When I got my Bikilas, I spent about an hour walking around in them and getting a feel for the shoe. I then sat around my house and studied them right before I sat down and wrote out all my initial thoughts and first impressions. Well now I have run in them, I’ve worn them to work, and I’ve learned some things about them that I had not expected. These shoes have pleasantly surprised me, and that is saying a lot as I had extremely high expectations for them.
First Run: My first run in the Bikila was a mile and half long. I had just gotten off antibiotics for a viral infection so I had to take it easy for the first run. That is not to say that I did not want to do more and almost did. As I took my first running steps in these shoes I could tell they were unlike any other Five Finger (or VFF for the rest of this post), and the comparisons are not even close. These shoes are snug, and on this run they bordered on too tight over the top of my foot. Still though I knew I had to give them a chance and see if they broke in. I am no stranger to shoes, and these feel more like a shoe than my other VFFs. I used that experience to give this practice a try. My form was terrible, as my legs felt heavy and dead. I still lacked energy from the illness, and I could feel it every step of the way. The wind was blowing at a steady 15 mph with 20 plus mph gusts and it was crazy humid. Still, through all of that my feet felt good. These shoes are just as advertised in their ability to help you maintain a good fore-/mid-foot strike. I was seriously plodding along during this run. My feet were noisy, and I wondered if it was the shoes or me; it was me. I could feel the arch insert giving and springing back up with each step, which led me to think of this as arch assistance instead of support. The heel is very comfortable while running, and I felt no slack or sliding in it. In fact I felt no sliding in these shoes at all, and they really showed me just how sloppy the action is in my other VFFs. I have a tendency to get blisters on my big toes in my other VFFs, and I could never figure out why. I tinkered constantly with my form over this issue, and I now know that it is simply because my feet slide a little in those shoes. The Bikila is more of a foot glove than any other VFF I have worn, and I have worn all models. By the end of my mile and a half test run I was ready to pack it in. My body and legs felt done, but my feet were asking for more. This is a new feeling for me, as my feet are usually the first link in the chain to break so I almost went for more, but knowing better I decided to take solace in my foot comfort and live to run another day.
Second Run: Little did I know that “another day” I would be running would be the next day. My plan was to take a day off, but I felt great the next day so I decided to amp up the schedule a bit. Run number two was comprised of nearly seven miles, lots of hills, 80 degree air, and a steady 23 mph wind. Great day for running, right? Well it turns out it was, and the Bikilas were more than up for the task. My feet again felt good in these shoes before the run, and the tightness over the top of my foot was all but gone. Something I noticed between the two runs was that the insole that has been a big source of debate had actually molded to my foot. I could feel the contours of my foot as I ran my fingers inside the shoes just before this run. Very much like a conventional shoe, it would seem this shoe was breaking in and molding to fit me. I think this is part of what led to the top feeling looser as well as the upper fabric stretching a little. I immediately noticed a difference in the two runs during the first mile of this second run. I felt fresher and knew that my body was getting its juice back. This was allowing my step to be lighter and more fluid. The Bikila seemed to accentuate the newfound spring in my step. I felt lighter on my feet at this point than any other time I can remember. My feet felt great, and the shoe was feeling like an addition to my skin more than it did a shoe I was wearing. It felt molded and sculpted around my foot, and that felt so very natural. With the tightness gone, I could really get a sense of what this shoe is about, and it is about running. About halfway through my run, I noticed something about the shoe that was the opposite of what I had originally thought. The feeling in the arch insert had changed. It was no longer feeling supportive or even like it was my arch assistant. Instead I could feel it flex and give with each contraction of my mid-foot. I no longer felt it pushing against my foot as much as it was hugging it, and it was at that point I realized what I believe the point of this addition is. It’s there to keep the shoe snug. It felt as though it was keeping the shoe in that “part of me” mode more than anything else, and I gotta say I loved the feeling. I was a little over three miles into the run, and the shoe was getting better. It was adapting and adapting to my foot shape, my form, and me. My step was still feeling light, and it did so through the entire run. Normally by the end of a five mile run my feet are feeling spent, but for this run I was able to put nearly another two miles on that total without any real effort. One major point I learned about this shoe today is its hill abilities. It is a very nice downhill runner. The heel is padded, and that padding allowed me to lean into the downhill and charge it comfortably. I was not forced into finding a baby step stride to keep myself from hitting my heel on the ground. Instead I was able to fully employ the downhill form I learned in the Zoo Run and add speed to it. One mystery that I have not figured out yet is why my footpads felt pounded while going uphill. Every time I went up a hill during this run my second and third metatarsals felt the pressure. I tried different footfalls but nothing made it go away completely. It was never present during the downs or the flats but the ups were somewhat unpleasant because of this. It’s a mystery I will keep my eye on, as I will find it very disappointing if it continues. I love charging hills, and this painful sensation kept me from doing so. I finished this run feeling the distance and the effort but nothing that was out of the ordinary or that would really require any rest. I walked away with no blisters, which is something that I have never done in a VFF run of five miles or more. I had no lingering pad pain and all in all everything felt really good. Is this because of the Bikila? I’m thinking there is a very good chance that is the case.
