Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Minimalist running

After Born To Run was mentioned on Running My Own Race, I proceeded to get myself a copy and immerse myself in it. The book paints a fascinating picture of ultrarunning...so much so that we mere marathon/half marathon runners pale in comparison. There is something awfully romantic about testing the limits of your endurance in a breathtaking, but unforgiving and downright dangerous landscape. But what got me really interested is the author's overwhelming endorsement of the minimalist approach to running. The author seeks a remedy to the various injuries that sideline runners constantly...and finds a universal solution - moving away from highly cushioned running shoes.

The message resonates with me because I am on the verge of throwing up my hands in despair. Every time I reach a solid level of running fitness, I slide right back to Square 1, thanks to my weak tendons. Building speed and mileage beyond a point seem like an impossible dream. I have had no luck at running stores. A month ago, I underwent a video gait analysis followed by the purchase of "stability plus" shoes and insoles. This only caused the tendonitis to be replaced by angry arches and a host of other aches and pains in my foot.

I am now cautiously feeling my way back to running. For a gal who hated the dreadmill with all her heart, I have come a long way...just try pool running for over an hour. At least on the 'mill, you know how far you've run...pool running is the ultimate dead end! And what's worse, you have people staring at you like you've lost your mind. It's a good thing I don't embarrass easily. I take that back...I don't embarrass, period! To preserve my sanity, I stopped short of doing long runs in the pool...now that would guarantee me a spot at an insane asylum.
My strength training sessions now incorporate a good amount of hip and lower leg strength building, whereas previously, they focused mainly on the abs.
On every tentative run, I watch my running posture, foot turnover and footstrike, and try to land on my entire foot, not the heel. It is a gradual process. The "stability plus" and the insoles are going back. I still use my old shoes, and I am slowly exploring running without much support. As with anything else, I understand there is a transition phase. I am NOT looking for a bunch of other injuries and blisters. I don't see myself switching to barefoot running entirely...I rather like the soft soles of my somewhat-manly feet. But I am trying other variations of minimalist running...like running in socks on the treadmill and running in water shoes on grass and tarmac (I don't believe in throwing away $70+ with gay abandon on a pair of VFFs, unless I want to continue with this experiment). Hey, why should going tribal cost so much? One of the things that attracted me to running in the first place is that it is the cheapest sport you can find! I have also started walking around the house barefoot or in socks.
The result so far:
-Tight calves and achilles...this is bound to happen when you change your foot strike, I am told (I use DH's drum sticks on my calves after a run, in lieu of a foam roller (Ouch!!! I really need a foam roller!))
-A sore spot on the top of my left foot
-Slight soreness below my right knee
But the soreness is not aggravated by running and the tendons have been behaving thus far.
On the group run at the towpath on Saturday, I noticed that everyone ahead of me neatly landed either on their whole feet or on the ball of their feet, definitely not on the heel. Am I the last one to receive the memo?
We know heels are not the best shock-absorbers, but this video really brought it home to me.

Minimalist running usually attracts strong, diverse opinions from runners. What are your thoughts/experiences? Have you ever tried it/are you considering trying it? If you have tried it, what's the verdict?


Ewa said...

I love this book and minimalist running makes a lot of sense to me. I the beginning my calves hated me for putting them to work since for years I kept them unnaturally raised. It passes though.
You might be interested in this link also: http://barefootrunning.fas.harvard.edu/index.html - good scientific research in support of barefoot running.
Enjoy the adventure.

I Run for Fun said...

Thanks, Ewa. That is a very interesting piece. The authors have been mentioned in Born To Run.

ajh said...

I say do what allows you to run!

I Run for Fun said...

Well said, ajh! I don't think minimalist running is for everyone...if everything works, why try to change?

Sarah said...

I tried barefoot once, just to see how it felt. It was not for me. I am lucky to have found great shoes that feel great on my feet, so I am sticking with that. I have talked to other runners who love either barefoot or minimalist. Hope you can find something that works well for you.

Marlene said...

Sorry to hear that you're still dealing with issues.

I've heard a lot about Born to Run and hope to give it a read soon. I'm pretty attached to my shoes, though I do find the concept interesting.

Stick with it!!

Ravi said...

Good post! I too have heard a lot about this book and Vibram Five Fingers. Will try and read this book soon, though am not sure about trying VFF at this moment.

Heather said...

I use to live completely in fear of any sort of minimalist or barefoot running. And while I still haven't tried it with running, I've been doing my kettlebells and other types of workouts barefoot and really like it. I think I run on too many gravel roads to get rid of my cushiony shoes though . . .

Oh, and I am now picturing you drumming on your legs with drumsticks. :) Probably not what you meant!

ProGait said...

Great post! Have you ever worn custom orthotics? A gait analysis with a Podiatrist may be beneficial as they are much more experienced in foot problems. They would also be able to prescribe custom orthotics for you which may help.

I Run for Fun said...

LOL! Heather, drumming on my calves would be something.

ProGait, I am trying to stay away from custom orthotics. I am hoping that by altering my gait and landing, the need for any adjustments will go away. But if the pain returns, I will definitely consider it.

Mica said...

When I work at the running store, we usually don't recommend stability+ shoes (like the heavy Brooks' kinds) for people who run a lot, just because they're so heavy! That said, my friend runs a lot and wears a pretty intense ASICS model, so whatever works, works!

I haven't read "born to run," but I don't really like the idea of Minimalist running. I believe the argument that we're probably made to run/walk barefoot, but we're not made to run on mad-made surfaces like concrete and asphalt. That said, I'd be interested to read this book and see what he says!

Roisin said...

I feel your pain, literally! And I'm often worries about whether or not my training will be able to progress beyond a certain plateau because of injuries. A friend of mine is really into the barefoot running and recently bought the VFFs...and claims to be a total convert.

I don't think it's practical for me living in an urban environment, but it does make you think.

Jill said...

I enjoyed the book, but I'm not sold on the barefoot running thing; but that's just me. I do try to run in lighter shoes and am pleased I haven't had the calf knots I had all last summer with heavier shoes....but I also haven't put in the mileage this winter either so who really knows what the true cause of that is. I say just keep testing and do what works best for you!!! :)

Abby said...

I loved the book as well, and was briefly taken with the vibrams before I realized that they don't work so well with my feet (I have a couple slightly webbed toes). Brent got a pair and has only used them a couple times, but he could really feel a difference (lots of calf muscle pain, but no IT problems at all).

X-Country2 said...

Interesting book. I'll have to pick that up sometime soon.