As you know, yesterday I was gushing about how I’ve left my heel striking days behind me. I get quite a few inquiries about why and how I went about this, so I thought I’d share. (Pull up a chair).
Some background–I’ve been running for about 15 years, beginning as a triathlete. Like everyone else who started running around that time, I went to the shoe store, was checked to see if I needed “motion control,” neutral, or stability shoes. The verdict was that I was a neutral striker but I still ended up in stability shoes (why? good question). I did fine for many years this way.
Then a few years back, I developed really awful plantar fasciitis, so bad I couldn’t run for six months. After trying everything, I had shockwave therapy on that foot, which cleared it up and I got back to running. However, my podiatrist put me in orthotics and told me that I needed to be in them 24/7 for the rest of my life. I didn’t care what it took, as long as I could run. So there I was, in stability shoes plus orthotics (overkill anyone?).
From here, I developed PF in my other foot–not debilitating PF, but PF nonetheless. I questioned how this was possible if the orthotics were supposedly there to prevent this. Next up–ITBS, a horrible case of it that got worse, even after I laid off running for months. At this point, I was pretty done with it all. I learned about a natural running informational session down in Shepherdstown,W.V., led by Dr. Mark Cucuzzella and a panel of all the best PTs, doctors, and athletes involved in the natural running movement. Here’s where I had my epiphany.
These folks essentially said that if you were running injury free, and had been for years, with traditional shoes, then why fix what isn’t broken. But if you were consistently getting injured and weren’t pushing the envelope with overzealous training, maybe you should consider a more natural way of running. They cautioned this transition could take years and wasn’t for the impatient.
The first thing I did was toss my orthotics and started walking around bare foot as much as possible to strengthen my feet. And what do you know: my PF disappeared, almost overnight. From there I bought a pair of Newton’s and started running barefoot in (what I thought) was small doses. Pretty quickly, I found my mid foot, because that’s what going completely bare foot will do for you. However, in no short order, I was hurt again, this time from doing too much, too soon with the bare footing.
Finally this past fall, after loads of time off for healing, I started over from scratch. I went with a 4mm drop shoe and seemed to have found my sweet spot. I had good form, but still had a bit of cushioning to help me make the full transition over. I’m not going to lie–it wasn’t a completely pain-free transition. I had tight calf muscles, about a week off for a sore achilles, and another week off for a strained tendon on the top of my foot. But once I got past that, it has been pretty smooth sailing. Now that Boston is behind me, I am transitioning in a zero drop shoe to the routine, a few short miles at a time.
Would I still do pure bare foot running? Yes, I’d like too, because I do think it’s the very best teacher. But I’ll admit to being a bit gun shy. For now, I’m taking it one day at a time. I will say this (and if I’ve said it once I’ve said it 1,000 times): I think it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my running. I am free of all the old tight spots, the aches and pains, the stiffness that I used to have when wearing those old high-heeled shoes. My advice to you would be much of what I got on that first night in Shepherdstown–if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it. But if you have injuries and you can honestly say they are not caused by overtraining, consider natural running.
Where do you stand on natural running?
Michael J. Schiemer B.S. CPT
Owner of FRUGAL FITNESS Worldwide Wellness & Elite Cheapskate
Author of The Frugal Diet, The Frugal Workout, & The Ultimate Fit Guides
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