Cautiously coming off rest

I hadn’t meant to leave it this long to update on progress. Originally when I signed up for the Newport 10k again as an official blog partner, I was hoping that the race might be my comeback. In my last blog post I explained why I was taking some time off.

I was stretching, doing core work, riding the Halfbike, doing classes at the gym, etc. in the meantime but my muscles remain (seemingly) as tight as ever. A couple of weeks ago I was very surprised to notice that my ankle was slightly swollen again. How was that possible? If I had run I would have put it down to that again, but this time I hadn’t been doing anything out of the ordinary and it’s been a couple of months since I finally shook that off.

The swelling didn’t last long, but I decided it was enough to call for a visit to the doctor. He sent me for some blood work which all came back clear and is sending me to PT, so we’ll see where that leads.

In the meantime, if it’s not the running causing the problem, I might as well get out to run again. I started by keeping it short, with only about 2.5 miles at a time (about when my lower back starts aching slightly), I’ve extended runs this week to just over 3 miles, with one run of almost 4.5 miles but my Achilles tendonitis has returned.

My speed won’t be there for Newport, or any other race I’m signed up so far, which includes the Grape Gallop on April 23rd (see my last post for a coupon code for any of the 3 Grape Gallop races this year), but it looks like I will probably be there if I can keep things under some sort of control.

Barefoot/Minimalist Running

I am a minimalist runner. I have tried not to specifically focus on that fact in this blog, but all the information is there (I did talk about it at reasonable length in one post titled “New Shoes”). I have avoided having this be a blog about “barefoot running” partly because I just want this to be about running, but also because people tend to have strong opinions on it one way or the other, and I can’t say that I really do. Perhaps it’s because I am a relatively new runner and I don’t feel I have a right to advise/persuade people who have been running for years what the “correct” way to run is, or perhaps it’s because I haven’t read “Born to Run” (which, from looking around on other commentaries on the subject, seems to be a prerequisite).

So, why talk about it now? Well, for several reasons – reading other blog posts on the subject, recent conversations with friends,  and the various articles that seem to crop up almost every day. And also because I have what I would consider as my first running injury (although apparently a minor one).

Let me be clear from the start – I do not attribute my current problem to running in minimal shoes. I do, however, attribute it to “running form”, which often gets talked about when barefoot running is the topic. Late in November I injured my big toe (I burnt it pretty badly – long story that can be found on my blog if you’re intrigued enough to find it). Anyway, I bandaged up my toe pretty heavily and carried on running. I remember my right knee hurting after a fairly long run around that time, but I didn’t think much of it (denial anyone?). I continued to run until mid-December when one run ended with a sock covered in blood from said toe, and then I took a bit of a break from running to let it heal.

My toe still isn’t fully recovered, and even now it is still bandaged, but I did start to run again at the beginning of January. The knee issue was still present, but over the month it has appeared to improve even though I have still been running, and, in my mind, not doing anything different.

Then it hit me, something probably did change – the way I run. Looking back it seems clear that the injured toe caused me to change how I run (I know this was definitely true initially as I was trying to avoid that part of my foot touching the ground at all), and even though it has been improving there is probably still some residual effect – after all there’s still a bandage there which makes that part of my foot thicker than it would normally be.

None of this leads to a dramatic conclusion about barefoot running – who is to say whether things would have been any different if I had been wearing a different pair of shoes, but stick with me as my brain attempts to unravel my thoughts.

When I started wearing Vibram Fivefingers for running, in October 2010, I was still new to running. I had officially started running in June, following a 5k I took part in that May (I leaped right into a 5k based solely on my cycling fitness). At the time I was worried about taking up running and the chances of injury, which seemed pretty high from everything I had heard, so I did what I thought was the right thing and headed to a running store to get an analysis. The shoes I got were fine, and I was running quite happily in them, but I definitely recall being sore for a couple of days after my next 5k at the beginning of September.

It was around that time that a friend started posting information about barefoot running on Facebook. Everything I read made sense, and I decided it was worth a try.

I think I benefited from being a relatively new runner in this process. I was never running more than 3 or 4 miles on any run at the time, so it wasn’t too much of a problem to take it back to just running short distances in the new shoes. I also made the decision that I would only run in the Vibrams.

The key to the transition was the extremely slow and cautious approach. I can imagine that experienced runners with many miles under their belts would find this extremely difficult. I was running 3 times a week, and the first week I have recorded data for (early October) had a maximum distance of half a mile (I had started with much shorter runs, initially only a tenth of a mile). Three weeks later I had increased to 1.3 miles, but it seemed that I had done too much too soon and took the next week off because of a minor pain. I started all over again with my next run only being a third of a mile again. By the beginning of January 2011 I was running 2 miles fairly regularly but with some shorter runs still in there. By May I was running in a 5k race again, faster than my previous 5k races, and with no soreness at all.

I can imagine anyone running long distances regularly would find that a tough regime, so when I hear stories about injuries caused by transitions to minimal shoes, I can’t help but wonder if people are being too impatient.

I should point out that during my transition (actually pretty early in that transition as it was mid-November) I was starting to find my regular work shoes uncomfortable so invested in some Vivobarefoot shoes for work, and some casual shoes for every day use. I’m sure all of this helped as, from mid-to-late November, I was wearing no “regular” shoes at all.

Now, why would you go through all of this? Well, maybe you wouldn’t, and maybe you shouldn’t. If there is nothing wrong with how you are running now – it’s comfortable, you aren’t suffering from injuries, etc. – it wouldn’t make sense to try to make such a huge change. If you are a new runner, I would say it’s worth considering; if you are constantly injured, or have recently been injured enough to take you out of running for a while, I would certainly say go for it.