Yesterday I went on a barefoot beach run. Because I’m a genius, I had a pedicure right before running shoeless; the soft sand rubbed so hard against my toes that I thought flames might spew from my freshly painted flat feet…so I spent the last 1.5miles of my hippie workout floating along the bike path. Note to self – do NOT run barefoot immediately after getting a pedicure. I wasn’t intending on running shoeless until I remembered that I left my sneaks on the east coast this weekend – a Vespa ride in a flash-flood monsoon drenched my sneakers 20 minutes before having to leave to catch my flight. Typical.
What better timing to talk about running form and how changing the way I run fixed my knee pain.
There has been much debate about the benefits and downfalls of barefoot running. As with most anything, barefoot running isn’t for everyone. For example, the Tarahumara Tribe in Mexico are barefoot running super-humans who run 430 miles over two days; for them, running barefoot is natural – they land lightly on the balls of their feet, heels following softly. But for someone used to running with shoes, put them on a path, barefoot, and chances are that their form will not mimic that of the Tarahumara. If you have knee problems and tend toward heel-striking, it may be worth it to attempt the barefoot technique (this can be done in running shoes); it cured me if that’s any conselation. According to a Harvard study, those who heel strike are more likely to sustain injuries. But if you are plagued with issues in your Achilles and calves, barefoot running stretches these parts further, adding more strain and potential pain. Christopher McDougall, author of Born to Run and someone I’ve cited multiple times, has a fabulous NYTimes video in which he explains the 100-Up exercise. Rather than explain, I will let you watch it yourself, try it out, and if you’re dedicated to changing the way you run I can assure you pain-free strides.
I never had knee issues until after my ACL surgery in June 2011 following my junior year. During my senior lacrosse season (in the spring), I was plagued with spouts of patella tendonitis. Anti-inflammatory’s and rest. I’ve always loved running and felt like a caged bird suddenly freed when I was no longer a college athlete. No workout packet, no lifting, no mandatory exercising ever again. It was the first time in my life that I didn’t have to train for anything. But the first thing I wanted to do was start going on nice long leisurely runs. Typical. While rehabbing my knee to ready myself for lacrosse season, the most I ran was a couple of miles (not including running in games and practice) and instead focused on speedwork, change of direction, and agilities. So it had been over a year since I went on my last long run. Stubbornly, I failed to ease back into it. Instead I started with a couple of three milers and then right to 6 miles so that I could run our town’s 10k on July 4th. Not long after I thought, let’s try 10 miles. The next week I was back in physical therapy having overcompensated for my injured knee, unable to run a couple of steps before the pain shot through the good leg.
About a month later, after a couple of failed running attempts, my dad suggested changing my stride like McDougall’s 100-Up video. I begrudgingly listened to him – my knee…painless. At first it felt awkward and my calves were painfully sore after the first 3-5 runs where I focused hard on landing lightly on the balls of my feet. But very slowly, I got used to it. On April 1, I ran my first half marathon in 1:44…very niceeee, as Borat would say. And about a month ago I began running 25 miles a week, pain free. Thank you McDougall, but most importantly, thank you Padre!