Third Run: This was a mile and half run to keep my legs loose before my half marathon the next day. It was hot, very humid, and still very windy. My legs felt good, and my run was not too taxing outside of the weather causing its expected problems. The big issue on this run was the fact that I decided to give socks a try in these shoes. I gotta say that I was not impressed with the combo. First these toes are not quite roomy enough for socks, and neither is the upper. I think this is on purpose as these shoes are designed with the sockless runner in mind. I felt like I was too far from the ground, and my form was off because of it. I was constantly trying to figure out my footfall and really having to make it work. For the majority of the run I could not get my feet to fall the same as each other or even from step to step. It was very awkward, and I decided there that I was not going to be trying that trick again.
Fourth Run: The Azle Lake Run. I participated in the half marathon, and I knew this would be the grand daddy of tests for my new Bikilas. I will admit that I was essentially unprepared for this race. My longest run either bare or in VFFs had only been about seven miles. This would be almost double that so I was slightly apprehensive. The weather was good. No wind, no sun, and a crisp 65 degrees or so. It was a perfect opportunity to test my shoes. The race started out nicely, and my feet felt at home. The shoe was soft and smooth, and I felt nothing negative. My footfalls were even and strong, and all the things I’ve come to expect from these shoes were working in full force. The arch piece was keeping the shoe snug, the upper and insole were both now perfectly molded to my foot, and the heel cup was letting my feet flex nicely. This was being everything it was advertised to be, and I was impressed. I was happy, and the feet felt great. My form held up through the entire race with only a couple of foot scuffs on some hills. The hills were where this shoe shined! The padded heels again let me settle into a subtle heel strike that gave me a very quick turnover, and I felt smooth with no pounding. The up hills worked themselves out as I was landing more flat footed at times but also other times I was right up on the balls of my feet as I charged the hill. I guess maybe my feet were going through a transition phase in these shoes when I felt the pad pain before because there was none of that on this run. I finished the race with a fairly strong kick, and these shoes responded well to kicking it into another gear. They handled perfectly, and I have never been so happy with a running shoe. These shoes make me want to use them and leave some of my barefoot runs behind. This is a great thing as summer is approaching here in Texas and running bare on the skillets we call sidewalks won’t cut it. Post-race my arches feel used but not dead, and I have zero leg soreness except for some tightness in my Achilles, which seems to be normal in these shoes. I attribute that to the fact that the heel is not as tight, and my heel feels free to work and stretch. My only issue after this half is that I suffered some blisters. They are not too bad and mostly small. I got a blood blister on my right big toe, but the others are all on my second and third toes: both feet. I can probably attribute this to being twice the length of any minimalist shoe run I’ve ever done. It could be something about the seams in the toes of the shoes as this is basically the only place there are seams. This will have to be determined at a later date because I really cannot pinpoint any exact reason.
So what do I think? My official stance is that if you are a minimalist runner then this is a shoe that you should have. This is a running shoe for minimalist runners, which is a big difference from what we are used to. This is an engineered running shoe, but that should only make you happy, not scared. Yes, the minimalist world fears the over-engineering of shoes, but this shoe was engineered to fit into our world, and Vibram has done so with an amazing first attempt at a running shoe. This thing feels like a running shoe without all the cushioning. For years I have said I ran in Five Fingers, but I think this will usher in an era called Five Finger running, and yes they are very different. Before we put foot gloves on our feet, and we made them work for our running needs. With these shoes, we are putting running shoes on our feet that meet our minimalist running needs, and I could not say enough good things about them. This shoe and its performance blow me away, and really what more needs to be said?