Vibram FiveFingers Class Action Settlement: Everyone is Wrong

Hey, did you hear the makers of Vibram FiveFingers settled a class-action lawsuit to the tune of $3.75 million? You didn’t? That’s strange. It’s only been covered by every blog and news organization from NPR to Outside Magazine to The Wall Street Journal to The Christian Science Monitor to … um … The Omaha World Herald. Not to mention the dozens of time it was posted and re-posted in my Facebook news feed.

Some modest Googling informs me Runner’s World has the best summary of the actual lawsuit and resulting settlement.

What I find most striking is the celebratory, “I told you so!” tone in most of these articles (and ALL of the Facebook posts). It’s as though critics of those creepy shoes with the individual toes have busted Vibram deliberately trying to deceive its own customers with LIES and FALSE ADVERTISING. Some even posit the very logical argument that agreeing to settle a lawsuit while not agreeing to any wrongdoing means their products ACTUALLY WRECK YOUR FEET.

The best response I’ve read from the FiveFingers advocacy camp is similar to what is usually the best response in kerfuffles like these: There is no cut-and-dry, black-and-white answer, rather, this situation is choked with nuance, complexities at the individual user level, and a whole lot of unknown/unproven/non-definitive science. Justin over at Birthday Shoes has an excellent analysis of a lot of the subtleties in this story.

The most concise way I’ve found to phrase what I think is the correct thesis goes something like this: The health of your feet (and ankles, shins, knees, quads, hammies, glutes, back, neck, face, and hair) has less to do with the shoes on your feet and more to do with how you approach your exercise regimen, and, more specifically, how you transition to minimalist running. 

Confession(s): I am a 200+ pound non-athlete, I’ve been running modestly for the past 2-3 years, I read Born To Run, and my running configuration definitely skews minimalist. I started running in Nike Frees, and then moved on to an assortment of New Balance Minimalist and Merrell Bare Access kicks. I also own a pair of Vibram FiveFingers.

The author. In bare feet.

The author. In bare feet.

When I first started running, I enjoyed it, but with an ever-present sense of foreboding that injury was all but inevitable. As such, I listened intently to my body. One of the core tenets of minimalist running is the acutely increased amount of feedback you get from your body. Honestly, what could be better for a beginner? You are getting maximum feedback from the road/trail/track/treadmill. If something doesn’t feel right, I don’t know, MAYBE STOP DOING THAT THING. Through a long, careful ramp my body got stronger, and last year I ran a half-marathon in a pair of NB MT110, a shoe with a 4mm toe drop (almost flat) and minimal cushioning. (Side note: New Balance appears to be hard at work ruining the MT110.)

So how does one reconcile the supposed health benefits of minimalist shoes with the supposed uptick in running related injuries? I played in a band with a surgical podiatrist, Alan, about 18months ago and I asked what he thought. This is a guy, by the way, who said, “Born To Run and Crossfit are making me rich.” Regarding the scientific claims around biomechanics and evolution made in Born To Run, Alan did not dispute them. In fact, he agreed that a forefoot-midfoot strike and a shorter stride are very likely the way we evolved to run over the past 2 million years. The problem, he said, is that you and I have not evolved running around in our barefeet over the past however-old-we-are. Additionally, our ancestors didn’t evolve running around on pavement and sidewalks, nor did they sit in front of computers for ten hours a day. It’s all in how you approach training your own body, not unproven health claims made by a shoe manufacturer.

Which brings us back to the shoe manufacturer. Vibram was sued for making unsubstantiated claims about health benefits offered by their shoes, false advertising, essentially. It is worth noting that Vibram’s website has an entire section devoted to education about their product and barefoot/minimalist running. [I don't know if this section existed before the lawsuit.]

So here’s why everyone is wrong:

  • Was Vibram wrong to advertise unsubstantiated health claims? Yes.
  • Were the plaintiffs wrong to assume that a shoe, all by itself, could ‘strengthen feet’ and ‘reduce injury’? Yep.
  • Were the plaintiffs wrong to sue the shoe company claiming the shoe company received a windfall from the plaintiffs under false advertising pretenses? This one is more complex, but I’m going with yes because I believe it could have been resolved without a lawsuit.
  • Are minimal/barefoot running advocates wrong to blindly preach health benefits without also preaching the importance of a slow, careful transition, you know, just like any new physical activity? Mm hmm.
  • Are VFF haters really just deflecting some other insecurity about their feet? Aren’t they all deeply curious to slip on a pair of VFFs and walk around in the cool grass? You betcha.

