Nice concise article: https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/is-minimalist-footwear-better-for-you?
So my latest running spurt, after a 16 month hiatus, has hit the buffers… for now anyway.
It is almost of no surprise to me that I’ve managed to do overdo it yet again. I’ve sprained my right foot, causing me to stop all running until it’s recovered. It’s completely my own fault. I failed to obey rule #1: Listen to your body. Although looking back I can see how I’ve managed to do this.
My return to running was mainly prompted by a wish to rid myself once again of the dreaded planter facetious (PF), or as I’ve said before what should more correctly be called planter fasciosis. Running (in a barefoot style) cures this. So as I eagerly adopted my short everyday runs again, I could really feel the tendons working though my right heel, as it worked the lymphatic system to pump away the waste and restore health to my foot and heel. This is an odd experience, as it’s almost like mild pain, but yet it feels good. As if your body is telling you that the discomfort is worth it. As is the case with shod runners, it’s easy to ignore any pain while running by tapping into the fight or flight response. This isn’t something you have to consciously do, it just happens. Your body effectively self-medicates with adrenaline, noradrenaline and cortisol. Numbing the pain and allowing you to continue running. But this ‘pain’ I experienced was just mild discomfort which would go away in time as my PF got better.
This was the plan, however I didn’t count on me over doing it, and the PF discomfort being replaced with the pain from a foot sprain in the mid-foot. I did notice the area of discomfort move forward, but in my mind associated this with the PF. This was a mistake as it turns out. I should have recognised the symptoms of a sprain and rested my foot immediately – I didn’t, and carried on running unaware I was just compounding the problem. Of course I didn’t really notice when running, due to the aforementioned drugs my body was generating. I did notice when not running, most particularly when my foot had been inactive for a while: upon waking; after sitting at a desk for hours; etc. In between times it didn’t really bother me that much. Hardly at all in fact. I was only that this started to get worse, which alerted me to the fact that this wasn’t my PF but something different. I stopped running right away and have been careful to rest my foot as much as possible.
So let’s see where I went wrong. My progress was as follows:
10 days at 0.36 km
7 days at 0.60 km ~ 60% increase*
7 days at 0.85 km ~ 41% increase*
9 days at 1.3 km ~ 53% increase*
8 days at 1.9 km ~ 46% increase*
3 days at 2.2 km ~ 15% increase*
*percentage increase only worked out when writing this blog
It’s clear to me now that this was too much too fast. Perhaps if I’d not had the PF to start with then this would have been acceptable, or perhaps not. I’d also been experimenting with altering my walking gait. This involves using more of your reverse stride, rather than your forward stride, and does exercise the mid-foot more than a conventional gait (more on my barefoot walking gait experiments in their own post shortly). So maybe this was to blame, or a combination of the two .
But for now I think it’s interesting to just look at the running and to realise how much I stepped up the distance in terms of percentage. On average I was increasing the distance at 50% each time. Most people who talk about increasing the distance for barefoot running talk about stepping up only 10% at a time. If that advice is correct I was smashing that. I’d not considered the percentage increase when I was upping the distance, only using the next convenient road loop and working out the distance I ran later from my tracker band.
So, I’ve now stopped running to recover and the recovery is going well. I’ve been stopped for 4 weeks now and I guess it may take another 8 weeks before I try again. Annoyingly sprains tend the take about the same time as a fracture to repair; 3 months at least. So I’ll take it easy and consider this last progress plan when starting out again.
I always knew that learning to run barefoot would be period of discovery and re-education; I just had no idea that, as with all life’s learning, the eduction never ends.
I’ve had a running hiatus of around 16 months; my how the time has flown. I won’t bore you with the reasons for this gap; suffice to say that it wasn’t intentional, it was circumstances in my personal life to blame (having a mad girlfriend, if you must know). But now I’m back on the wagon again, and have just completed my first month of running each morning.
But before I tell you about that, let me first fill you in on a few discoveries first.
My barefoot running journey, this blog, and this website all started with a few unrelated things happening:
- Being diagnosed with Planter Facetious [PF] (7 June 2011)
- Taking a holiday in Goa (Nov/Dec 2011)
- Seeing a feature on a TV program (7 January 2012)
I noticed after spending two weeks on holiday wearing mainly sandals (zero drop as it turned out) that my PF had gone, at least for the moment. Two weeks later I saw a feature on a TV magazine show, which prompted me to google ‘barefoot running’ – I never looked back.
So fast forward to now and I’ve not run for over a year, and guess what? Yep, the PF has returned.
As it happened, back in February I found myself back in Goa, three years on from my previous PF discovery. I wondered on the flight out there if once again my PF would be cured again (albeit temporarily) by not wearing shoes. And this time, I’d be completely barefoot and not in sandals. I believed that the PF would subside, but I didn’t expect this to only take 48 hours. That’s right, when I woke up on my third full day there, I noticed zero pain in my right heel. The PF pain just didn’t exist anymore.
This didn’t initially make any sense. At home I exclusively wear barefoot shoes, or no shoes at all. Why then when my foot muscles were already getting a natural workout, did being in Goa on holiday make such a difference? The answer it seemed was the terrain and the lack of even barefoot shoes.
