How do you know when you’ve overdone it? Do you get all the way to an injury before you realize you’re pushing too hard? Do you start to feel things like strains and aches and then realize these are the early warning signs? Do you listen to them and back off or stop all together? Do you keep going and figure it will work itself out along the way? These are all fair but tough to answer questions. They are also questions that have plagued the running world on a large scale for years yet we still struggle to answer them. Even me.
I recently started having pains in the balls of my left foot. I backed off of the distance a bit and I iced and rolled my feet to try and alleviate some of the pains. I talked with doctors and had my foot x-rayed to make sure there wasn’t anything major going on. The x-rays showed no signs of fractures, and the docs I spoke with said it sounded more like neuromas than a fracture. For those of you who do not know, neuromas are places where the nerves are becoming thicker due to irritation, and in the foot the increase in size causes the bones to rub and pound against the nerves causing a lot of unpleasantness. This is commonly referred to, as Morton’s Neuroma and it’s something that can be very bad for a runner as it can take a long time to heal, if ever. In extreme cases you have to have surgery to eliminate part of your nerve before it goes away. It was not a great diagnosis, but I was told that mine do not seem bad, and with rest and proper care they would probably calm down. I gave my feet rest from running but not really anything else. I still trained my clients, and that can put a lot of stress on the body if you’re an active coach like I am. I do a lot of demonstrating.
So while I was “taking it easy,” I woke up one morning and felt an excruciating pain in my heel when I put my feet on the floor. I couldn’t really stand up, and I had no idea of what had happened to cause this pain. I limped around the house and through the day for a couple of days before I went in and had the foot x-rayed again. The x-ray showed a heel spur. So, again, for those of you who don’t know, a heel spur is really not something you want to have. Basically the plantar tissue got so tight in my foot that it pulled away part of the bone. Now I have a small portion of bone peeled back and pointing toward the ground, which as you can imagine is not fun to stand, walk, or even put pressure on. At this point I was told those magic words that every runner loves to hear (insert sarcasm) except mine had a twist. “First thing you need to do is stop running barefoot.” Why just barefoot? Shouldn’t I stop running all together? Apparently the answer is “pretty much, but the barefoot is the big problem”.
Was I to believe that? What I to buy into the idea that running bare or almost bare was the culprit? The answer is yes, pretty much, basically, and not really all at the same time. It definitely has not helped the situation, but it’s not the entire cause. I do everything in minimal footwear. I train my clients, run, lift, walk, shop, stand, and just about anything else you can think of in next to nothing on my feet, and I didn’t really stretch them out or relax them enough to counter that. That’s the problem more so than just the fact that I run without “real” shoes on.
So here I sit with a bona fide injury and the question of what I should do about it. Do I sit on it and let it heal? Do I push through it? Do I find a way to change things up and work around it? Do I do all of the above? The answer is yes; to the last one and all the rest of them too. I have some big and expensive races coming up that involve travel and vacation time. Canceling is really not an option, so what’s my best bet to being able to run those races and still get my foot better? I will answer that question, but I have to preface my answer with a statement. I am choosing to do something that is not recommended, proven, or considered smart; at least not as far as I know. I would never tell one of my clients to do what I have decided to do, and I do not exactly approve of what I’ve chosen to do. The problem is I have an “I can do this” attitude like most of you do, and I know that there is nothing I cannot do. Last year I finished the Disney World Marathon after breaking my big toe the day before. When I did it I had no real understanding of what I had pushed through. I knew the pain of course, and I felt proud of my toughness, but it’s been everyone’s reaction to that feat of strength that has let me know it was more than I thought it to be. I’m sure that experience, along with many others through the years, are what has led me to the course of action I’ve set in front of myself, which is as follows.
I’m going to keep training and getting my runs in, but I am also going to be resting a ton. I’m doing this by using what I know and what I’ve learned recently. First, I am wearing a boot whenever I am not on my feet. I’m wearing it right now, and I have it on most of the day. This immobilizes my foot and allows the pressure to be taken off the plantar tissue that is effectively pulling my foot apart. At night when I sleep I either wear the boot or a plantar fasciitis brace to keep the plantar tissue from tightening up while I sleep. I’ve been doing this for three days now, and the response to it has been amazing. When I started this treatment I could not put any pressure on my heel, and after three days I can stand on it without much pain at all. It’s been impressive. Now for the not so smart portion of my plan: I’m going to run but with a twist. I will only run my personal training runs and no longer run with my clients as well. I like to run with my clients and provide them with real time queues for adjustments as well being able to help them learn how to pace themselves by setting good consistent paces while we run. All of this has been too much so I have to back off. For my personal runs I am employing the help of my friend the racing flat, and I don’t mean some of these pretend flats that are on the market but a true to form minimal shoe. I have found that the typically hated cushioning of the shoe protects my heel, and it does not hurt at all when I touch my heel down while wearing conventional type shoes. When running in my ZEMs or Vibram Five Fingers I do not heel strike, but my heel does touch the ground, and when my heel hits a rock, rough spot, or uneven space on the sidewalk my run is effectively over. The instant that happens, searing pain causes my foot to lock up, which then locks up the calf, which puts me in a near stop. The built up foam of a shoe keeps me from feeling those spots, so shoes it is.
I have chosen a shoe I’ve promoted on this site quite a bit, and that is the Saucony A4. It’s as minimal a running shoe as I can find outside of actual minimal shoes. It is roughly 8mm in the forefoot and about 12mm in the heel. The toe drop is linear and the shoe has no built in arch support. The toe box is roomy enough to house my forefoot and is very light at 6.4oz. The shoe gives me just enough protection at the heel for those times where it might hit something I do not want it to, but it does not inhibit my preferred midfoot strike. I believe this option along with the amounts of rest I am giving my foot will get the job done. Will I heal completely? I don’t know, but I have to get through January’s Goofy Challenge before I can think about shutting it down so this is the plan.
It’s an attempt at being smart with my typical ounce of recklessness thrown in.
What would you do?