Thursday, February 16, 2012

Minimalist Shoes and Staying Injury Free

I am sitting here at work , in a mid afternoon funk, reading a few headlines.I just read Funders post here. She opens up the post about her attempts at running barefoot and all the trouble she experienced.The post is worth the read and for the heck of it, here's my barefoot drama story.

I have also had a stint with the barefoot or actually to be more accurate , minimalist running.
3 years ago I started changing my entire way of looking at food. I was having a lot of migraine, skin and gastro intestinal issues. So I started reading and researching. I decided to start cutting out a few things. It was a lengthy process involving many tweaks over the course of many months . With each change I made, I felt a little better, saw a little improvement. Even the husband , who at the time would see a broccoli crown and run screaming, started noticing some improvements with how he was feeling. It was a complete shift in how we looked at food. Today, I am quickly emerging from a Primal way of eating into almost Paleo. Giving up dairy is my current roadblock but I am getting there. Again, gradual change.
Somewhere in the the middle of all this,it naturally led me down a path where I started looking at my exercise routine a little closer because it wasn’t working for me. I was going to the gym doing the elliptical /treadmill routine for an hour 5 times a week , with a few weights thrown in for good measure. I hated it. I hated fighting for machines, I hated being on the machines and I hated the gym scene. We decided to give up our gym membership and set up an at home gym. We bought a popular workout video series known as P90X. We spent a winter doing that, together. We helped motivate each other. It was hard, one of the hardest things I had ever done. “Push-ups, Pull- ups, are you kidding me? I can’t do that” , that is what I was thinking when I first started previewing those videos in the early days. But I tried, and I kept on trying, kept on coming back to it. After 3 consecutive rounds of the program, I was doing it. I was ripping off 25-30 REAL pushups with CORRECT form, I was doing pulls up with only a little assist. Granted, I still modified certain things, but I was doing it. I felt great. Then, we incorporated some other interval training programs . That presented a whole different type of challenge but once again, I reaped the benefits. I was durable, and felt stronger than ever.

Pretty soon, I started thinking about getting into running, something I have always wanted to do but never really could seem to do. Last summer, my husband bought me a pair of the Merrell Minimalist shoes. He showed me a few videos and I read the book “Born to Run”. I am the worst heel striker even at a walk that you may have ever met . I come by it honestly all the way back to my great grandmother, grandmother, father, and then me…I pound my heels when I walk. Its horrible but I can’t seem to help it.
Being able to run a 5K has been one of those “life “ goals that I have never been able to attain. I would always go for long walks, and try to run, but I would always end up with shin splints and foot pain from an old injury that would become unbearable so I always gave up. When I got the barefoot shoes, I was optimistic. I started wearing them around the house for short stints, and pretty soon took a couple of walks in them. They felt pretty good. A little soreness but nothing too out of control. I paid attention to how I was walking and focused on not landing heel first. 36 years of walking on your heels does not just go way!! After a few weeks of wearing these shoes, I thought it was time to try out the new kicks at speed. So I set out to go for a jog in them.
Let me tell you, it was an eye opening experience. It started out great, I felt totally liberated. Whenever I had tried to run over the years, it always felt like I would be dragging myself out of sucking mud with every step . With the new shoes, it didn’t seem that way. I felt like I could easily propel myself forward. I was ecstatic and started thinking I really could run after all. Unfortunately, that euphoria was momentary. I got a half mile down the road and out of the blue my calves felt like they were going to explode or worse, detach from bone and sling shot across the wheat field, to be picked up as a snack by one of the local raptors. I was in agony. I turned around, limped my way home and threw the shoes in the closet. What the hell? I did everything I was supposed to, I slowly transitioned and built up. Why now? Needless to say, I didn’t run the rest of the summer. It took 3 weeks before my calves stopped hurting and I could actually go up or down stairs without half crawling or sliding down on my butt. I did a lot stretching to try to heal and resumed the Interval videos when I could manage.

Maybe out of just plain stubbornness and wanting to “win” my battle, I dug those damn Merrell’s out again a few weeks after that and started doing Insanity video’s (plyometrics/interval workouts) in them. Surprisingly, no pain.. ok, now we are getting somewhere…

This past November I started jogging once a week with a friend just to break up my workout routine. Still in the Merrell’s, no major issues. So far...
Nevertheless, after few times of jogging, I started having trouble again, but this time it wasn’t the calves. Instead, my left foot was acting up. I was experiencing pain /heat in the ball of my foot , metatarsal pain and some sciatic pain flaring up that was making my foot go numb. I knew what the issue was. I have lower back scoliosis which tilts my pelvis , which puts pressure on nerves, which causes sciatic pain. I also broke several metatarsal bones in that foot a number of years ago. Not wanting to give up the progress I had made with the running, I did something that was probably really dumb, and switched shoes. Yep, I went Back to my old Asic Gels, even though they were completely worn out and offered absolutely no support. I slapped some new insoles in them and kept on going. I did get some relief (maybe it was the placebo effect) and the foot pain was bearable.( I know, I am my own worst enemy)
but here's the good part, Pretty soon, I realized I was running 3.0 miles consistently and it wasn’t awful… I rmember the day I ran it. I hadn't even realized it until my running partner told me how far we had gone. Wait, Had I just attained my goal??? Holy crap!! I was running 3.0 miles, not in minimalist shoes but running it just the same. That’s nearly a 5k. I was there! FINALLY! I had come full circle in the shoe department but I could finally see myself crossing the finish lineof a 5K. I had decided I was going to stick with traditional running shoes and just work on form to avoid heel strike. Yes, you can improve form and not have Minimalist shoes. That was my master plan and I was going to run with it. No pun intended.
In April , my running partner and I were going to run the Summit Classic together. She is actually training for a half marathon but she was happy to support me and was actually thinking by then , I would likely be closer to being ready for the 10K…psshhhh… let’s not get carried away!

