Consider Barefooting the Triathlon

The concept of barefoot running has been around for a while.  Interest in it increased dramatically in September 2009 when Vibram launched their new FiveFingers footwear.  Marketed as the “barefooting alternative” to more traditional shoes, they have developed a cult following.

Needless to say, I have a pair of FiveFingers, the KSO model to be specific.  I love them.  I wear them often, run in them often, and have seen the benefits of wearing them.  Yes, in the beginning I discovered I had muscles that I never knew I had as my body started adjusting to them.  My glutes and calves in particular were most bothersome.  But after a few weeks and many miles running, I discovered that barefoot running is the only way to go.

FiveFinger Issues

The reality is that I am a triathlete at heart, not a runner.  I love my FiveFingers so much, I really, really want to wear them during my next triahlon.  Sure, I can put them on after cycling, but I wonder if they would take too long to put on.  Maybe wearing them throughout the entire triathlon is best?  But what to consider?  Here is what is on my mind:

  1. How can you ride the bike in them?  Clips? Cages?
  2. Can I wear them during the swim portion of the triathlon?
  3. How long does it take to put them on?
  4. Are there any rules that preclude me from barefoot running in a triathlon?

They seem like simple questions, but let’s take a look at how the FiveFingers will look at each stage of the triathlon.

Swimming in FiveFingers?

Seems a little odd wearing an Xterra wetsuit with FiveFingers, but not really different than wearing booties and a wetsuit when you think about it. Black KSOs might blend better than the cool blue camouflage color.

The USAT rules state that one cannot wear any devices that aid in propulsion.  FiveFingers definitely do not aid in propulsion.  I would have to argue that, if anything, the FiveFingers will cause more drag since they have an open mesh top, a contrast to a solid neoprene bootie.  On the plus side, they might actually keep your feet a little warm?? hmmm…

Cycling in your FiveFingers?

Cycling presents the biggest stumbling block to this issue.  The way I am looking at it, there are two ways to do this.

1) Wear the FiveFIngers and replace my clipless, snap-in pedals with cages.   Why don’t I like this idea?  I really don’t want to replace my pedals with cages since I don’t like how they look so amatuerish.  Second, cages don’t give you the same efficiency as clipless pedals do.  Nothing like being physically attached to your bike.

2) Wear the FiveFingers inside the cycling shoes.  Seems crazy, but when you think about it, this might be the fastest solution. Coming in from the swim, you can simply slide them into the shoes.  When cycling is done, simply pull your foot out and start running.  Yes, this could actually REDUCE TRANSITION TIME.  Exciting thought.  What’s the downside?  I need to buy a much larger pair of cycling shoes, assuming they make a pair big enough.  This is going to require a trip to the cycling store and a follow-up post.

Running in the FiveFingers

This is the best part and does not require much explanation other than barefoot running is the only way to go.  Running in my FiveFingers feels natural, powerful, free, and light.  for more information on the health benefits of FiveFingers, checkout Vibrams’ Health/Wellness page.  What more is there to say?

The Barefoot Triathlon

Whether or not my next triathlon is my first barefoot triathlon, the thought is exciting.  Worse case scenario, I can put the FiverFIngers on after cycling, but wearing them for the WHOLE triathlon means a lot more than, “I wore my FiveFingers for the run portion of triathlon.” Why not?

Have you considered barefooting your next triathlon?

15 thoughts on “Consider Barefooting the Triathlon

  1. I will be greatly anticipating the follow up post – I am looking to run my first triathlon this summer, and I have pretty much decided that FiveFingers are really the way to go, but I was still trying to figure out the biking issue.

    Great post!

    1. Thanks Luke!

      Do you have clipless pedals on your bike? As far as I can tell, the only solution is to go with a larger cycling shoe. I can barely fit my KSO’s in the size I have, albeit not comfortably.

      Good luck on your first triathlon! I hope you have as much fun as I did with my first tri!

  2. If the run course is clean you could always go completely bare – I’m thinking about it for a tri in summer with a beach run. Use the VFF’s to get awesome running mojo and then just pray for no razor clams…

    1. Andy – Thanks for the comment! I thought about doing it totally barefoot, but worry about sharp objects.

      VFF’s certainly have a lot of cool mojo!

      Good luck with your tri this summer!

  3. Hi! I’m just beginning to train for my first triathlon and I’m wondering if you even did do a whole even in your Vibram Five Fingers. If you did, how did it go? Swimming? Biking? If you only wear them for running, how did putting them on effect your transition times? Just curious!

    1. Hi Sara, Congratulations on your decision to finish your first triathlon.

      I did not finish my last triathlon exclusively in VFF’s, rather just the run. The problem is cycling with the clipless pedals and needing cleats to snap in. I couldn’t get both to work happily, so I put the VFF’s on during T2, prior to the run. Unfortunately, this almost doubled my T2 time. ;-( As soon as we figure out the VFF cleat/cycling problem, I am looking forward to an all exclusive VFF triathlon.


  4. I’ve heard ksos are easier to slip on in T2 than Shoes + socks. I have bikilas and I won’t be replacing my old nike’s anytime soon. My plan for this season was to get fast at putting the Bikilas on. With a dry foot, I’ve gotten pretty efficient. My concern is along the lines of getting them on after the 56 mile bike ride. I assume there will be tiny foot swelling and sweat. I’ll just have to practice after long rides.

    1. I agree, getting the Bilkilas on after the bike during T2 is hard. I actually switched from the KSOs to the Sprints, which are super easy to get on. There is less fabric to stick and you can guide the toes into their “holes” easily with your finger. But as they say, “practice makes perfect!” Let me know how it goes with the Bikilas. Happy Triathloning!

  5. In 2010 I went barefoot in three triathlons, 2 half ironman and a full ironman.
    10k and 4k for the halfs and 5 k for the full IM. in 2011 I hope to complete two half IM barefoot. Barefoot in the swim obviously. For the bike I am training with flat peddles and water shoes. For the run I will be barefoot. I have completed in half marathon barefoot and hope to complete a full marathon in 2011. Can not wait to put this barefoot training to the test.


  6. I was under the impression that the VFF’s were not allowed during the swim as they are a Glove type item. Did you have issue wearing them during your race? was it a USAT sanctioned race?

    1. Its been a while since I last wrote this post. To this date, USAT has not taken a consistent stance on the use of FiveFingers. I have spoken with numerous officials and have been told they are legal in cold water as they do not provide additional propulsion. However, I have spoken to officials who insist they cannot be worn because that was the safest answer.

      The rule in question is:

      4.9 Illegal Equipment. Any swimmer wearing any artificial propulsion device, including but not limited to fins, gloves, paddles, or floating devices of any kind shall be disqualified.

      The keywords here are “Propulsion Device”. VFF’s are not fins and have open slits between the toes which water can move through compared with a webbed glove or fins which catch water. Therefore they are NOT propulsion devices.

      I have done one triathlon in them and have to say that my swim time was slower than my average pace, but I did make up time on T2. A friend of mine argues that they create drag compared to a barefoot, but this drag appears to be minimal.

      The best advice I can give you is talk to the USAT officials at the race. If they give you the okay (like they did me), then you are fine.

    1. Thank you sharing!

      Yes, technically you are not “barefooting” it as in a “naked” foot, but in this case “barefooting” refers to the minimal shoe movement made popular by FiveFingers.

      Great photo, I guess one would need a platform for the arch, but it looks like the cyclist would lose the benefit of the up stroke, unless there is something I am missing.

Comments are closed.