touch too small on that one toe, but only just barely. The rest of my toes fit comfortably in the toe pockets, despite the fact that they don’t come all the way up to the front edge. I think, as regards my right foot, it is a good balance between being snug on my big toe, but not ridiculously long on the rest of them. The left foot, however, fits exactly like I imagined it should. Exactly the right distance on the longest toe and the rest just fall into place without a second thought.
Feeling the difference between the fit of the two shoes I let my right foot squirm around in the shoe, pushing the boundaries and checking the flex of the shoe. It is a touch uncomfortable, but only just barely. I hem and haw over whether to return these and get one size up, when my husband bends down, presses on my toes, demands I push my heel to the back of the shoe, checks again, has me shove my toes to the front, checks again, tells me to walk around the living room, jog from the living room to the kitchen, and on and on. I felt strangely like a kid in the shoe store with my Dad. Anton declares I think these FiveFingers fit fine. Besides, you can’t put off writing that blog forever. I love my husband.
So here it is, now that all is said and done I’ve got a pair of size 38 Vibram FiveFinger Bikilas and I am happy.
I actually went for my inaugural FiveFinger run, and everything felt pretty good. It is amazing how much easier it is to omit a hard heel strike when barefoot or in FiveFingers. For anyone struggling with proper form, I think these shoes are worth a try. I did 4 kilometers at a park near my house and only got a few stares more than normal. Being a white woman on a Caribbean island I am used to the stares they are just not normally directed at my feet.
I know the importance of starting slowly in adjusting to minimalist running. I definitely listened to my body, kept a fairly slow pace, and stopped at the first sign of resistance from my body, which came in the form of a twinge on the outside of my left knee, somewhere I have never experienced pain before. Overall the Bikilas made me feel light on my feet and I thoroughly enjoyed the run. I am happy to report that my toes felt fine, although I did wind up with a tiny blister on the heel of my right foot, which has all but disappeared now, 35 hours later. Tomorrow morning I will take my FiveFinger Bikilas out for their second time and see how they do, but for now, I am pleased with their addition to my running world.
Vibram FiveFinger Wouldn’t be for Spinning
Here in our island home, I teach a spinning class at the little local gym, and although this week I am stuck at home with a twisted ankle, darn these Third World roads, last week I decided to head to the gym in my Vibram FiveFinger. I brought along my tennis shoes because I imagined that spinning wouldn’t work so well with Vibram feet, and I was right.
I spent the first part of my workout downstairs lifting, then headed up to the aerobics room where we have the spinning class. We don’t have the fancy, clip-in bikes, so I could just slide my toe shoes right into the pedal cup. Honestly, to begin with, it didn’t feel that bad. I imagine that is partially due to the fact that the Bikila has a bit more sole than the other Vibram models. Ten minutes into the class, however, I knew that the Vibram toe shoes were a bad idea for spinning. Remember riding a bike barefoot? Even as a kid I didn’t like it. As an adult, no change there.
After the class, the women started to file in for the aerobics class and the first real conversations about my Vibram FiveFinger shoes ensued. I discovered that despite being fluent in Spanish, my vocabulary doesn’t contain the right words to explain minimalist shoes, and barefoot running. As I tried to explain their purpose, I found myself using broken Spanish phrases, and words like descalzado which mean barefoot, but in where I live it carries a very negative connotation. As I said it I could hear many Dominican moms on the street saying, “Ponte las chancletas, no anda descalzo!” Sure, Dominican kids love being barefoot, just like any other kids, but here in DR it is a sign of poverty, and a quick way to get sick. So here I am telling these women that we are meant to be without shoes. I admit I did feel a little uncomfortable.
Rather than trying to convince them any further with words the benefits of barefoot running shoes, I decided to show them. After demonstrating a traditional heel strike (which, to my great satisfaction, thudded loudly on the aerobic floor), I nimbly demonstrated forefoot and mid-foot strikes, which made me look like a graceful gazelle. The women were thoroughly impressed and began to take a few running steps of their own, trying out the different styles. Once I explained the additional benefits of my crazy Vibram toe shoes (working different muscle groups, less pain in your knees and hips) the women were pretty convinced of their coolness.
Now to sit at home, foot iced and elevated, waiting until I can slip my Vibrams back on and get in a run, or a class at the gym.