Last year I embarked on a new training adventure. The reason for that is that I bought new shoes–the best and fanciest running shoes I’ve ever had, actually. I trained in them for a few weeks, took long runs and short runs with no major issues, and then ran a half marathon on city streets instead of dirt roads and came home crippled.
Thinking I’d get well I limped around awhile–in a couple of weeks one foot got better but the other got worse, and I wound up in a podiatrist’s examining room. He asked me some important questions, approved my footwear, wanted to know when the pain was worst and ignored the fact that I answered the question completely reverse to the way he expected. He knew what was wrong: heel spurs. I started treatment, and I got steadily worse, to the point that I was considering getting crutches. Then one day while I was rolling my foot over a frozen pepsi bottle I felt something break loose in my heel, sliding around in my foot like a big grape. It felt about the size of a dime although I know it must have been smaller, and when I got up to walk around it flipped on edge for a while and then scooted off into unknown regions of my foot like some living thing.
Suddenly I remembered stepping on a piece of glass in the kitchen maybe three years ago now, knowing that the shard in my heel had probably broken off, and hoping it wouldn’t put me in the emergency room. It hurt for a few days but quickly got well. I told the doctor about this new old problem and he explained that there was no way to locate this shard without more tests than I could afford. He seemed to not believe it was there. So I began to doubt his professional competence and decided I wouldn’t pay attention to his advice, since it had been focused on the wrong problem.
I’d been told to always wear the supportive running shoes and never to go barefoot again, even in the house. Gel pads wouldn’t help the pain, he said; support would. It seemed to be the other way around for me; I’d been able to walk simply because of gel pads in my shoes, and the running shoes put pressure on places that felt injured. Walking barefoot in the house eased the problems. I decided to take a close look at those shoes.
The shoes were a typical modern design, with form fitting insoles of firm cushioning material in nearly full contact with the sole of my foot. If I walked barefoot on the floor, only a few points of contact would be made; if I walked in my shoes, nearly the entire sole of my foot was a load bearing surface. The heel was an open lattice, somewhat flexible, with the focal point of the bridge support directly under the spot where my chunk of glass had resided for three years. During the run that shoe heel had focused impact on the glass like a hammer hitting an anvil–no wonder I’d had trouble later. I began to rethink the whole concept of running shoes, wondering who was actually designing these things and whether they were professionals or had the same preconceptions that my podiatrist had. Just looking at the shoes it seemed that they put repetitive stress on parts of my feet that hadn’t been designed for it–the planar ligament is connective tissue, not padding.
My roommate, Alice, had been interested in barefoot running and mentioned it to me again. She had some of the same issues I did after that run and also hadn’t wanted to walk in orthopedic supports for the rest of her life, or be obligated to wear shoes in the house forever. Both of us had been told by different professionals that walking barefoot would do us harm.
So, we decided to take up barefoot running, or at close to that as we could get, which is running in simple indigenous footgear–Native American sandals called huaraches.
Next, the first summer’s training . . . .