Sunday, February 19, 2012

Minimal Running and Injury Prevention

So, can anyone tell what I spend my Sunday nights at home doing when I don't have to work the next day?  Hehe.  Anyways, I'm about to talk about some reasons why I'm glad I've transitioned into more minimal shoes/more natural running style.

Today was the longest distance I have done in quite awhile (over a year), and while the last time I did the same distance (18 miles)  I was wearing "conventional" shoes and orthotics, and based on my running history, I think it was probably only a matter of time before I ended up hurt again.  I remember one of my friends at West Point running with me once and telling me I was probably getting injured all the time because I slammed my feet onto the ground - she was remarking on how loud I was when I ran.  I remember saying it probably had something to do with the insoles I was wearing... and that they made me run different  (I think I was suffering from plantar fasciitis at the time).  And I thought they were HELPING, ha.  Funny to look back on the fact that I said that and look at what I know now about running and injuries.  Also interesting when I look back on the fact I used to run 50-60 miles per week without injury, but when people I ran with noticed I was running "on my toes" and were telling me that I needed to run heel to toe that is when I got and stayed injured...

I will say that transitioning did cause me some injuries - though nothing that stopped me from running for a long time.  I got that tendinitis in my right foot right when I switched to my first pair of more minimal shoes, the Saucony Kinvaras... My feet weren't used to doing so much, I guess.  I went and ran 7 miles in them the day I bought them - 3.5 uphill, and 3.5 downhill, lol.   Once I worked more on having a lighter landing and got used to the shoes, that injury went away, and I haven't had any more issues with it.  The next injury was my hip thing... I'm not really sure what that one came from, but I think I'm probably doing something wrong when it comes to form (and too much speed/hill work... even with proper form, too much too soon can cause problems!)   I think it also has something to do with the fact I supinate a lot (run on the outside of my foot)... All the wear on my shoes is on the outer forefoot area... When I notice myself doing it, I try to roll my ankle in a bit more when I'm running

 The good news is that unlike the injuries I was getting when I was running in conventional shoes/heel-to-toe/etc., I can STILL run!  I might take a couple of days off if something doesn't seem right, but I don't have to take MONTHS off.   And, I have found that once I focus on form while running if I notice something hurting, it hurts less.  Today, for example, my left knee was starting to hurt after about 14-15 miles.  I think beyond just the general stress of running on slanted pavement for 15 miles that I was starting to hurt because I was heel striking/over-striding a bit.  I started focusing on running with smoother/lighter steps, and keeping my stride short, and the pain was less-pronounced, and after the run my knees weren't hurting at all (but my legs sure are!  Haha).  I still need to figure out why the heck the left side of my shoe is the side most worn out, and why my left side just keeps being the one getting beat up, but I think it might have something to do with running on slanted roads... I try to run in the middle when possible, but unfortunately, even in the country, there are cars :)

ANYWAYS, my point is that most of my issues now are fairly easy for me to fix once I focus on form.  Like my calve tightness, which from what I've been reading, can also cause top of the foot pain (no, I don't have a stress fracture - there is no pain at all to the touch, it just comes and goes as it please)... I have learned that that is because I tend to push off with my toes when I am speeding up instead of letting my core/upper legs do most of the work... My lower legs should be "along for the ride" instead of doing the work.  Sprinting form just doesn't work for 2 hour runs.   Once I allow my lower body to relax, I don't have the same issues.  I wish I could run fully barefoot, as I have heard that it gives you the BEST feedback (apparently my toes would be getting blisters if I was pushing off with them barefoot), but I'm too chicken to do it when it's 20 degrees outside (frost bite, anyone?), and I need to build up to it... and I kinda lack patience, hehe... I did do it at the track a couple of weeks ago though :)

So what I am saying in this blog is that if you find yourself struggling with injuries, you should try some more minimal shoes.  But you still need to focus on form... Minimal running is not a cure all, but it sure helps fix form problems, which will in turn fix injury problems.  I would say it's also really important to be in tune with your body and learn what causes certain types of twinges/pain.  I know if I over stride that my knees start to hurt, so I try to focus more on shorter, faster strides.  OH, and if you do transition, do so slowly!  You can still fix form problems in regular shoes, but it's a LOT easier to do it in more minimal shoes.  I have a friend who knows a bit about form, and I commented that he was heel striking like crazy during a run... He said he knew, but that it was hard NOT to heel strike in his conventional shoes that he was wearing.

I would also recommend reading Chi Running if you are interested in learning more about form.  There are books on Pose and Evolution running as well, but I have not read them, though I've gone to a class on Pose, and that is what my physical therapist worked with me on when I was suffering from tendinitis in my right foot.  From what I've learned about Pose and Chi methods, Chi seems to be best for long distance running, and pose seems like would be best for shorter/faster running.  I don't know much about Evolution method... I do know they are all similar though.

Alas, I hope I can provide some information for those people who might be suffering from injuries of different types!  I know I am no expert on injury prevention, as evidenced by my constant stream of them, but I have at least learned through my mistakes different ways to help fix them, and how to avoid being sidelined for months/years like I was back when I was running in conventional shoes and heel striking (it really was about three years of different injuries before I was able to start long distance running again).  


  1. do you suggest any shoe in particular for the beginner minimalist?

    1. Um, well, there are different schools of thought. One is to work your way down into less shoes, and another is to just get used to less shoe slowly (so, like starting with Vibrams or some other zero-drop shoe and only doing a little at a time until you're used to them). Maybe if you don't want to go full-blown, the Saucony Mirages don't have as much heel as conventional shoes, but they still offer more support than some other ones. I also really like Saucony Kinvaras (my first pair), and I have New Balance Minimus shoes, which are good.