Vibram FiveFingers Interview With Jon Vinet

Trailblazer has been working with Jon Vinet and the Pursuit Brand Equity Group for a while now. So, we thought it would be great to share some of the questions many of you have about Vibram and barefoot running, together.

Take a look at some of the more detailed questions about the brand itself, getting started, and what people are saying about them, from someone who deals with them all day, every day. Tony

Also, to converse in person, join Jon and Trailblazer at the CFPA Outdoor Gear Expo & Silent Auction, this Saturday, April 30th, from 3 – 7, at Wesleyan University. Jon Vinet will be hanging with Trailblazer and holding a clinic on Vibram FiveFingers.

How long have you been involved with Vibram and barefoot running? Pursuit Brand Equity Group started representing Vibram FiveFingers, in September, of 2010. I remember when we first interviewed with the Vibram management team. Tony Post, CEO of Vibram USA, looked at me and said, “Jon, you really need to try running in these shoes.”

I responded to him, “You mean on pavement?”

“Yeah, it feels so natural and it’s just an amazing experience,” Tony said.

Having been a recreational runner for some time, I was constantly plagued with knee issues. I was a chronic heal striker and had no idea that the repetitive pounding of my joints was likely the core contributor to my joints feeling worn, tired, and painful. I initially gave myself some time to adapt to FiveFingers.

I have to admit, they felt a little strange at first, but I wore them around casually and couldn’t believe how my feet responded. It was obvious that my feet were becoming noticeably stronger, very quickly. From there, I started running very lightly and noticed that I would come back from my runs feeling a broader muscular workout in my legs, but the aches and pains from the pounding of running seemed to vanish. I later learned that it was the way I was striking the ground (heal striking) vs. (a natural mid-foot gate) that helped me land softly on my feet.

Many people are finding this same experience, as they transition from thick cushioned shoes that encourage heal striking, to minimal footwear that promotes this natural mid-foot running form. The key is just starting out slow!

What is your primary role? I am one of the principals of our independent sales agency. Our job is to carefully build the retail distribution for the Vibram FiveFingers brand, in the New England region. We think of ourselves as the ambassadors of the brand for our territory. We support the brand at a high standard, through properly training and serving retailers and their sales staff.

We also provide training clinics for all retailers on how to properly select, fit, and integrate, the Vibram FiveFingers product to consumers.

So, you saw the popularity surge in the past year or two? How and what do you think triggered it? Born To Run? There’s no question that several things have contributed to the paradigm shift we’re seeing in minimalist footwear. There are many books that are either already national best-sellers or quickly on the rise to such status. Born To Run is a great book that many runners can really relate to. Additionally, we’ve seen significant research and interest in this minimalist running movement by scientists, such as Dan Lieberman, Professor of Evolutionary Biology at Harvard University. Dan completed the first phase of his research last year which was published in Nature Magazine.

PURSUIT’S Jonathan Allen and Jon Vinet with with “Born to Run” author Chris McDougall, at the Boston Marathon Expo (above).

His research concluded that runners who heal strike, hit the ground with seven times more impact force than runners running mid-foot/fore-foot, in minimal footwear. Research such as this is validating the minimalist movement in running.

Being a rep, I’m sure you hear a lot of feedback about, not only Vibrams, but barefoot running itself. What are some of the comments you here most? Generally speaking, the true barefoot runners are either running completely barefoot (no shoe at all), or they’re asking for very minimal shoes that are perfectly neutral.

Neutral shoes do not have the “heal to fore-foot drop” or “ramp angle” that you traditionally find in a modern running shoe. The perfectly neutral shoe provides these runners with the most natural feel, while still protecting their feet with an appropriate amount of protection and cushioning. Many new runners transitioning to “barefoot/natural running,” also appreciate the perfectly neutral shoe because it allows them the ability to develop a very natural running stride easily.

The unique feature of Vibram FiveFingers is the Five-toe design. This helps runners naturally spay their toes and grip the ground with their individual toes as they run; something we do when propelling ourselves barefoot.

