Barefoot Running

BarefootRunning09Sorry for the rather surreal photo but it was done late last night after swimming with a mobile phone in rather limited light. It serves the purpose though – another photo following my foot injury theme showing my new Vibram FiveFinger footwear.

Just finished reading “Born to Run” a superb book that is doing the rounds at the Tri Club and I think everyone that has read it so far is planning to incorporate some bare foot running into their training schedule. It fits in with something I’ve believed and practised for a while: run with shoes of minimal support.

Years ago (pre triathlon) I used to play tonnes of badminton and I got a pretty chronic knee injury. During that period pre injury I automatically used very cushioned shoes when running but could never manage more than about 40 miles a week without getting niggles and never managed to get under 40 mins for a 10k. During a 5 year period I couldn’t run at all due to my knee injury and 3 surgeries later we somehow managed to get a solution. During this time I’d read about shoes and running. I’d always had a slight nagging doubt about running shoes. It seemed strange that millions of years of evolution could be so wrong that we needed our gait correcting and we needed so much cushioning. If you ever ran without shoes you fell into a natural forefoot running style, so why heel strike with shoes on. Also, look at track runners, spikes mean forefoot running. I heard said that it’s because tracks have some “give” but running on tracks I felt this was negligible.

So…. as I rehabbed back in to running I decided to follow what I felt was right. I didn’t bother spending big bucks on running shoes instead I went for cheap unsupportive racing flats and did all my running in them.  In the 5 years following that I averaged 46 miles per week … thats an average so a typical week when I was in training was over 60 miles. I had nothing more than the odd niggle and nothing that stopped me running. My run times tumbled and I was easily able to run all day. That was until this February.

Now, there are many out there, probably the majority of people, who given what I’ve said above will immediately conclude it’s my own fault doing all that running in racing flats. I would hazard a guess that this would be because they are convinced by everything they hear about the need for shoes with cushioning etc… I would also hazard a guess that most have never really questioned this wisdom or where it comes from – I think most advice saying have a supportive shoe / replace your shoe every 400 miles is coming from advertising by Nike etc.. (not exactly independent) or for some from a podiatrist. Beware the expert has become something I’ve been very aware of over the past years. It’s one thing if you break a bone and it needs fixing but where there is nothing clearly wrong beware of someone saying there’s a problem that needs fixing if you’ve not been aware of anything untoward. It seems the height of arrogance to think we can improve on so many years of evolution. Anyway … if you are one of these people that believe all the hype then I urge you to read Born to Run.

Given what I’ve been through with my foot, and I tell you it was far more painfull and distressing than I’d  ever imagined ahead of time, I certainly don’t want to go through it again. So I think it probably says tonnes about how firmly I believe all this that I’m not going back to supportive running shoes. I’ll come back to this later.

So…. was my injury due to my running? I will never know but my consultant certainly doesn’t think so. The podiatrist I saw in Christchurch (despite my comment above I think they can be really helpful just always question and think things through don’t just take for granted what the expert says) brought something to light that I’d not realised:

He asked “When did the pain in the ball of your foot start”

“about 18 months ago”

Noticing my Newton trainers “when did you start wearing Newtons”

“about 18 months ago”

I’d not made the connection and I’m not saying they caused the rupture but it certainly got me thinking back to what happened then.

It was in Kona 2007 and Newtons were just out. They promoted fore foot running which I firmly believed in so I decided to test run a pair. One of the guys behind them, a podiatrist, looked at me running and said I pronate and rather insisted I got a pair that corrected this. Thinking back he never asked me about my injury history and what I generally ran in. This was completely neutral racing flats and zero injuries in 4 years of high mileage running. I bought them and was a convert though I still had these niggling doubts:

1.Doesn’t pronation require heel strike so how could a Newton have pronation correction

2.Why does a Newton have such a massive cushioned heel if they’re a forefoot running shoe

The Newton was far and away the most supportive shoe I’d worn since returning from injury. By IM  Germany 2008 I returned to using my racing flats.

So … Vibram FiveFingers – boy are they comfy. Initially I’m going to just walk in them and strengthen up my feet. I’m hoping I will eventually run in them. For the moment I am running in my Nike Frees (yes Nike the ultimate marketing machine worked out how they can still make money out of bare foot running) and will hunt down some of my old racing flats in the loft. As my return to running is going to be nice and slow this seems an ideal time to slowly build back into running with minimal foot support. Hopefully going to incorporate some bare foot running into my schedule with some other Tri Londoners … will post progress on here.

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