Born to Run with Plantar Faciitis

I wish it felt that good

Image from painscience.com

Today’s run (street): 3.75 miles
Yesterday’s run: (street): 3.4 miles
Friday’s workout (treadmill): 35 minutes
Last Sunday’s run (street): 3.3 miles
Last Saturday’s run (street): 3.4 miles
Last Friday’s workout (elliptical): 30 minutes

“One injury that I have always had that never seems to go away is plantar fasciitis..”

– Christopher McDougall July 20, 2010

I’m not really sure why our bodies punish us for doing things to keep it healthy, but it’s something all runners experience at some point. The ER family hosted some neighborhood friends on Saturday and, at one point, the discussion moved to running. It turned out that my neighbor used to run, but he stopped due to knee problems and spinal stenosis. Prior to that, he was a pretty active runner who’d completed a number of marathons, including two NYCs. I asked the question, if humans are designed to run, why do we get plantar faciitis?

If you are a fan of Christopher McDougall’s book, Born to Run, you might recognize that question because it turned out to be why he wrote that book. Plantar faciitis is a puzzling affliction. I went through a protracted bout with it in my left foot some months ago. Soon after that problem cleared up, I started experiencing similar pain in my right foot. The severity of this new pain is greater than with my left. That is no doubt related to recently doing nine runs in ten days while on vacation.

 I’d tried all the suggested approaches to minimizing plantar soreness, including using the CVS version of the Strassburg Sock along with another contraption that held my foot in place at the optimal position while I slept. Neither were pleasant experiences and I don’t think they helped very much. I switched to just using orthotics in my shoes and eventually the problem went away, only to resurface weeks later with my right foot.

 I resumed running on Friday on the treadmill after being chased indoors by a thunderstorm. It was probably for the best, because my foot pain had discouraged me from running very fast. After a while, I just gave in and moved to walking at a 1.5% grade.

I was concerned that Saturday would be a repeat of Friday. I was glad when I hit the pavement and saw that the pain was less pronounced. The plantar soreness was there, but manifested as a dull burning feeling rather than a sharp pain. I didn’t love the experience, but I did get through my run.

This morning I wore my most cushioned running shoes and set out hoping for a less painful start. The pain was tolerable and I hoped it would decrease once my tendon warmed up. Ultimately it did, although the pain did not completely disappear. While running has been slightly painful, walking can be difficult. If I’m off my foot for more than five minutes, the next time I take a step I’ll feel an intensely sharp pain in my heel. Fortunately, this measurably decreases after taking a dozen or so steps. It’s good that the pain lessens, but it’s unnerving that every time I get up from the couch I know will go through that experience again.

I expect that this problem will leave as mysteriously as it came. I’m unsure what I can do to help speed my recovery, since trying every Internet cure didn’t really pay off the first time. I spent a little less time at my standing desk and more time working at my office table over the past month. That roughly coincided with the improvement that happened with my original foot. In the meantime I’ll continue to put ice on the tendon when I can, and wear my recovery flats around the house.

I still don’t understand why runners end up with these problems if we are truly born to run. The thesis of McDougall’s book was that we are meant to run barefoot or, if we must, in minimal footwear. That craze has come and gone and I’ll admit I drank the Kool Aid on the idea. I still prefer a lighter, less structured shoe and wear my NB Zante 2’s most of the time. Yet this has been a year for plantar faciitis for me. The only positive is that, despite the affliction, even with the pain, I’ve managed to get through almost every run.

Heroism by the book

A worthy sequel

Today’s run (street): 3.2 miles
Thursday’s workout (elliptical): 30 minutes

I’m reading an interesting book by Chris McDougall called Natural Born Heros (NBHs). McDougall wrote Born to Run, which launched the minimalist running movement. That craze has since given way to maximalist, pontoon-like trainers from Hoka and other shoe companies, but I still love my Kinvaras. Natural Born Heros is about athleticism and self defense that is developed through practical need rather than controlled competition.

The through-line story in NBHs is about how Churchill’s special agents worked with Cretan shepherds and farmers to significantly disrupt Hitler’s progress toward Russia during WWII. Like Born to Run, McDougall writes a lot of about physiology, especially the role the fascia plays in energy efficiency and power. I’m only halfway through the book but I understand running technique is discussed further in the story.

This was a particularly busy work week for me, so much so that I ended up going into the office every day. I count on my work-from-home Fridays for one of my weekly runs. Knowing that wasn’t going to happen, I did an elliptical workout the night before. This morning I needed to get back to the road, but that didn’t go too well. I can’t explain it, but I couldn’t really get going this morning. I tried to appreciate the pleasant weather and the fact that I wasn’t stuck on the treadmill. All the same, I was glad when the run was over.

