A foray into barefoot running

Barefoot running was all the rage a few years back.

It had been ‘a thing’ before Chris McDougal’s Born To Run, that book brought a mass audience; an audience that was pretty evangelical at times (faddists made my list of Running Bugbears). It still attracts some pretty ardent supporters but is less ubiquitous across the sector now.

I used to do a bit of barefoot running myself - real barefoot running, with no shoes or socks. It was easy back then because my office was next to a well maintained grass field that was about an 800m loop. But I changed jobs in 2012 and it became less easy so fell by the wayside a bit. 

I started wanting to get back into it while I was training for the London Marathon and became aware that my technique was becoming increasingly ‘slouchy’ as I relied on the thick padding under my heel – especially when I got tired.

Then fate intervened. I saw an ebay advert for factory second Freets. Seconds always appeal because, although I would love to say I am a dedicated bargain-hunter, I am nearly always skint being the employee of an NGO with three young children.

Freet Tarsa 4+1
A bit of me had always wanted to try the Vibram Fivefingers. They looked so interesting and alien to someone used to shoving their feet into a padded box before even thinking about running. Freet Tarsas sort of look like ‘Fivefingers-lite’ in that they have a separate big toe and a box for the other four toes.

The Tarsa has just 3mm of rubber between my foot and the ground and no difference in padding from my heel to my toe. Most running shoes have about 15mm under the heel and drop by about 12mm from heel to toe (explained quite nicely in this blog).

I bought them some time ago but as I was in training for the London Marathon didn’t want to change anything which may bring on an injury. But then a knee injury struck and I had to pull out anyway.
So, as part of my rehab I am tentatively giving them a go. I think the following graphic helps to describe my first experience.

I did a 20 minute run at a steady pace and it mostly felt great. It felt less great when I ran on a farm track and it became harder to dodge the sharp stones but I started to get better at picking my lines.

No sign of the knee injury, which was excellent, but when I stopped I felt a familiar twitch of cramp in my calf/Achilles area. I suffer a lot from cramp but mainly in the swimming pool. This did not progress but my calves felt tender all evening and by the morning they were very stiff. I see this as a good thing – I’m working different muscles.

I’ve had no bad side effects (muscle soreness is a good side effect to my mind unless it continues every time I run for the foreseeable future) but I’ll introduce slowly. A friend who was training for Manchester Marathon dived in to minimal footwear and injured her ankle during a ParkRun so I have taken that as a cautionary tale I can learn from.

I’ll keep you updated.

The fall out from pre-marathon injury

So the fall-out has fallen out and the dust has settled. The sun has set and the clichés have clichéd on my London Marathon 2015 bid.

After 14+ weeks of solid training, during which I actually started to convince myself I was going to run really well, I suddenly suffered a knee injury. 

On the Saturday I ran a PB at Park Run Harcourt Hill and it hurt a small amount, on Sunday I attempted Eynsham Duathlon and it hurt a large amount. That afternoon it seized up and for two days I could barely walk on it.

I had some physio, I Rested, Iced, Compressed and Elevated but two days before the event I was still unable to run more than 500metres without pain.

The good news is that I have deferred my place to next year so need for the ballot.

At first it was hard to pinpoint exactly what caused the injury. Liz Soames, the excellent therapist I saw, has given me some exercises to do to provide extra stability and strength in the key areas as she pinpointed a weakness in those areas and I know that I ‘run crooked’ by dropping my right shoulder as I run (particularly when tired - see the picture to the right).

Those will help a lot and should help increase my speed – particularly over longer distances. But I think that the cause of the injury was far more elementary than that and identifies more stupidity on my part. 

I had two pairs of trainers on the go (same make and model); one new and one older. Without really taking notice I had used the older pair for all of my long runs and a good portion of the medium runs to work. The newer pair had been used for speed work.

When I sat down and worked it out, the older pair is now probably almost 18 months old. If I estimate an average of 20 miles per week in that time, those trainers had seen me through almost 1,500 miles.

When I examined the soles I could see that the instep side of the forefoot and heel were very badly worn which must have put considerable extra pressure on my knee.

What a basic mistake to make.

Still. No point crying about it. There are still events this year including Blenheim, Boscombe and Oxford triathlons and I have an entry for Abingdon Marathon in October.

And, while I didn’t make the final destination of my training, I have really enjoyed the journey. I am fitter than ever before, I have rekindled old friendships and made new connections. I have loved blogging and reading other’s blogs and two people have messaged me to say they had been inspired to start running and are really enjoying it.