Back home, living in London, the terrain is anything but natural. Paved streets, carpeted rooms, etc. Everything is flat, flat, flat. Whereas walking around on the beach in Goa, my feet had to contend with surfaces like this.
I wasn’t walking on flat terrain, I was walking on varied terrains, including a lot of walking on the hard packed sand left behind by the outgoing tide. This gave me feet a real workout; far greater than I’d ever get wearing barefoot shoes in a concrete jungle like London. For all the exercises recommended for dealing with PF; stretches, rolling a golf ball underfoot, etc., etc. It seems that walking around on uneven ground barefoot for two days is all it takes to mitigate the problem.
This ‘cure’ however didn’t last long. It lasted the whole three weeks I was in Goa, but returned the very next day upon my return to Blighty. One day travelling; inactive and walking on airport concourses and airplane carpets was all it took to return my PF to what it had been before. Amazing how fast this turn around was in both directions.
So, my return to London also coincided with my move further out from London; Clapham to Richmond. I was determined to start running again with this change of scenery. That’s exactly what I’ve done. I was also keen this time to learn (yet again) from all the mistakes of the past and manage my transition from zero running to something manageable every morning. I couldn’t care less about distance in one outing. I’m aiming for distance over time and getting out there and working my legs every day.
So far my progress has been this: (super slow I know, but no calf or other issues)
10 days at 0.36 km
7 days at 0.60 km
7 days at 0.85 km
7 days at 1.3 km
These distance weren’t exactly planned, they just happened to be the distance of the circuit I choose as a small, and then increasing circle run, mainly based on where the paths are around where I’m now living in Richmond. Tomorrow I should really step this distance up again slightly. Let’s see if I do.
Also I know the history of these distances, not because I noted it down (as I’ve done before on a spreadsheet) but because I’ve now acquired an activity tracker – bought for trying out the MAF Method – but more on that in a later dedicated post.
So… so far so good. I’ve been running again for a month with no problems with either my PF or my calves. I’m hoping that this regular running will activate my lymphatic system and sort out my PF – it hasn’t yet, but watch this space.
This guy has the right attitude to diet: real food (including beer) and no bullshit gel packs or other pseudo-scientific bollocks.
It’s been a while since I’ve been running. It’s been quite a while actually. Worst of all, the reason for my lapse is completely self inflicted. Let me explain…
Ten months ago I posted this about a glass splinter I’d managed to acquire while running. Not a problem, I’ve been here before; just dig it out and carry on. However this splinter was quite deep and took more than a little effort to get it out. Six weeks later I realised the small wound caused had healed over into a hard patch which made running uncomfortable–located as it was on my landing zone. Looking at it closely I realised I had a verruca growing there. And it took me another month to realise that’s what it was.
I’d only had one verruca before, and having gone through many painful and unsuccessful ‘remedies’ to remove it. All to no avail. The final solution was duct tape, which appeared to clear it up in four weeks. Of course they do go away on their own eventually anyway, so it may have been the duct tape or it may not.
So of course I tried duct tape, but it did nothing. So I upped the ante by also using a cotton wool bud, soaked in cider vinegar. Again, all to no avail. Eventually I resorted to over the counter verruca removal gel, which does work, but you have to apply and re-apply, over and over again, using an emery board to wear down the infected area. It’s a right faff. But finally after months of doing this I am almost at the end (I think) and I’m just about able to run on it without discomfort. So I’m running again.
Before all this happened I’d set out on a new scheme of running little and often, instead of trying to run longer distances only a couple of times a week. The idea being that little and often is kinder to my body, and the total distance per week is higher than doing more less often. I’d gotten up to 14 k per week and was very happy with that. I managed to keep this up for over 100 days and suffered no injuries the whole time.
Now it’s time to reinstall that strategy and see how I get on. So yesterday I ran 1 k and the same again this morning. I’ll do this very short distance for a week or so and then slowly up the distance.
Wish me luck.
[update 29/11/17: in desperation I ended up booking an appointment at a chiropodist’s to have my veruca removed; I’d tried it all myself, to no avail. However they took one look and said that it was a corn and not a veruca (no wonder all the home-remedies I used to kill the thing didn’t work. So now armed with this knowledge I’m finally able to deal with it and get back to running. The main difference being that I can cut the excess hard skin away without fear of it spreading. Removing the hard skin allows me to run on it again without discomfort]
I wrote an appendix page for this site a year ago about the preparations required for starting barefoot running. This was in response to the usual pseudo-science ‘studies’ that conclude that barefoot running causes more injuries that it cures–the real culprit being not enough time was allowed for the body to adapt, or simply that the subjects over did it.
In the final section I hypothesised that weight played a big factor too. I believed from my own experience, that being heavier when starting isn’t a good idea. The result being various setbacks and minor overuse issues. Thus I declared that being over a certain BMI wasn’t a good idea for starting barefoot running. Well it turns out that there’s now a study to back this idea, albeit focusing on weight rather than BMI.
