The First Mile
I don’t know about you, but it takes me the first mile to feel right when I run. It might just be me, but I’d be interested in hearing from any of you if you go through a similar process when you first start out. After that first mile I find my rhythm and the smooth movement comes back.
Lately, I’ve had some soreness in my achilles tendons that didn’t go away after he first mile. It actually made me stop on one run last week and walk for a while because I didn’t want to aggravate any more. Reading about it on a few websites I started to do some exercises to help out. What was prescribed on several sites was what I would call a stair step. Stand on the stair as if you were going up. Place the balls of your foot near the edge so the rest of your foot hangs out supported. Raise up, but don’t over extend, then lower so the heel goes below the plane of the stair you’re standing on. Extend it a little, but don’t strain it. Do that about 10-15 times about three times a day. It isn’t like a workout session, so spreading out the sets is a good thing.
That has really helped my legs to feel much better. When I went out this morning for a short four miler, I realized that I had been running a bit tip toe with my right foot. I wasn’t letting the heel touch down and that movement was the cause of my tenderness. I focused on feeling the heel touch lightly with each step and slowed my pace down a little. After about 2 and a half miles it felt pretty good. Now, about 12 hours later, I don’t have any overuse pain in my legs. Which is nice.
Here’s the learning. Even after 7 months of progressive adaptation, I am still adjusting. For someone like me, who has spent 40 years in running shoes and dress shoes, letting all of the muscles in your lower leg and foot adjust takes time. It has been interesting because the points of pain move and shift. It seems that as soon as I strengthen one group of muscles, another gets more strain. The old adage of systems theory applies – you can’t just change one thing.
It’s Not About The Shoe
In wondering if a raised heel shoe would help me out with my achilles, I tried a run with my old Nike Vomero’s. I’m glad I did, for two reasons. First, it didn’t help. I still felt the overuse injury even with the raised heel and the cushioned heel cup. Second, I realized that my style of running has become engrained. Even in traditional running shoes I ran with a minimalist forefoot strike. What I did notice was how much the shoes weighed. I was used to the weight before I changed styles, but going from sandals that weigh just a few ounces to shoes that weigh many ounces was a big adjustment. I wondered how I felt comfortable in those things before.
As a writer (www.jlgentryauthor.com) I observe and the observations lead to questions. The question that popped in my mind was one that had been nestled in the back of my mind since I started this journey. How come I see all of the worldclass distance runners wearing shoes. Is the Ethiopian barefoot runner a myth? Even the ultramarathoners that I’ve seen are shod. So what’s up.
That led me to start exploring YouTube and what videos I could find with worldclass distance and ultramarathoners. I started with the Ethiopians and Kenyans who were raised barefoot, but run in shoes now. And what I saw was amazing. There was a lot of variation in the style, but most were, to my eyes, hitting with a forefoot or a more flat midfoot strike. Every so often I would see a heel striker, but I noticed that their knees were bent to minimize the impact.
I really love running in sandals. I am starting to do more trail running and part of me has been thinking a more regular shoe might be nice to have in the arsenal, just in case. Now that I have tested it, I am feeling fine about switching type of shoe based on need.
Along the way, I went back to Dan Leiberman’s publication on barefoot and shod impact analysis. It is a great article and Leiberman is quick to point out that more research needs to be done. What is evident is that heel striking maximizes the potential impact while forefoot and midfoot strikes reduce the impact significantly. The reduction happens whether the runner is barefoot or wearing shoes. Actually, the least measured impact was a forefoot striking runner wearing shoes. Clearly, the cushion in the shoe helps.
Reading that paper and putting it with my own experience, I think it is safe to say that minimalist running is about the form, not the shoe. It is about rediscovering the natural way to run so that impact is reduced. Sandals and shoes will help cushion some of the impact, and that might be helpful. I still think that I benefitted early in my transition by running barefoot a percentage of the time. The cushioning will deaden or mask the priopreception and the sensation needed for getting the feedback on your form early on. But, once you have the form nailed, you can reintroduce shoes.
This is my opinion. I am a runner. My goal is learning to run differently so I can run longer. Longer in both distance and longevity. Within the barefoot community, I would be viewed as approaching it backwards. That is OK. I am working at adjusting my running after 40 years of doing it wrong. That said, I walk around barefoot quite a bit. Developing that sensation is an important step in learning minimalist. I am a big advocate of developing barefoot capabilities, but I run on trails and shit filled roads in sandals. That is my choice. That may change over time. I will tell you that my feet have developed a thickness around the forefoot and so much greater flexibility. That change has benefited me in many ways. Even walking out on cold sidewalks and pebbly surfaces doesn’t bother me the way it did a year ago.
If you want to be a more natural runner, I suggest you do some more barefooting, whether on a run or around the house. It will help you develop the senses you need to keep your form.
So get out there. Run. Run Free. Dig Deep.