Running and dealing with foot pain

I am not an avid runner. In fact I find the act of running rather unpleasant most of the time. However I have a job in a profession that requires a minimum amount of running to stay employed in said profession, and so I run.

A few years back I was on an all expenses paid vacation and in a place where I had regular time in the afternoons to go work out on a treadmill or elliptical machine, and there was a conveniently located running track down by the helicopter LZ/PZ, so I decided that I was going to run a half marathon. And I did, I used Hal Higdon’s half marathon training plan, and followed it until I ran a half marathon in 1 hour and 44 minutes. I did all my on treadmill running in barefoot style shoes, and all my outdoor track work in trail runners (because rocks). After that all expense paid vacation ended, I did a lot more “road work” and drifted away from cardio in the gym.

But now, once again I find myself in a place where there is enough time to dedicate some of the day to running. And I decided that I will run another half marathon. Already signed up for it in fact, paid my registration fee and everything. So imagine my surprise when I developed “plantar fasciitis” in both heels. Seriously, what gives? I’ve been running for years, and was steadily upping my time without going crazy. I even have access to a dirt track here, which should have been perfect for my trail running shoes to help avoid impact on my knees.

Alas, it literally felt like hot coals just forward and under the ball of each heel, and it hurt worst first thing in the morning. So I stopped running for a few weeks, upped my stretching routine to try to help the healing process, and ingested plenty of ibuprofen and acetaminophen to help control swelling. I also bought some new inserts for my boots, and that did offer some immediate relief.

In researching how to treat plantar fasciitis, I discovered that the “consensus wisdom” from the medical community is that it is a stress injury from repeated over use, and that changing your routine will likely correct the problem by strengthening other muscles/tissues to get things back to healthy. To do that, I swapped my trail runners for an older pair of “barefoot style” running shoes and did two miles tonight (not a particularly long run by any stretch of the imagination). I used the sand track, and managed to run both miles without causing heel pain.

Damn, barefoot running is every bit as “work those calves!” as I remember. Even the tibalias anterior (front shin muscle) got a much more vigorous workout tonight than normal. Clearly running in trail running shoes spoiled my body mechanics, and years of running on pavement compounded the problem with very monotonous foot strike angles. The reason that I stopped running in barefoot style shoes is that those sorts of shoes absolutely suck on pavement (I’m more of a Clydesdale than quarter horse) and I didn’t particularly enjoy the gym at my last assignment.

Lessons learned.

  1. Mechanics matter. Barefoot running forces me to have better mechanics and this is a good thing.
  2. Variety matters. Just running, even on a well though out plan, can overuse my connective tissue and set my plans back very quickly.
  3. Stretch. I didn’t stretch nearly as much as I should for optimal recovery, adding additional stretches throughout the day helps me keep things loose.

And why is any of this important? It isn’t really, unless you’ve watched “Zombieland” and you know rule number one.

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