Monday, June 20, 2011

comment on Todd's "Barefoot Form" post

my comment was too long for blogger to handle, so i'm moving it to a post.  it is in response to Todd's post on barefoot form.

i wanted to write "tread lightly", but that's too obvious to get more than a groan.

i was swayed by McDougall's book Born to Run, towards a more natural running stride, more natural foot-strike.  i started barefoot running 6 months ago, but my experience has been more an experience with a more natural foot-strike than one of barefoot running.  from what i've read, shod running in any form, even with vibram five-fingers.  allegedly, it's the sensory input you get from your bare foot on the ground that really gives you the beneifts so highly touted by the barefoot running movement.

still, there is much to be gained by adopting a more natural foot-strike.  since i was a child i have been diagnosed as a severe overpronator.  this has caused me to continually have to wear very structured, motion-controlling shoes.  the positive side of this was that i got to the point where i was running quite fast and relatively pain-free for a while.  the down-side was one of degrading returns in my non-running athletic performance.  my muscles had grown accustomed to the forward-only, rigidly controlled foot-strike, and so my lateral motion was impaired.

very few of us are starting with a blank slate, and, in my personal situation, i was way behind the curve in this regard.  i knew there would be a long breaking-in period, where my leg muscles would hage to adjust to the more natural foot-strike.  i wasn't quite prepared for how hard it would be.  here are some details:

- feet:  my arches had become somewhat weak from the motion-controlling shoes.  but the arch pain is nothing compared to the pain i feel on the tops of my feet, above my arches.  when i've been idle for a bit, especially getting up in the morning, i can barely walk.  i've read this is all part of strengthening your feet, which is one of the hardest parts of re-tooling your footstrike.  this is by far the most painful part, and, 6-months on, i am no where near stable.

- ankles: overpronation is real.  i am an overpronator and that does cause an issue for me because my muscles have been been properly built up to handle it.  think of the difference in stabalizer muscles you obtain in a workout on dry sand vs. solid surfaces.  you need to build that stability to support your leg's natural motion.  again, i'm not there.  second to the pain in my feet is the pain on the insides of my ankles, similiarly debilitated in the A.M. and after being seated for periods of time.

neither of the conditions above affect my running.  when i run, it's a non-issue, no foot or ankle pain.  it's only when i'm NOT running that it comes into play.

- calves:  get ready for this.  what a difference.  i always thought i was using my calves quite a bit, but i've never experienced them screaming and yelling to me like they have throughout this 6-month period.  this is a mostly "while running" thing, not much of a problem when i'm not running (the soreness went away after a couple months).  i just noticed my calves feeling overly pumped, used up much more quickly than the rest of my legs muscles, a lot more fatigue than other muscle groups.  since incorporating speed-work, this has significantly been reduce and i expect soon my calves will no longer be an issue.

- knees: i've had knee problems my whole life.  probably a by-product of too much jumping (volleyball) with hard landings.  when i started this whole experiment, i thought my knees would be my undoing.  i haven't had knee pain like that in years.  in my mind, i thought, while there may be merit to a more natural foot-strike, i’ve missed the boat.  if i’m already running pain-free, why not just let it be what it is?  if only i could live by that kind of logic...  my life might be simpler, but i certainly wouldn’t have had some of the great experiences i’ve had, nor the lessons learned from them.  i’m happy to report, i am basically through the painful period with my knees.  they feel quite good these days actually.

- lower back:  this was a big problem at first, but, like with my knees, this went away.  the lower back issues didn't take long to go away either, maybe even just a month.

some other notes about the switch:

- slow!!  two years ago, training runs (which where few and far between, i admit) where up to a minute faster per mile pace.  i don’t know if it’s because i’m focusing on form so much more, or if it’s the pain, or what...  but i often just want to strap on the ‘ol motion control shoes and see what kind of time i could get.  but i threw them away, so it’s not going to happen.  as previously reported, times are starting to get faster and faster now, especially with the addition to speed work.  i imagine towards the end of this year, or early in the season next year, i’ll be back where i was.

- endurance:  this is a strange one.  it’s not about running endurance, which actually has increased with a more natural stride.  it’s about other athletic endurance.  i played a few volleyball tournaments this year and was fine through a few hours, but, once i hit a certain point, my legs just plain wouldn’t work.  i’ve never experienced that before.  i had energy, just the legs seemed dead, i couldn’t get them to respond or warm up.  maybe a by product of the pain noted above, or the causes of that pain...  who knows, but i really hope this changes.

these are pretty much all the NEGATIVE notes, the gotchas, things to look out for.  the important thing to note is that i’m STILL doing this experiment... so, clearly, the positives out-weigh the above.

i guess i’ll have to find some time soon to write about those!!


  1. Holy crap! I didn't realize that you were dealing with so many negative effects from your form change. My post was simply due from one day of trying out a different style of running, and i'm not even sure that i'm going to continue it on a regular basis. For instance, my hips are killing me today, but i'm not sure if its from the run or from the driving range (which I NEVER do, so I might have aggregation muscles I never use). Have you noticed any hip issues in addition to what you've noted above?

    I can't wait to hear your positive responses. I'm curious to see the benefits and if its even something that I should try (Born to Run is a very convincing book).

    I'm also curious to get your thoughts on if you feel your struggles are a result of your severe overpronation. Personally, i'm a pronator, but not severe by any stretch - just enough to have caused some knee issues in the past. I'm wondering if I might have an early adjustment period because I don't have as much foot stability to worry about. Who knows - it might be as big as a problem either way - just thinking out loud.

  2. Agreed that Born to Run is a very convincing book. And since I recommended it to Eric, I guess I also get partial credit for introducing it to you.

    Here's a worthwhile review from a very intelligent guy who has been running marathons since the mid=60's. (!)

    As he notes, McDougall occasionally sacrifices the truth for the sake of a good story. Nevertheless, McDougall has at least made a lot of us question our assumptions, which is a very good thing.