Me, showing off my new Bikila LS's. - Tony

Do you believe minimalist runners will eventually become the majority? This is a really great question. There’s no question that all runners (competitive and recreational alike) are becoming more in tune with their running form and how they are striking the ground through the use of minimal footwear products.

Many people trying minimalist shoes are really enjoying the experience — the trend is spreading. Additionally, we’re seeing more minimal products being developed by other running brands. This has validated the category and helped garner increased consumer interest.

That being said, adopting a mid-foot stride takes time, discipline and commitment. Not all runners are willing to make this transition. For them, the cushioned shoe is the best choice. I don’t think we’ll see the end of cushioned shoes or heal striking for some time; if at all. Although, runners didn’t start heal-striking until the mid 70’s, when cushioned shoes first came to market. That’s really not that long ago. Changes can happen quickly in this sport!

People say their feet have to adjust to barefoot running. How long until your feet adjust fully? This depends on an individual’s biomechanics. For many people with normal, healthy feet, the transition can happen pretty quickly.

I’d recommend wearing Vibram FiveFingers for at least a couple of weeks, paying close attention to how your feet respond. It’s not uncommon during the first couple of weeks for the feet to ache a little. At that time, you should revert to supportive footwear, allowing the muscles in the foot to recover and relax.

Wearing minimal footwear really provides a gauge for determining the strength of your feet. After cycling through intervals of wearing FiveFingers intermittently, most find that their feet are noticeably stronger and just feel good no matter what shoe they’re wearing. At that time, you’re ready for some light running.

For others, I encourage them to use their Vibram FiveFingers as a foot strengthening tool for a longer period of time. Consulting a podiatrist is recommended for anyone having previous foot issues such as plantar-faciatis. Most important is to LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. If you’re body is telling you to stop… STOP. Give yourself a rest. I tell everyone to start running no more than .25 to .5 miles at the start. Start slow and gradually build up; that’s the proper strategy for transitioning to barefoot running.

Do you have a favorite Vibram shoe? Wow. That’s tough. For road running, I really like the Bikila and new Bikila LS. I feel the polyurethane mid-sole provides a damp cushioning, while still delivering a very natural feel.
I really like the KSO Trek and Trek Sport models for trail running, fast packing and “lifestyle,” use. I honestly haven’t gotten a pair of Komodo Sports for myself yet! This shoe is selling so well that I’ve had trouble scoring a pair for myself. For water sports and less intense outdoor activities I still like my standby KSO’s. They dry quickly and are very breathable.

What do you tell people that think barefoot running is just a fad? Well, I tell them to read Dan Lieberman’s study in Nature Magazine, try it for themselves, and then let me know what they think in a couple of months. Chances are pretty good that if they’re asking that question, they really don’ know what barefoot running and the minimalist movement is all about.

What’s the funniest/strangest thing you’ve overheard about minimalist or barefoot running? I once read a blog post from the CEO of a major running footwear brand that this sport was for the “biomechanically-blessed” and runners with “perfect running form.”

Well, that was certainly not representative of me or the majority of people that I talk to daily about their experience with minimalist/barefoot running.

What would you say are the major differences between the real deal (Vibrams) and the knock offs that are hitting the market? The counterfeit shoes are heavy, have upper materials that don’t breathe well and the outsole is a very low grade compound. We also find that the construction is extremely poor.

Most arrive to consumers with seams already splitting in the box. Consumers realize pretty quickly that they’re fake. Vibram is doing all they can to crack down and bring swift recourse to these counterfeiting operations. That said; it’s a problem most desirable, high-growth brands deal with.

I’m new to barefoot running and found it easiest to pace myself with my runs and move my time up slowly. What’s the best advice for new barefoot runners to know straight away? Best advice I have is to start slow. Introduce the concept to your life first. When your feet feel strong, you’re ready to start some light running or training.

Incorporate barefoot running into your workouts, gradually. Listen to your body and go at your own pace. I encourage consumers to read blogs, such as this one. There’s a lot of great information out there on proper running form and biomechanics that can really help.

Thanks, Jon.

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