The study at the University of South Australia concluded that if you weigh over 85kg then you’re more than three times more likely to suffer an injury. Whereas if you’re under 71kg you won’t suffer the same magnification of the risks.
Body Mass and Weekly Training Distance Influence the Pain and Injuries Experienced by Runners Using Minimalist Shoes: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Joel T. Fuller BSc, et al. University of South Australia.
“In most bodies, if not all, exercise, including frequent marathons, will not neutralize the effects of a sugar-rich diet.”
At least that’s what the headline to this piece should have been.
If I had a penny for every meta-study that attempts to draw conclusions on other studies regarding barefoot running and the difference between shod and barefoot humans I’d have £57.23. But seriously when are we going to see an end to these pointless meta-studies?
It’s hard enough to run a real study on the benefits/pitfalls of walking/running without shoes. So a study that has to pick and choose from other studies to try and cobble together unrelated aspects that tried to prove/disprove some specific aspect of this subject is shear madness. Almost all studies I’ve read (and I’ve read a lot) fail before they start. The transition time to adapt your body to a completely different running gait is long and I’ve yet to see a long term study that takes this into account. What usually happens is they take a bunch of either habitually shod or unshod runners and make half of them run in the opposite manner. Then after about two weeks they draw their conclusions. This is completely flawed science and an absolute failure to understand the adaptations needed.
Actual studies worth their weight in gold focus only on a specific aspect of running and even then they are cautious in drawing any conclusions, usually with a heavily caveated summary. Of course these are then picked up by the press with attention click-bate grabbing headlines that distort the conclusions or lack of conclusions the study pointed to. Most readers will not seek out the full text of the study and simply blindly believe the press article was accurate in summarising the research – they never do. Selling newspapers, or clicks or screen views trumps accurate reporting. Money talks; science walks.
So this is the third glass splinter in my current running streak. I acquired this early on into my run and stopped a couple of times to brush away what I assumed was a tiny stone clinging to my foot under the forth metatarsal head on my left foot. But there was no stone, and as I continued the run I suspected it may be glass.
So after I’d finished and taken a shower, I set about digging it out. As I’ve noted before, digging small slivers of glass out of your foot is quite hard. It’s effectively invisible and so you can only do it by feel.
It still can hurt like hell, and this morning was no exception. Previous glass shards I’ve dug out haven’t even drawn blood. This little bugger though was 3 x 3 mm and 1 mm thick. You can easily see it in this photo, as it’s stained with my blood. It was lodged deep and didn’t initially want to come out. I almost gave up, thinking I’d use baking soda and a bath later. But one last go managed to dislodge it, and started the wound bleeding at the same time. I didn’t care; better out than in.
I think my recent run of glass is caused by two factors: I’m running everyday, so there’s more chance to get a splinter; my run starts by passing by three pubs, which spill out onto the pavement every night. I’m guessing that if a glass gets smashed on that block paved surface that tiny shards end up being left behind. I may try using the other side of the road and see if that helps.
Anyway, I just consider it an inconvenience. As, apart from the time it touched a nerve, it doesn’t stop me running and I mostly don’t realise I have a splinter until after my run.
Incidentally, I’m not using the scalpel to cut the glass out; merely in the same way you’d use a needle for the same aim. It’s just I find a scalpel a better tool for this as the wedge shaped blade is better at staying connected to the glass as I try to dislodge it. My blade of choice is a 10A blade, which was the preferred blade for graphic design paste-up, back in the days before everything was done on a computer.
As I write this post I’m now one day away from having run everyday for the past 100 days. Well, at least I’ve been on this track for the past 99 days, there have obviously been some days when for whatever reason it didn’t happen; I’m not a robot. But I kept track of everyday, and looking back I can see there were only 10 days out of the hundred that I didn’t run. So that averages out at a rest day every 10 days, which I think is acceptable. Common perception is that you need rest days, so I’m okay with this. As long as the intention is for me to run everyday, I’m okay with missing the odd few days.
This whole three months has been really easy for me. Before I started I worried about doing too much, getting injured, etc. But that proved to be just that; worries. It had no basis in reality and now twelve weeks on, running when I get up is so natural and normal for me now, that on the days I did need to skip it, I really missed it.
I actually skipped five days last week and so was naturally worried that my body would punish me on the first day back. I couldn’t have been more wrong, it was as if I’d not been away. This is good news and shows that the conditioning of the past three months aren’t simply thrown away with a few days off.
The weather is of course getting colder now which will make it harder to convince myself to got out in it. However I’ve already ran in an English winter and it doesn’t phase me. Besides I’m only running 2k each time, so even when I don’t fancy it, I know that once I’m out there, I’ll be done in 10 minutes and that really encourages me. However it’s probably about time I started upping my distance. I’m in two minds about how to do this. Once school of thought is to up my regular morning distance. Another is to continue my morning runs unchanged, but to start introducing the odd evening run. The morning being the status quo and the evening being the pushing for further. Both have their pros and cons. I’ll decide which way to go by next week.
I’m still chuffed that I’m now doing 14k per week without shoes. This is the most consistency I’ve ever had with my running; shod or shoeless. Let’s see if I can keep it up.