Thursday, June 9, 2011

On injuries and barefoot running (Part 1)

Money, it's gotta be the shoes!
So, I've been an advocate of minimally clad running for some time now.  I can often sound like some kind of evangelical preacher when talking about footwear, but the truth of the matter is there are a bunch of pluses and minuses to running with less on your feet.

The blog post "Are we built to run barefoot?" in yesterday's New York Times "Phys Ed" section highlights some of my personal experiences with barefoot and minimal running.  The article is interesting and worth the read.

I started running more minimal when I realized that the custom fit orthotics I purchased while still a member of the CU Cycling team were actually doing more harm than good when running.  I got 2 pairs back then.  One pair was for my cycling shoes.  They locked my feet in place on the pedal and actually provided a noticeable increase in my pedaling efficiency (power output at a given heart rate).

The other pair I got because they were supposed to be good for you; they would help me with my back pain; the IT band issue I was having thanks to the 20 hour weeks on the bike would likely go away.  I wore them alot when I first had them.  Sliding them into every pair of shoes I had.  Back then, I was running during the offseason to stay in shape for the upcoming racing year.  I didn't race much, but when I did, I wanted to be happy with the way I performed.

After a year or two...

During my offseason, I started noticing pain in the bottom of my right foot, especially when I woke up and first stepped out of bed in the morning.  A few times the pain was so sharp I darn near fell over it hurt so much.  A search like this one (keywords: morning, pain, foot, bottom) revealed I probably had Plantar Fasciitis.  Reading the articles, I became even more religious about wearing my orthotics, and even purchased "motion control" shoes:  the Nike Structure Triax.  It took some time, but my foot pain got worse.

I started thinking that the problem was with my orthotics.  The pain felt almost like bruising and the only thing I could think would be bruising my foot were my orthotics. They had almost as pronounced an under arch structure as a pair of Birkenstocks.  I took them out of my shoe.  My pain improved, my miles increased and my pain became more pronounced again.

I decided to repeat the process.  I stripped down my shoes, not the way Anton did with his NB's, but by repeatedly buying shoes more meant for someone fleet of foot.  I eventually got down to the Nike Free 5.0.  Every time I tried a less structured shoe, I found my pain would diminish for a while and then come back.  I was running out of ways to get less shoe.

Much of my migration from a maximal shoe to a minimal shoe was a hesitant acceptance of the stuff I'd read about barefoot running.  I however wasn't ready to go all in and ditch my shoes entirely.  I started considering surgery.

I read about this: Extracorporeal Shock Wave Therapy.  Google it for more, but here's a link to an abstract from a paper published in '96.  A key phrase from the abstract:
Each time 1000 impulses of 0.06 mJ/mm2 were given around the heel spur.
What does that mean?  Well a millijoule is one-thousandth of a joule and a joule represents the energy necessary to accelerate a 1 kilogram block through a distance of one meter.  When boiled all the way down to it's most dangerous don't try this down at home essentials, this article suggests, that as an alternative to surgery, try hitting your foot repeatedly with a hammer.

Well after reading that, I looked at myself in the mirror and said, "I'm already running."

Barefoot wasn't going to happen right away, I had a race to train for and couldn't afford to slack off in the volume, but I Googled barefoot running shoes, and guess what I found.

I bought my first pair of Vibram Five Fingers in the summer of 2009.  My first run in them was 2 miles long and didn't feel too bad.  My second was 3 miles and I could barely climb the stairs at home for 3 days afterward.

I've got what feels like a lot more to say on this subject so I'll cut this off here and come back with part 2 tomorrow or Monday (or Thursday go to Part 2).  This weekend, I'm heading to a land where the internet is nonexistent, but the hills are magnificent.

Thanks for reading.

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