Lately, I’ve been a little confused in my running style.
Ever since buying my Vibrams, I’ve made a conscious effort to emphasize a forefoot strike in my stride. The whole point of running barefoot or in minimalist shoes is to mimic our body’s natural and most efficient stride. Feet are built to be run on the ball so that the stress from a step’s impact is spread out over the arch. Modern running shoes put all of that impact on the heel which actually negates nature’s purpose for your Achilles tendon and calf muscle. I was trying to get my stride right so much, there were probably runs where my heel didn’t touch the ground.
As it turns out, I’m not so sure my body’s on board with that idea.
Lately, my second toe on my left foot will get to a point where it’s numb and has an acute pain running up and down it any step I take in my run. In my Nikes, it showed up between 2.5 and 3.5 miles. In my Vibrams, it was after a mile or two. It was so bad during one run last week I had to stop and walk it off. But that’s the weird part… the pain is only there on my runs, not when I walk. Before I got my Vibrams and was a heel-striker, I might feel something starting to creep into my foot around 6 miles. But never sooner and never bad enough to make me stop running.
After scouring the internet last week for answers (and finding none), I decided to drop an email to the person listed in charge of Q&A on running injuries at Strictly Running, a Columbia running organization. I finally heard back from him today and his ideas, coupled with a few of mine, are as follows:
- Stress fracture in my toe. I’m not 100% convinced of this one just yet. His response was “In “Lore of Running”, Tim Noakes lists 4 symptoms of stress fractures: 1) it comes on without warning; 2) there is no other obvious explanation; 3) you can sometimes find a spot on the bone so tender that pressing on it will produce a pain he describes as “exquisite”, or “nauseating”; and 4) if fails the hop test, which means it hurts if you hop on the injured leg.” The pain isn’t sudden, without warning. There could be another explanation. There’s never a tender spot, it’s almost always a shooting pain. But it does almost always fails the hopping test.
- Another option given was a neuroma. Apparently this is an irritation of a nerve or nerves in your foot. The only issue with this is that it’s supposedly brought on by narrow shoes pinching nerves in the toes. But my feet aren’t wide nor are they cramped without some room for movement in the ends of my shoes. The pain also has occurred in two pairs of completely different shoes, measured two completely different ways.
- Too much, too soon, too wrong. This is my opinion. I was forcing myself to run on my forefoot. According to this article in Birthday Shoes, years of modern running shoes cause arches, toes, Achilles, and calves to atrophy. Without properly building up the tendons and muscles in my toes combined with overemphasizing a forefoot strike, I think I’m just hitting the pavement too hard, too soon for my toe to be able to handle it. My stride also needs to be more natural instead of forced. Like I said, there were runs when my heel might not have come close to the ground until I was finished. I’m guessing that’s not good.
- Or everyone involved could be wrong. And I might wind up at a sports medicine professional before it’s all over with having my foot MRI’d.
I’ve gone back to my “natural” stride in my Nikes for this week. I have a 5K this weekend (I’m running for Mongolian kids, apparently!), so I don’t want to mess anything up before then. So far, I’ve gone on two 3.5 mile runs so far and everything’s felt fine. One thing I have noticed with a heel strike though is that I feel way more tired at the end of my runs. Running on the front of your foot really is that much more efficient… assuming you can do it right
unlike me. I can also tell my quads are being used, where it should be my calves doing the work.
I’m on a mission now though! I’ve been jogging the driveway (roughly 0.2 total) barefoot with Harper in the morning. In the evenings, I take her for a road walk (0.6 miles) in my bare feet. My feet are feeling it tonight. Slow and steady to build up muscles in my feet though. I’ll get there one day!
Just as an FYI, here are some helpful sites I’ve been reading. And feel free to ask questions if you have any. I’ve learned more about form and running in the last two months than I ever thought I’d know!
- Runblogger – If you’ve ever wanted to know anything about form, it’s here
- The Running Barefoot – Somewhat of a beginner’s guide to barefoot’ing it
- Birthday Shoes – Reviews of Vibrams and helpful articles
- Run Jenna, Run – My California buddy who’s training for a half marathon
- Running with Karen – Fantastic writing from a runner
- Running in the USA – Great site for road races