Well, the truth is, I wasn't in the mood for writing. Partly because my life has been a little crazy. Mostly, however, because I was experiencing pain and injuries with my running for the first time in years.
I thought I was done with that knee crap. I thought my learning of proper form, through barefoot running a couple years ago, had "cured" my posture for good. I thought I now had the luxury to run in shoes, and to run as much as I wanted.
I was served an electrifying reminder for the first time at Crown King Scramble, last spring. Knee pain, the exact same type as the one I used to feel when I was trying to become a runner, in my 20's, wearing heavily motion-controlled shoes. But it didn't hit me at the time.
Then, it happened again at the Pandora 24. I wanted to go for 100-120K, and dropped at 60. Knee pain. I brushed it off as being not that bad, having gone at least some distance on a moderately difficult terrain.
On a subsequent couple-hours trail run, I came back limping. Knee pain.
Then I tried a run commute from my Belle's down to the office... and stopped 3K in. You guessed it. Knee pain again.
I started feeling the same frustration I had felt years before, when I wanted to scream into the wind "Why does everyone else seem to be able to run and not me? What have I done? Why? Why can't I run?" I felt desperate, and I felt sad. The one thing I really love, running free, was slowly escaping me.
Having a lot of time on my hands to reflect and think, I eventually realized that there might have been a number of things that I'd done wrong and which led to this point :
- I was now running in shoes full time (sometimes in sandals);
- I changed shoes a lot (partly because I test them for the blog);
- My sabbatical allowed me to run 17 ultras in a year, whereas I usually run 3 to 5;
- I trained less and less, relying more on the distance ran in events;
- I quit yoga because I lost my favorite teacher;
- The more I ran, the less I stretched;
- My two dear therapists had been thousands of miles away because of my travels.
I decided to go back to basics.
I took several weeks completely off. No running. No commuting. Then, when I started to head back out again, I did very small distances to start with. 2, maybe 3K. I also did them on flat grounds, and wearing as little as possible on my feet, which is a pair of New Balance Minimus MT100, and not wearing socks.
I almost immediately started feeling better.
That got me thinking even more. This couldn't be a simple coincidence. Had I strayed too far from barefoot running? Had my posture slowly slacked off to the point where my running form had degraded and left too much room for very old, bad habits to come back?
Early on, as I started to rebuild from almost scratch, I asked my favorite massage therapist, Josie, for a professional opinion. She was completing a kinesiotherapy course and needed guinea pigs at that time, so it was a win-win. She also knew a little about my predicament because she was part of the support crew at the Pandora. I was a little shocked when she gave me her diagnosis; my left foot (specifically the arch and ankle) was weak and my kneecaps were yanked out of place by an unbalanced muscle structure in my upper legs. She suggested I do... barefoot exercises.
I didn't need any more nudging.
As late fall and winter were bringing bad, cold weather outside, I subscribed to a gym that accepted I run barefoot on the treadmill, and started to get back into a "training regimen" of at least 2 sessions per week, rapidly building up to 3. Most of my running was done that way and I started going from 10-15 minutes of running up to about 30, without any physical issue other than the hot spots I get under my feet from the treadmill's textured belt (Been there, I know I'll slowly build a skin resistance to it).
I added stretching at the end of my training, too. And I started working barefoot on a balance plate, mostly doing things I found both challenging and fun - like moving down to a full squat while trying to stay balanced. Maybe 10 to 15 minutes at a time.
After a couple months of that mix, I can't really claim I'm fixed, but things are sure going in the right direction. Over the course of the last 3 weeks, I've added an outside long run, then a second one, and another up to the point where I did my first serious back-to-back (1h10 treadmill, 2 hours + winter trail running) last Friday and Saturday. Pain free. With a huge freaking grin on my face :)
So this is what's been happening. I have been back to full barefoot running for about 70-75% of my weekly mileage for some weeks now, and I have to acknowledge the improvement and the encouraging progression in my running over the painful experiences of last summer. It looks a lot like barefoot running is getting my body back on track, and back to being able to do what I love most; running long, and free.
I will spend the rest of the winter experimenting with barefoot and shod running, looking for the right mixture. But I already know that whatever happens, I won't ever stray too far from running barefoot again. It's just... bad for me.
What about you?
As a runner, do you mix barefoot and shod running? And how has that worked out?
Ma course s'est déconstruite jusqu'au bord du désespoir... Mais j'y ai redécouvert la course barefoot, et je reviens progressivement à un équilibre qui me permet de faire ce que j'aime le plus au monde. Courir libre, et aussi longtemps que je le veux.