If I’m up to it, I may head to Bethpage tomorrow and would like to cover at least five miles. My running buddy SIOR is up in Kennebunk for the 2016 Shipyard Maine Coast Marathon. She’s running it with a friend who’s doing his first marathon. I’m wishing them both lots of fun and I’m hoping she breaks 3:30!

The pendulum of minimalism

Today’s run (street): 3.3 miles

I was reading an article that said the demand for minimal-style running shoes, once a growth segment, is beginning to decline. The book, Born to Run, made many people curious about barefoot-style running, and it forced us to reconsider the merits of the shoes we’ve always bought.

A few years ago, I saw a video of myself on the treadmill at Jackrabbit Sports. That clearly confirmed that I’m an over-pronater. The salesperson recommended that I buy a beefy, medially-posted “stability” shoe to correct that tendency. After all, they said, my stride made me susceptible to knee and IT band injuries. I wished at the time that I could wear a lighter shoe, but I feared the consequences.

Hattori

I thought about all this on my run this morning. The idea that shoes with lots of cushioning would prevent certain types of injuries has been increasingly debated and challenged by many. That includes me. I wore out a a pair of Saucony Hattoris after 400 miles and I now run primarily in the Brooks Pure Drifts, Brooks’ most minimal shoe. The Hattori and Drift are both simple designs. Each shoe weighs less than 6 ounces and neither has any stability features. After more than 700 miles running in that type of shoe, I haven’t encountered a single problem.

Pure Drift

The dash toward barefoot running probably got too many people into minimal shoes too soon. Many are now going back to more cushy footwear. But the game has changed, and now even stability shoes have lighter construction. I know that many people feel that the shoe makes the runner. After 3+ years of (mostly) injury-free running, in barely-there neutral trainers, I respectfully disagree.

16 days of Chia living

Christopher McDougall’s book, “Born to Run”, made a big impact on me when I read it last year. I’d tried adapting my running style based on what I’d read, focusing on landing on the front of my foot instead of striking off the heel. I also worked to increase the number of steps I would take per minute. Both of these actions relate to the running style of the Tarahumara natives who live in Mexico’s Copper Canyon region. My transition to this running style got derailed by a bout of pneumonia that kept me from running for over three weeks. When I restarted I had strongly considered buying new shoes that would better enable that style of running. After my gait analysis I discovered that I naturally move off my heel quickly so, instead, I upgraded to the newest version of the shoe I was already using. The only thing that has stuck from the book is an interest in the seeds from the Chia plant. These seeds are mixed with ground corn and lime juice by the Tarahumara’s to produce what they call Pinole. The natives claim Pinole provides enough energy to allow them to run distances of 50 miles or longer.

Ground Chia Seed

After reading about these seeds I decided to try them to see if Chia worked the same way on Long Island. Over each of the last sixteen days I have mixed 1.5 tsp. of Chia into drinks or food. In two cases my source of Chia came from energy bars that featured the ingredient, one from Greens Plus and the other from the raw aisle at Whole Foods. The Greens Plus bar was tasty: both chewy and crunchy (due to the whole seeds) as was the Whole Foods bar which was less tasty but much spicier. I looked at the ingredients and saw that it contained chili peppers. I normally like spicy, the hotter the better, but this didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. I’ve discovered that mixing Chia with hot beverages such as sugar free hot chocolate or green tea leads to a disgusting collection of congealed lumpy matter at the bottom of the cup. Mixing with cold fruit juice or water is better and mixing with coconut water is the best because the taste combination is quite good.

With two-plus weeks of experience using Chia to draw on I really can’t say that it’s helped. My runs have been good throughout this period and I’ve successfully fought off a cold during this time. This morning I felt great throughout my 2.5 mile run. Was it the Chia? Probably not. I’m guessing it was good rest and two recent core workouts. Still, I plan to stay with the Chia routine for its other benefits like high levels of Omega 3-6-9. It couldn’t hurt and it just might be helping.

Would the Tarahumara run with a cold?

Despite what felt like a recovery yesterday I am still very much battling a cold. It’s really a shallow dry cough that I am finding most annoying.  I ended up getting about four hours sleep last night so my morning has been a series of short naps that I’m hoping will get me through the rest of the day. In a strange way I blame my conditioning for the way this cold is playing out. It’s like my immune system is refusing to give into illness and, consequently, I’ve remained in this stasis of mild symptoms over the past three days. I actually feel strong enough to run, as I did yesterday, but I’m going to hold off on that until later. If I’m noticing improvement later I may try a workout of some type. I’m a firm believer in powering though colds while respecting fevers.

I’ve finished McDougall’s “Born to Run” and I recommend it to anyone who has an interest in physiology, anthropology,  native North American culture, adventure, nutrition and (of course) running technique. The book features many interesting people (US ultrarunners and native Tarahumarans) with fascinating stories. The main focus of the book is on how these amazing people gathered together in a dangerous and obscure part of Mexico’s Copper Canyons for a unique and incredible 50 mile race. I cannot recall any book I’ve read in recent years that interested me like this one.