I mean. It’s a foot. How could you hate a foot?

One Year Later: Merrell Barefoot Bare Access

Okay, a couple weeks shy of a full year later. Whatever. After their auspicious beginning, I felt compelled to swing by and provide an update on the state of the Merrell Barefoot Bare Access (MBBA) running shoes I bought in May, 2012. Go read the original review, so you know what the hell I’m talking about. I’ll wait.

I originally purchased the MBBAs as a step down from a pair of Nike Free Run+ (Version 1). Some of the reviews on Zappos seemed to indicate manufacturing defects that resulted in the sole and upper coming delaminated, which is a fancy sounding word that means “bro, your brand new shoes are falling apart already, bro.”

Zappos replaced the defective pair in typical Zappos turnaround time, and I set about running in the MBBAs regularly. In fact, these were my default running shoes from May to September. I ran my first Peachtree Road Race in them. In fact, they would have remained my default kicks well beyond, but I picked up a pair of New Balance MT10s for a trail run in September (partly because I wanted a trail shoe for a trail run, but mostly because I had been wanting to try the Minimus line for a while). I put in about 160 miles on the MBBA before mixing in the MT10s and then, later, a pair of New Balance 110s.

Despite the decrease in total mileage, the MBBAs have remained one of my favorite shoes for just kicking around. Merrell’s wide toe box allows me to wear normal socks with them, and the [relatively] understated design allows them to blend in with street clothes unlike a lot of running shoes that look like you’re wearing A GOD DAMN GUNDAM ROBOT ON EACH FOOT.

NOW THEN. How have the MBBAs held up over the last 12 months?

After ~200 miles of running and a year of kicking around

As you can see above, they still look almost brand new. Full Disclosure: I washed them with the laundry about 4 days before this picture was taken.

This is the replacement pair, the pair I was CERTAIN was going to fall apart immediately. As you can see, one year later, and no delamination:

Keep it together

Merrell Barefoot Bare Access - Right

But, Tony, what about the squishy, grippy, foresole and midsole that began to disintegrate after a single 4-mile jog? Surely, your feet are now poking through the bottoms of both shoes like some sort of suburban Looney Toons hobo. With all your possessions tied into a bandanna on the end of a stick, both of which were purchased at REI. Right?

Merrell Barefoot Bare Access

As you can see above, the foamy tread under the toes has worn completely smooth. It’s actually getting precariously thin on the right shoe, and I would not be surprosed if one of my tootsies poked through sooner rather than later.

Merrell Barefoot Bare Access

The midsole is holding up okay, I suppose. I’ve seen foamy substances like the this used on shoes before, but usually as a middle, cushioning layer, not taking the full brunt of every step. Wanna hear something gross? As you are probably aware, it is quite hot and humid in Georgia in the Summer. As you may or may not be aware, I am healthy slab of man and I sweat like Pee-Wee Herman’s sprinkler. A couple times last summer, following long(ish) runs (7+ miles), I noticed that I actually sweat through the bottom of these shoes. Like, that red part there? Soaked with sweat ON THE BOTTOM. Could the sweat have run around the sides onto the bottom from the outside? It’s possible. I choose to believe my feet forced sweat through the bottom of a shoe like Bruce Lee forcing, uh, something, uh, through some other thing.

Another look at the well-worn toe area:

Merrell Barefoot Bare Access

Following my initial impression, I was ready for the worst, so the fact that shoes have lasted this long is a pleasant surprise. That said, These shoes probably have 200 miles of total running in addition to a few months of casual wear. When you consider that my toes are about to see daylight, those numbers seem pretty light. Durability issues aside, these shoes did exactly what I wanted them to. They provided a zero-toe-drop platform with enough cushion for several medium to long runs. Both pairs of New Balances I have incorporated since have a 4MM toe drop.

Merrell recently released version 2 of the Bare Access. The pictures seem to indicate the bottom is completely covered in Vibram rubber, which I would think would help immensely with durability. Would I buy another pair of version 1? Probably not. Would I consider a pair of version 2? Absolutely.

