I have since I began running in 2002. When I tell people this, especially people in the running shoe or sports medicine business, I think they imagine me pounding away on the pavement with my callused, VERY FLAT feet. This is incorrect. While I do, admittedly, have some pretty flat feet, I do maybe 1-2 miles (less than 10% of my mileage) barefoot in the grass. This is a combination of barefoot striders on the infield after a track workout and/or slow jogging at the end of a run that has left my body feeling stiff and with an obvious need to correct my stride. This is how I run barefoot, but how long have I been enduring physical exercise barefoot or in minimal shoes? My ENTIRE upright life.
I began dance as early as you can. This might seem an odd fit if you knew that I had to wear “corrective” shoes as a toddler. Apparently, I walked like a duck. Of course, this might’ve accommodated a dancer who, in the end, gave it up due to, among other things (I’m only 4’11 and built rather stout), poor turnout. Irony–gotta love her. I WAS NOT INJURED EVEN ONCE IN ALL MY YEARS OF DANCING–not once. My flat feet, pronation, and inflexible back could not compete with good posture and the strong leg/core muscles I had developed. In the end, I was told to lose weight to pursue a career in dance. I started running. That was the end of my dancing story and the beginning of a passion for one of the most freeing activities I’ve ever known.
Yes, I was injured that first year of college cross country (my junior year). How, you might wonder? I busted the meniscus in my knee giving my husband an airplane ride on my feet. IDIOT. I did drills barefoot and ran in the Asics 1180 series –I think it’s in the 2100s now…ha. I wasn’t fast, but, other than a few tired muscles and tendons, I wasn’t hurt. I credit the still strong leg/core muscles and a coach that wanted us to run forever, not just while we were in college, for keeping me healthy. The second year of CC came after a summer spent working 12 hour shifts at a wildlife clinic in Florida. On my days off from scraping dried pelican poop and chasing otters into enclosures, I kayaked, went bait shrimping, fished, and, occasionally, ran in the wet sand on the beach. I was stronger than the prior year when I returned to CC. I was primarily injury free and did not need more than a few days cross training to recover from any small set backs I encountered.
Following that final CC season, I trained with Nicole for the marathon. Again, no injuries. This is actually a bit crazy considering my longest run before this training had been 8 miles. The most I did with Nicole was 18. Nicole also liked to kick off her shoes and do striders barefoot after a long run or track workout. She has ran since junior high, with very few minor “injuries”. (I use quotations because I don’t know that Nicole has ever been forced off her running feet for more than a week.)
Between college CC and the present, I suffered from “Runner’s Knee” for a couple of months when I first started the grad program at LSU. I swam, iced and was back at it. The sports doc I visited in Louisiana that diagnosed the “Runner’s Knee” recommended I run in Nike Shocks. I wasn’t as knowledgeable then, but I knew enough to realize I had wasted my money on “the best sports doctor for runners in the south.” Pft. This is the only injury I had dealt with until the last few years. I won’t go into the details of my injuries again (see bullet points below), but I will tell you that EVERY TIME I get injured EVERYONE blames the barefoot running (Well, not everyone, just the majority). Funny thing: EVERY TIME I’ve been injured I’ve been spending more time in a supportive shoe and less time barefoot (percentage-wise) because my mileage has increased.
- Hip flexor strain…I’m still blaming sex.
- Medial arch pain…20 mile run in supportive shoes (Mizuno Wave Alchemy).
- Most recent, peroneal and/or achilles tendonitis…20 mile run in supportive shoes (Nike Structure).
A friend sent me an article this morning, which is what made me want to write this blog. QUIT BLAMING BAREFOOT. This is such an easy answer to what’s causing my pain that most people who diagnose it as the culprit don’t take the time to learn what I’ve been doing leading up to the injury ANYMORE. Yes, it is true, some people add too much barefoot or minimalist training too quickly. But, for me, I’ve done it my entire life in one way or another and I’ve NOT been doing any barefoot drills when I’ve sustained the above injuries. In fact, as I already mentioned, because my mileage has usually gone up due to my training going well, I am running in more supportive shoes more often and finding less time for barefoot drills/strength work and stretching.
Here’s something to chew on: Many of the injuries associated with barefoot/minimalist running are caused by the over use and strain on lower leg muscles, especially the calves and associated tendons (achilles, for example). Your calf muscles get too tight, they pull on your tendons, your tendons get pissed off, you have to take time off from running. Now, consider the traditional shoe. It has a heel differential (that is the difference in height between the heel of the shoe–higher–and the toe box–lower) of 10-12 mm. Now, won’t this also cause your calves to be tight?? It’s not the same differential as a high heel, but it’s a pretty big difference when you consider the type of mileage you will be logging in them. The only difference between the calf tightness afforded barefoot/minimalist runners and traditionally shod runners that I can see is that the barefooters are more prone to over stretching the tight muscles too quickly where as the shod runners are protected in the shoe with the raised heel. In fact, if you go to, well…almost any professional, mentioning soreness in the lower leg or foot, they will provide you with an orthotic in one form or another that raises your arch and/or heel even more. This has never helped me. It usually hurts me more. I do know people that benefit from orthotics, supportive shoes, taping, etc. I’m just not one of them. I’m also not a doctor, athletic trainer, PT. I have zero credentials and only have my own experiences. You want to talk about tight calves though…leading up to my injury I logged 30 miles in San Francisco in shoes with a large heel differential. Not to mention all the miles I walked around that hilly city. My achilles and peroneal didn’t stand a chance without proper massage and stretching<–this is where I failed.
What has finally helped me recover? Walking barefoot. I started small. The longer I could go without it hurting, the more I would add. I had totally forgotten this technique for gauging my recovery. I’ve done this so often, but had, since my last injury, been scared away from anything barefoot. It has been a week and I can walk for 40:00 with no pain. I don’t have to stop due to pain. I do, however, have to get on my mountain bike, then into the pool, then get to the lab. My foot doesn’t bother me at all during the day, unless I try wearing the orthotics again, which make my arch feel like it will crack in half and cause a sharp pain in my right inner knee. I’ve even done the occasional barefoot running through sprinklers late at night on campus, ran barefoot around the in field of the track, and paced a friend for a mile, wearing my Newtons, at a 6:15 mile pace during a race this past weekend. Ooooh, scandalous.
I’m not saying barefoot is the cure all–NO TWO RUNNERS ARE ALIKE. It’s also not the scape goat for injuries though. Happy Running Friends! So grateful to be joining you again!