You know, the universe has a weird way of keeping thing in check. Just about the time things seem to be cookin right along with your plans and you can let down your guard a bit, a wrench gets thrown in the gears of life.

About 3 weeks ago, I decided it was nice enough out to do my scheduled 3.5 mile run outside. The sun was shining and there was only intermittent snow/ice on the roads. Good enough footing to take a slow run. I grapped my MP3 and set off. I wasn’t trying but I ran it faster than my usual time. I came home, stretched and went on with my day. I felt great, like I could have run another couple of miles easily. The next day, I woke up and couldn’t walk. My Achilles tendon was really painful. I literally could barely walk, Stairs were agony and so I hopped up them one legged (thank you Insanity videos)to spare myself the pain. I have no idea what happened. I never took a misstep on that run I never tripped,slipped, nothing.

The pain was so unbearable, wearing any shoes that touched the back of my foot was out of the question. My danskos were the only shoes that didn't make me want to wince in pain. I did the ice / anti inflammatory thing for a week with not much improvement.
I did not go to the doctor. In hind sight probably should have but I didn't want to spend $150 or more to be told to go home, rest and ice... I already knew that. I know enough about tendon injuries from horses that my options were limited.
So, I stopped running.

This has been the first week that tendon has really started to feel like it’s FINALLY healing.I can finally wear shoes other than dansko’s and I even did a Plyometric workout which required some jumping. The tendon held up.
Looking back at this path of destruction:

Mistake #1 Switching back and forth between shoes. Pick one that doesn’t hurt you and stick with it.
Mistake #2- Running in the Merrell’s with incorrect form. In an effort to not heel strike , I was over striding and pointing my toes and landing on the ball of my foot. Not cool.
Mistake #3- Cheeping out and using worn out traditional running shoes that offered NO support.
I have decided to go back to a more traditional running shoe but with less of a heel /toe ratio than the Asics but something in between. I don’t want to reinjure myself right in front of spring riding season. I don't want to be on the sidelines in my fitness routine.

For me, due to my foot injury, minimalist shoes may not an option for me for running. My left foot is going to require a bit more padding to stay comfortable. I have accepted that.

This has been a frustrating process but I have learned many valuable lesson. It draws a parallel to riding endurance. It’s not all one way for everyone. There is always more than one way to skin a cat. Or run a 5K, or whatever. Don’t just follow a fad because it’s a fad. In my case, I truly thought that minimalist running would fix my heel strike issue just by the nature of getting my foot level on the ground but my body mechanics fought it and I ended up injured. I realized that I can work on better running form and not need a total minimalist shoe. Minimalist shoes might not be for me, not the end of the world.
Here are some thoughts on parallels to the world of endurance riding:
Not every endurance rider needs to ride bitless
Not every endurance horses can use a treeless saddle or vice versa.
Not every horse can go barefoot and stay sound in any footing and those that are putting metal shoes on their steeds are not “ruining” their horse gait or legs. Or flip that, not every horse travels better in easy boots or barefoot.
Not every endurance horse needs to be electrolyted at every stop along the way.
And maybe my favorite, you don’t have to ride an Arabian to be successful in Endurance.

Not everyone can be suited to barefoot or minimlaist running. The next time you feel the pull of following a fad, do some careful research and listen to your body. If it' s not working, quit trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. It's not going to work. Period.Change your plan. Do what feels right.

Excercise should have some level of fun. For those of us that have a farm or livestock to stay on top of, being injured makes life very difficult. I intend to go back and start training again for the 5K but you can bet that before I step foot on the road, I will be in shoes that support me properly and I will listen to my body this time. There's always another 5K somewhere. If not in April , then in June or July , etc.


Funder said...

What a good post!

Grats on trying full paleo. I <3 cream and cheese, and I feel really good when I avoid wheat, so I'm sticking with mostly-primal for now. I really want to do px90, but I'm saving it for after I move and I don't have endless repairs to do on the house. :-/

I think the minimalist shoes are working for me. I am pitifully slow on flat ground but it doesn't feel like I'm crashing along. I've been wearing them around the house (they're super crummy for snowy outside work!) and my tendons are getting used to them nicely.

Good analogy to endurance. I think people who get really serious about doing (or even trying to do) endurance learn so many life lessons.

Jonna said...

@ Funder- thanks for reading! I am with you. I feel so much better without wheat. Unfortuantely, I do still crave the bad things once in a while and I have learned to let myself have those "cheats" but instead of a bowl of ice cream, I might just have a couple spoonfuls. For me it's all about moderation. Clearly, you have been more successful than me on the shoe thing . That's great. After doing p90X, I would totally agree that if you are going to make the committment, it would be best to wait until you can give your full attention to it. I am one of those that "tries" to do endurance, given my limited time to get my horse in condition and access to rides. The sport has taught me so much.

Mel said...

I've made the full transition to barefoot - running a half marathon in them, and even rode in my barefoot shoes this morning - and it's been GREAT. Having said that....I have REALLY good biomecahanics, and wasn't having any serious problems before switching. I think it's similar to people that take shoes off their horses's feet expecting that by some sort of magic that crappy feet will turn into good feet ad sometimes that happens. But most of the time I think that while there can be improvement, management is still key no matter what the particulars.

Really liked your parting comments regarding endurance riding and fads. So true....