Thought I would write a little about how and why I ventured into barefoot and minimalist running. To really make sense of it I really have to start at the beginning…
I started running just over five years ago simply as a way to get fit. But first, I needed a pair of running shoes! I had no idea then of such terms as “pronation”, “gait” etc, I just wanted a pair of shoes to run in. So I went out and purchased a cheap pair of Asics (I’d heard of them, they make “running” shoes!). Everything was fine until I slowly built up mileage and speed. I began getting sore shins and I became educated on pronation and gait etc and why you need to go to a “real” running shop and get shoes specially prescribed for you. How exciting! So I dash off to the local running shop to let the experts sort me out with some fantastic amazing shoes that would eradicate injuries and give me the ability to run further and faster!
I arrive at the store and a teenage expert gets me to walk up and down the store a few times in bare feet and I’m diagnosed as an over-pronator. So that’s been the cause of my injuries! 10 minutes later, I’m walking out of the store with my super new “anti-pronation” shoes! Things worked out fine for a little bit but then the sore shins appeared again. It eventually got so bad that on a training run I had to stop, the pain was too much. So…off to a sports Physio I go.
So, why the sore shins Mr Physio? Oh…it’s because I over-pronate. But I have special anti-pronation shoes? Oh…it’s a gimmick. There’s no evidence to support claims that running shoes with super cushioning, dynamic support, medial post etc etc prevent injuries. Oh, okay. So what do I need? Custom orthotics…cool. That’s what I need. And so I leave with my new anti-injury footbeds and a big smile on my face. After the initial “wearing in” period, they did appear to do the trick. My shins slowly recovered and I was able to increase my mileage. Things seemed to be going well for a while but I did start to notice that my knees would ache after my long training runs. I put this down to my knees taking time to adapt to increased mileage. I then began to hate the fact my feet felt like they were imprisoned and controlled so much. That’s when I started to question why I should need anything to control my legs and feet. Surely nature and evolution would have taken care of this? I began searching the web and soon discovered a load of information that basically said “traditional” running shoes are bad for you. A lot of what I was reading made sense (POSE technique, forefoot landing etc) and I developed an uncontrollable urge to throw out my orthotics and let my feet run free! So…that’s what I did.
I purchased a pair of Nike Free’s and was amazed at how flexible and comfy they felt. I had just started training for Ultra running so I’m pounding in the miles. I go for my normal 10 mile run from work and it feels great. Hell yeah…this is running! I’m running on my toes (I read that somewhere?) and it feels easy…oh, wait a minute…my shins are feeling sore again…couple more days and they’re in real pain. Damn it! Back to the orthotics I go and the pain goes away again. I real want to throw away the orthotics, develop a better running technique and run free but my running had been going well and I have some Ultra’s coming up. So I resign myself to accepting that I’m just one of those people who can’t run without some sort of support.
The next 12 months go pretty well, I’m running high mileage and feeling good. I’m still getting achy knees and my groin feels pretty tight on long runs but I can run and I’m improving my endurance. I eventually build up to taking part in a 100 mile road race, the pinnacle of my orthotics running days! The race goes pretty well and I finish first place in just over 18hrs. Predictably, I’m feeling pretty exhausted for the next couple of weeks and take a rest from running. My knees are also extremely painful and stiff and my right foot is a little sore. Again, I start thinking….is orthotics really the only option I have?
A couple of weeks later and I can just about walk and manage a hobble type run. But then I notice that my right ankle is rolling excessively and find it almost impossible to walk normally on my foot. So I’m off to the experts again and I find out I have a stress fracture. NO RUNNING for at least 6 weeks!!!! What?!?! And then only for a couple of miles and build up gradually! Damn it!
Wait there a minute….this could provide me with the perfect opportunity to experiment with barefoot/minimalist running! So….that’s what I did.