2012: In Numbers

For whatever reason, I’ve been feeling a little, I don’t know, sentimental, about the new year, so I thought I’d take a minute and jot down some of 2012′s more significant personal moments if only to fabricate some closure for myself before heading into the new year. The previous sentence contains five commas, which is probably three or four too many. It is literally a non-stop party around here.

On the blogging front, 2012 started with a few precious embers of promise, albeit a little forced. That promise quickly faded, and I only made two posts after February, the most recent one in May. WHATEVER. When it’s forced, it sucks. So I stopped forcing it. Here is a short list of things:

397: I started running in earnest in late 2011 and I managed to keep it going through most of 2012, save some dry spells in April, the middle of September, and pretty much all of December. In total, I ran just under 400 miles, and around 490 if you include the tail end of 2011. 400 miles is a hell of a lot more than zero miles or even 100 miles, and I’m proud of that. But 397 miles over the course of a year is fewer than 8 miles per week, which is … not very many miles. I ran three races in 2012, a 5k, a 10k, and a 6k. Adding more races to the calendar will help pile up the miles. I like running.

90: Due largely to Blake’s insatiable appetite for brewing, I brewed 90 gallons of beer this year, far more than any previous year by a large margin. I don’t really feel the need to increase that amount, rather there are some significant improvements to be made–namely fermentation temperature control and possibly a new mash tun design–to make the beer better.

32: In May, Russ and I started a podcast called 1 Beer 1 Song. It started on little more than an impulse, but the underlying motivation was genuine: the mutual desire for a creative outlet. The best decision we made was to just hit Record and worry about everything else later. Write that down. We eventually settled into a weekly schedule and finished the year with 32 episodes published. Shameless plug: Subscribe on iTunes and follow us on Twitter. We also have a page on The Book of Faces.

5: This is my fifth season on the Atlanta Falcons Drumline. It is a quirky gig, and I am likely 10-15 years too old to be in the thick of a gig like this. The reality is I get to play sexy beats with my dude friends 8 or so times a year, which I thought was a done deal when I left college in 1999. So, I’m going to keep after it until they ask me to resign, politely or otherwise.

3: I was able to attend GABF for the third time this year. I can give or take the festival itself, but it is hard to find better craft beer ambiance than GABF week in the Denver metro area.

1: In April I rode one airboat through the Everglades in South Florida. Yes, it was exactly like Police Academy 5: Assignment: Miami Beach.

New Shoes: Merrell Barefoot Bare Access

Got some new kicks this week. I put about 250 miles into a pair of Nike Free Run+ (version 1). I wanted to get 300 miles out of them, but they started to wear a blister on my left foot after even moderate workouts. Which means get out of my life.

As you are all WELL AWARE, I got a pair of them freaky five-fingered deals a few months back. I really like them, but I also understand and respect the amount of damage you can do trying to transition too quickly from supple padding and support to what is essentially a thick coat of paint on the bottom of your foot. I love the Vibrams and I hope to someday run in them exclusively. As it stands, I still consider myself “in transition” to minimalist running. And I am okay with that.

New Tires

I first read about the Merrell Barefoot Bare Access (MBBA) shoes at Birthday Shoes. I was looking for the next logical step in my minimalist evolution, something between the Nikes and the toe shoes, and the MBBAs seemed to fit the bill perfectly. Zero toe drop, but an 8mm thick sole. So, on Tuesday afternoon, I ordered them from Zappos.

Zappos being Zappos, the shoes were in my hands fewer than 24 hours later. I walked around in them Wednesday evening for a bit, and they felt great.

THURSDAY MORNING. I dropped Marty off at school (iOS corrects ‘Matty’ to ‘Marty’ so Marty it is) and hit the hills of Smyrna for a jaunty prance in the shiny new kicks. I ran 4 miles and … honestly … felt fucking awesome pretty much the entire time [/FORESHADOWING].

There are currently 4 customer reviews on the Zappos page for the MBBA. Two of the four reviews mention an issue where the sole separates from the upper after minimal use. I noted this when I was shopping for the shoes but wrote it off and attributed it to poor suckers receiving manufacturer’s defects. [/FORESHADOWING]

Oh, Jesus Christ, here are the pictures (after a single 4 mile run).

Right Shoe (instep):

Left Shoe (instep):

Additionally, and this is going to seem like I’m piling on Merrell here, look at the sole by the toes. Again, this is after one run.

Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was ordering racing tires for my Veyron that need to be replaced every 30 minutes.

This would be an open and shut case if the shoes didn’t fit or didn’t feel right whilst pounding le pavement. I would be like, “Remember that time I got that shitty pair of shoes from Merrell that felt terrible and fell apart after one run so I sent them back and never thought about them again? That was weird.” Alas, they felt GREAT on the one short run I enjoyed in them. My calves are burning today, likely a result of the zero toe drop, but it’s the good kind of burn that makes you want to get your ass back out there.

I called and emailed Zappos yesterday. Their Customer Service department was temporarily closed because they were “taking part in teambuilding and celebrating our culture.” It’s pretty awesome when a company can respond, “Can’t listen to you whine right now, getting drunk, kthxbai.” I’m being serious. Zappos is awesome.

Desired result: Merrell fixes their manufacturing process to eliminate these issues; sends me new shoes for free.
Likely result: New Balance Minimus

UPDATE: Zappos responded to my email letting me know that a replacement pair of MBBA are already in the mail, which is awesome, but I still give the “Likely Result” above about a 75% chance of becoming reality.

RIP New Releases January 11 – February 28, 2012

Thought I would go ahead and formally close this one out to provide some closure for you. You, of course, meaning Dave.

I stopped doing these new release posts because I realized, at no point in this brief project, did I actually enjoy it. Finding the music was a chore, writing the posts was a chore, and, most importantly, I really didn’t go back to any of the music for any regular listening.

So … different project …

Sleep Training: Conclusion

I realized a couple days ago that I never bothered to close out the sleep-training thread with any sort of conclusion. Now then …

IN CONCLUSION, we are finished. For now.

When I say we are finished, I mean we are finished “training” Mattias because now one of us puts him in his bed, kisses him on the forehead, tells him we love him, and walks out of the room. And Matty stays in his bed and goes to sleep. And he stays asleep for right around 11 hours (8PM – 7AM).

The whole process took just under two weeks from when we started. One night, while we had friends over for dinner, I put Matty through his bath, books, bed routine, fully expecting his usual door / floor aria upon my departure.

The thing is, by that point, I was beginning to think his reaction to bedtime had become a routine for him just like anything else would become routine. Parenting books tell you all kids love routines, and I agree with that insomuch as kids love routines because it gives them structure and helps them cope with all the chaos they encounter. Mattias, however, looooooooooooves routines, and I say that based solely on his reaction to changes in his routines, which can be summarized in three words: oh hell no. So, I had begin to suspect that he had fallen victim to the sultry tentacles of another basketful of predictable outcome. Put another way, it started to seem like he ran to the door and collapsed in a puddle of moaning because that was the routine, not because he was upset about putting himself to sleep and staying in his room all night. God, do I have to spell everything out for you?

Which is why it was with wonder and amazement that I got all the way downstairs that night (from two paragraphs ago) and didn’t hear Axl Rose being gently inserted into a wood chipper.

And that was that. Ever since that night, he has gone through his routine and then dutifully stayed in bed and slept all night long. Are we so naive as to think that we are finished dealing with night time issues forever? Well, yes, we are that naive. Why wouldn’t something that works so well go on indefinitely?

No, we know this is a phase just like everything is a phase, but because this phase is an awesome one, we chose to live in phase denial. So quit harshing our phase.

New Releases – February 28, 2012

This stupid weekly release project is SO MUCH easier when there is something to look forward to. This week I’m going to speak very briefly about Painted from Narrows and Fountains Left to Wake by Stonerider.

My affinity for the late, great Botch is no secret. I am on record that this is the funniest video in the world. Botch broke up in 2002. Singer Dave Verellen did an alt-country thing called Roy with his brother Ben (of Harkonen) for a while, which was great despite not being what anyone would have ever expected from either of the Verellen Brothers.