I’m anxious to get out and run if makes sense to do it later. The focus I’ve given to front/midfoot striking, upright form and higher cadence has been an interesting experiment that I hope will lead to a successful re-engineering of my running style. A point made often in the book is “If it feels like work, you’re working too hard.” I believe there’s something to that.

Progress made on Boxing Day

http://c.brightcove.com/services/viewer/federated_f9/3924348001?isVid=1&publisherID=1274168784

My wife suggested that I should rest today since I still have eight more days away from the office for doing long runs. Her point would be better made if she herself didn’t work out every day for 45 minutes, especially today when she is battling a cold. I figured if she was going to maintain her routine under those conditions so would I. Maybe I’ll take a break on Monday.

One reason I really wanted to get out and run is that I’m driving myself (and everyone around me) crazy with my curiosity about the Tarahumara running technique and the best shoes for that style. I mentioned that I tried on some ASICS 2150s and Kayanos on Wednesday that felt really good. Exceptionally good in fact. Now I’m understanding the best way of strengthening the arch and the forefoot is to run with shoes that don’t surround your foot with soft cushioning. Instead it’s better to force yourself to adapt to shoes with less support. The impact of running on your legs can be up to twelve times your body weight. In the book “Born to Run” the author Christopher McDougall says””[it’s] preposterous to believe a half inch of rubber is going to make a difference against, in my case, 2,760 pounds of earthbound beef. You can cover an egg with an over mitt  before rapping it with a hammer, but that egg ain’t coming out alive.” I get that completely.

So this morning I went out to run about 3 miles and I wore my lightest, least cushioned shoes (NB 460s) and continued to focus on cadence and landing front and mid foot. It was warmer than yesterday, around 39 degrees, with a slight rainy mist that left after a few minutes. I tried to stay conscious of the number of steps I was taking and I also worked to maintain my pace more evenly than yesterday. For the third time in as many days I returned home to see that I had run much faster than usual on recreational runs. Today I covered 3.17 miles in slightly longer than 27 minutes for an 8:36 pace. That’s a 5K/4 mile race pace for me and I wasn’t even working that hard. I’m having a really hard time justifying an investment in new shoes if I’m going to run like this. But you can’t argue with the results, I’m not going back to my previous style. Of course that doesn’t mean I won’t try the Brooks GTS 10s out of curiosity. It just may mean that my next pair of Brooks is more likely to be the Green Silence.

The Tarahumara have made me a faster runner

I’ve been enjoying the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall for a number of reasons. First, because it’s about ultrarunning, a subject that fascinates me. Second, because the author takes amusing pot shots at Dean Karnazes, whose book I just finished. Mostly I like it because it centers on the Tarahumara – the indigenous people of Mexico’s Copper Canyons. The Tarahumara society is represented very positively, almost utopic, with running as the core activity of their lives. The Tamahumara are incredible runners who can run a hundred miles or more without resting. There is a lot of discussion in the book debating the benefits of modern running shoes compared with the purer technique of these people who run with simple rubber bottomed sandals. I believe that the growing interest in minimalist running has been fueled by this book.  I’m not ready to give up my stability running shoes but I am interested in some of the techniques mentioned in the book.

I’ve been constrained to the treadmill over the last couple of days so I decided to run in the neighborhood this morning provided that conditions were safe. I’m home today so I waited until 7:30 AM to go out, thinking that the extra light would improve safety. The roads were almost completely free of ice and snow and I set off thinking about the Tarahumara method of running – smaller steps and upright form – and decided to try it out. I’ve read that increasing the number of strides per minute helps to increase speed. I usually run at around 80 steps/min but today I averaged 84 with the first half of my 3.63 mile run averaging slightly higher. The running felt easy, almost too easy, and I imagined that I would return home to discover I was pacing close to 10 min per mile. I had great energy on the run and I had planned to cover about 5K but took some extra roads near the end because it felt so good. When I completed my run I was surprised to see that I averaged 9:06 per mile. It was such an easy experience that I questioned the accuracy of the Garmin and immediately checked my route on Gmaps which verified the distance and pace.

I am still amazed that I maintained such a decent pace without working very hard. There could be many reasons for this: the time of day, the amount of rest I’d had or the perfect 25 degree weather. I’m hoping it was due to the new technique and I will try again tomorrow, perhaps pushing my speed a little to see how that works. I only averaged 81 steps/min when I hit my 5K PR in November so I’m very curious to see how that equivalent amount of effort would work with a cadence of 84. I’m optimistic that I’ve found a way to improve my speed without a lot of extra work. I’ve learned that nothing good is easy but in this case I’ll happily make an exception.