January 7, 2011

Blue Feet

Posted in Life tagged , , , at 11:21 am by lindaslongview

I have decided that I want to learn to run barefoot/minimalist.  Why?

A few years ago, I had to sit out a local Valentine’s Day 10k because I sprained my ankle and couldn’t run.  Because my friends ran, me and my black-n-blue puffy ankle went and cheered them on.  One thing I learned while watching all those runners is that unlike elite runners, very few recreational runners have a beautiful gait.  I couldn’t help but wonder how mine looked…that observation planted a seed:

Do I have biomechanical gait errors that could be corrected and that might improve my running and potentially reduce future injuries?

Having flipper shaped feet (very wide toe area and narrow heel), I am challenged to find shoes that fit comfortably enough to allow my toes sufficient freedom.  Currently, I wear orthotics to reduce bunionization (due to insufficient toe freedom).  Last year, I saw some folks running in the Vibram Five Fingers (VFF) and I was intruiged enough to buy a pair…

As you might imagine, I immediately loved my first pair of VFFs even though they are really UGLY.  I am as comfortable walking in VFFs as I am with my orthotics.  Although my family doesn’t want to be been seen with me in VFFs, I LOVE them.  I wear them everywhere; it’s like going everywhere barefoot but without the acute (puncture) risks!  When I first bought them, I was sure that I’d NEVER try running in them, until…

I read Born to Run (McDougall).  The concept of barefoot running to improve my gait (and potentially reduce injuries) by improving biomechnical feedback seemed sufficiently compelling that I wanted to try it (remember the seed?).  I immediately LOVED how running felt in my VFFs (more relaxed and much more comfortable).  Then…

I discovered that I did Too-Much-Too-Soon (TMTS) by acquiring the dreaded newbie barefoot runner Top-Of-Foot-Pain (TOFP).  So….

I learned about TOFP on the web, realized my overzealousness and went back to my running shoes.  While I healed, I again walked aroud in my VFF’s everywhere until there was no more pain.  Then…

I purchased Jason Robillard’s The Barefoot Running Book, to figure out how to get back to that wonderful feeling of minimalist (VFF) running (his running 101 guidance is also on his website) and hopefully learn to improve my gait.  Jason recommends that one start very SLOWLY in wholly bare feet because the biomechanical feedback is even more sensitive than in VFFs.  He recommends barefoot running on a track:  slowly, with very little mileage.  So….

I have now run twice (less than a mile) wholly barefoot at my local junior college track.  Jason is correct, you feel much more barefoot — who knew that the blue track had a honeycomb surface underneath the rubber? (I can feel it!)

My running gait barefoot is indeed much better (more relaxed, more comfortable, and more joyful), but my real goal is to habitutate my brain to run with this gait even with with my shoes.

Because I just cannot see myself running any real distances barefoot because of the threat of acute injuries – poison oak, puncture, etc., my goal is to be able to run my regular (shorter) routes by spring in my VFFs, but improve my gait enough to be able to half-marathon much more comfortably by mid-summer in shoes.  For now, I have blue feet and a friction spot (not quite a blister) to show for my effort, but a commitment to improve.  My long-view position on barefoot running:

  • Use barefoot running to harness the highly sensitive biomechanical feedback of my body to improve my gait.
  • Habituate to the improved gait with running shoes.
  • Do no harm – be wary of the perils of barefoot running:  TOFP, puncture hazards, latent poison oak leaves on trails, etc..
  • Prevent injury and preserve my love of running – strive for relaxed, comfortable, and joyful runs forever.

Jason reminds us, “barefoot running is about feeling, not thinking.”  Does your run feel good?

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2 Comments »

  1. D Patterson said,

    Running barefoot seems like a good idea, running in minimal shoes also seems like a good idea. Think of this however. 85% of the population will develop a foot problem requiring self or 3rd party treatment. The shoes we have been wearing for decades may be the cause of the problem. It may however have taken decades for the symptoms to show up ( a “straw that the camels back” scenario) it may be very naive to think that problems that were decades in the making can be resolved so quickly. Muscles control the biomechanics of the foot and gait, muscles stride, management and contribute energy to the system. The key muscles in gait require a proprioceptive stimuli for the environment and yet footwear insulates are shoes from the environment, particularly the sole of our foot. Minimal shoes are a good idea in that they do not possess the bracing structures that encourage our feet to be weaker and prone to injury – however even the minimal shoes insulate the sole of foot from the support surface (terrain), they are better than traditional shoes, but they still insulate. Before even attempting prolonged barefoot activities or simulated barefoot activities you need to work those muscles and specifically target those muscles before they get over stress in the transition to barefoot. So to reduce/or prevent those injuries occurring the transition phase focus on foot strengthening exercises and/or get some biofeedback based insoles (there are some available in the US market) to put into those minimal shoes. Something to think about 

    • lindaslongview said,

      Dear D:

      Thank you very much for taking time to comment. I agree whole-heartedly that long-term problems cannot be fixed quickly — I’m taking the long-view. 😉

      What I have discovered is that my gait improves dramatically barefoot/minimalist, yet I can translate the gait to my stability control running shoes through habituation and it helps a great deal. I have struggled with minor injuries and pains in on my left side (hip and foot) that are probably in some part related to an unbalanced gait, but it will take a long time to see if the change reduces the occurrence of those issues. I am simply hopeful that improving my gait is likely to translate into staying healthier over the long-term and enjoying running for many more years than I might otherwise have been able to accomplish.

      You are absolutely right that proprioception (and not just foot strength) is a critical part of the package. I have just started on strengthening my proprioception through barefoot balance training and am headed to a seminar to learn even more.

      Thanks again.

      Linda


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