Narrows came together in 2008 with Dave Verellen and members of These Arms Are Snakes, Unbroken, and Some Girls. I heard their first record, New Distances, a little over a year ago and I remember thinking, “Yep, that sounds like the guy from Botch singing for a different band. Pass the beer nuts.” This time around, when I heard Narrows had a new album coming out, I clicked on the link to the streaming single and the experience was much different. When Verellen’s vocals came in, I experienced a comfortable familiarity I wasn’t expecting. I guess what I wasn’t expecting was to be comforted by something this abrasive, but here we are. This isn’t for everyone, but I like it. Here are the two songs from Painted widely available for free streaming:

I hadn’t heard of this next band until today. Atlanta photography celebrity, Blake Tyers, mentioned Stonerider to me with a link to their bandcamp page in an IM about I don’t remember what. Stonerider is also from here in Atlanta and their sound is something I haven’t heard from around here since Chris and Rich Robinson were all pretty little thing let me light your candle, whenever that was, 71 years ago. Stonerider’s album Fountains Left To Wake sounds decidedly Southern but with a little 1970s Rolling Stones mixed in. Note: Musical comparisons are dumb and I am bad at them. You are better off listening for yourself.

The first tune on the record, “When I Was Young,” was the catchiest to me after one listen, so here it is:

New Releases – February 21, 2012

As I noted late last year, I was way late to come across the The Menzingers. They released an album in 2010 called Chamberlain Waits that I found to be extremely enjoyable. Well, lucky for me to have discovered them so late, because they’re already back with a new record. This one is called On The Impossible Past. You can stream the whole thing over at Below is a link to a song called “The Obituaries.” The good part starts at about 1:43.

Another notable release this week is from the other band from Nebraska: Cursive. I mean, Cursive and 311 are the only bands that have ever come from Nebraska, right? I’m pretty sure I got that question right at trivia once. Oh wait, isn’t Connor Oberst from Nebraska? So, anyway, a third of the bands in Nebraska released a record this week, and that record is called I Am Gemini.

I haven’t listened to Cursive since The Ugly Organ. I’m streaming I Am Gemini for the first time at Rolling Stone as I type this and I am consistently vacillating between “Wow, that is really pretentious and dumb,” and “Actually, that is pretty solid.” This track, “Warmer Warmer”, falls under the latter:

And just for posterity, here is “Red Handed Slight of Hand”, in case you need a reminder of how good Cursive can be.

New Releases – February 14, 2012

This week is about one release: The self-titled debut LP from Classics of Love. Classics of love are important because their singer is Jesse Michaels. Jesse Michaels is important because he was the singer for a band from Berkeley, CA called Operation Ivy. Operation Ivy is important because, according to some, the modern world as we know it would not exist had it not been for them. I am inclined to agree with that sentiment, actually.

I remember the first time I heard Op Ivy. My high school marching band was traveling to Dallas to march in the 1991 Cotton Bowl parade. I asked my friend Bill to make me a tape for the trip. Really I just wanted a copy of the Pixies’ Doolitle, but that left a lot of extra space on my 90-minute, TDK cassette, so Bill filled it up with some extras, including Op Ivy’s Hectic EP.

I distinctly remember flipping the cassette over to side B and hearing “Junkies Runnin’ Dry” for the first time. It was one of those moments where the world got a lot bigger and a lot smaller at the same time. Follow that up with “Here We Go Again” and “Yellin’ In My Ear” and I was pretty much toast.

Junkies Runnin’ Dry:

Sound System:

There were a lot of things about Op Ivy’s sound that can easily be described as iconic, and, even though Michaels’ voice by itself didn’t really break any new ground, hearing his voice on new material is an INSTANT audio field trip back to 1991 and a bus ride from Atlanta to Dallas that took one hundred thousand hours.

Here’s the official video for “Castle in the Sky”:

You can stream the whole album here.

New Releases – February 7, 2012

I will have you know I listened to 16 new releases this week. I won’t go so far as to say they were all terrible–Crusades, Tall Ships, and A Place To Bury Strangers all showed promise–but, as with the past few weeks, it’s been thin out there. There was, however, one highlight: Dr. Dog.

Dr. Dog – Be The Void
Dr. Dog has been around for about a decade. They’ve played Bonaroo and Coachella and Letterman, so I guess they’re huge. I’ve heard them several times, and every time I hear them, I’m like dammit man, you need to remember to listen to more Dr. Dog. Wikipedia bills them as “psychedelic rock” and I can see that. I don’t own any of their albums, and I couldn’t tell you jack shit about them aside from the fact that I’ve enjoyed them when I’ve heard them. They released a new record called Be The Void on 2/7. Here is the video for “That Old Black Hole”: