Sunday, June 27, 2010

Blog<Running> Learning To Walk

In my previous 2 posts about running I talked about taking it slow, listening to my body, maintaining proper form, and not injuring myself. That progress would be slow, but eventually I would be able to run longer distances, pain free. It turns out that progress is even slower than I first thought.

In that last blog post, I outlined my plans for strengthening my flat feet. I would cut back on the running attempts and wear my Vibrams every day at the gym. After my feet got stronger, hopefully my shin splints would be under control, and I would be able to start running for longer and more frequently.

Stumbling Block

Over the week following that post, I started feeling pain in my feet. I'm not talking pain from impact, or general soreness from using the muscles in my feet. This felt more serious. It was like the shin splints moved from my shins down into my ankles and feet. But it was worse than shin splints because instead of only feeling pain when I walked, I also felt it while just standing or sitting too long in the same position. There were two spots on each foot (on the inside and outside, just below the ankle) where it hurt to touch, almost like a bruise.

Looking back on my plans, I'm reminded of the Greek proverb:
Learn to walk before you run.
I think I was asking too much of my feet, too soon. They've been locked up in rigid shoes for my whole life, and I was expecting them to magically get stronger in a few weeks. I didn't want to aggravate them any more (and it hurt to walk around anyway), so I took a week off from working out. Last week, when I started back, I wore my cross-trainers instead of my Vibrams on the elliptical machine. Until this morning, I hadn't run at all in 3 weeks.

Getting Back Up

For the past couple of days, my foot pain has gone away completely (the human body is kind of incredible like that.) So, this morning I attempted a run. I was able to go about 3/4 of a mile without pain, and then I decided to stop before hurting anything. After my run, on my short cool-down walk, I started feeling some pain again in my ankles, so I'm glad I stopped when I did.

If you don't learn from your mistakes, you're doomed to repeat them, so I'm changing gears for what seems like the 5th time. I need to slow down again, and this time test the waters a little before jumping in with both feet.

My plan for this week is to continue wearing my cross-trainers on the elliptical machine, but wear my Vibrams on my 2 weight days. I'm still going barefoot at home and wearing sandals when I have to go out in public. Then, if my feet feel okay next weekend, I'll go for another run. I'll run until I start feeling pain, or until I reach the .8 mile mark.

I'll keep doing this (gradually increasing my run distance if I can) until I can go a full week without foot pain. Then, I'll start replacing my cross-trainers with my Vibrams on some of my elliptical days, and replace at least 1 elliptical day with a run instead. By the end of August I'll hopefully be able to throw away the cross-trainers for good.

I'm sure there are flaws in this new plan as well, but it's good to have a goal to work towards. I'll be keeping this blog up to date as I make progress.

Some Miscellaneous Observations

There are a few things I noticed over the past 3 weeks that didn't really fit into the text above, but I feel like they might be useful to put in writing.

1) The elliptical machine. The strange thing about the elliptical machine is that it's a rigid, defined motion. Your foot moves maybe an inch inside its stirrup (that seems like an apt description of the thing that keeps your feet attached to the machine) over the course of several cycles. It's almost like wearing shoes outside of your shoes. So when I wear the Vibrams instead of my cross-trainers, it doesn't really feel any different. At the same time, my almost-naked foot doesn't really feel "right" in the stirrup. I have more range of motion in my foot because of the Vibrams, but I'm still performing the same movements over and over for 50-60 minutes.

I think it was this repetitive motion that caused me a lot of the pain over the past 3 weeks. Without any variation in terrain, my foot's ligaments and joints were just grinding back and forth, back and forth, over-training very specific muscles, ligaments, and tendons in my feet. Since the pain went away literally days after I switched back to my cross-trainers, I'm pretty confident that this was the case.

The conundrum is that most of my strength training workouts involve sitting or lying down. The only time I'm on my feet is during my elliptical workouts. To improve my foot strength, I need to be doing more, but not so much that I over train and injure myself. The best plan would probably involve stopping partway through my elliptical workout and switching shoes, but who wants to change shoes in the middle of the gym? Sometimes I think to myself that if I get off the machine now, it's not very likely that I'll get back on. So hopefully my plan of mixing in one day of elliptical with the Vibrams will allow me to get there gradually.

#2 Conflicting Goals. I have two fitness-related goals at the moment. For the past 6 months, I've been trying to lose a specific amount of weight. And for the past month and a half, I've been trying to become a runner. The problem is that in order to lose weight at a quick pace, I need to burn a lot of calories during my workouts; and since I'm a newbie runner, I can't use my runs yet to replace a cardio workour. Furthermore, the setbacks I've experienced so far while running have crossed over to the weight-loss side. When I took a week off to let my feet heal up, I had to stop my weight-loss training as well. Fortunately, I'm only a few weeks away from meeting my weight-loss goal (5-6 more lbs) and I can start focusing more on running.

#3 Perseverance. In the past, I would have given up on the running a long time ago. As soon as I felt the shin splints the first time, or the foot pain from the past few weeks, I would have probably thrown in the towel. For whatever reason, I seem to have turned a page mentally. I've been able to stick with the weight loss, I've been able to stick with the running (even though there have been few victories), and after a month of I've also been able to stick to updating this blog at least once a week. Hopefully the feeling decides to stick around for a while.


  1. I'm really glad that I don't get shin splints or that pain that you've had in your ankles. I would probably have given up if I were you.

    Do you listen to music when you workout? That's about the only thing that makes it not suck for me.

  2. I listen to podcasts or music when I'm at the gym. Being inside, ellipting (I'm using that as a verb) in place is too boring to not have something to listen to.

    I tried listening to music while I run, but the iphone is too bulky. And as soon as I start sweating, my ear buds fall out of my ears. I'm thinking about digging out my nano, or getting one of those arm strap things, but its' kind of nice to have a day where I just enjoy being outside. We'll see if that changes as I log more miles.

  3. I remember when I first started training for triathlons, at age 27 or 28. The run was the most intimidating part. The first day I was ready to puke at a half mile. But my attitude at the time was such that I wanted it badly enough to just keep plugging away. Even after 3 months of training, I still had to gear myself up for the run. But once I found my groove, somewhere around the 3 mile mark, I found that I was usually enjoying the feeling of being able to count on my body to keep moving. And by 6 months of training, was extending my running to upwards of 10 miles and more on my long days.

    It is truly amazing that I am in the shape I am today, having experienced that feeling of pushing my body to more at one time. So, thank you for the inspiration and the chance to remember. Somewhere inside, under all this extra weight and years of not exercising, is the kernel of memory that is smiling today. It is that small still voice that says,"Yes I can!"

    Thank you!

  4. Start wearing your Vibrams to work. Please.

    I listen to spoken word stuff (free lectures from iTunes U, etc. that I probably won't remember for longer than the summer) while doing cardio (ellipting). Melanie makes fun of me just so everyone knows.

  5. There's a new model of the Vibrams (only in Europe at the moment), that looks more like a traditional shoe. It has laces instead of velcro and is styled after a more traditional sneaker. Of course, it also has individual toes, but at first glance you might mistake it for a "normal" shoe. If they ever make a dress shoe, I might see if I can get away with it.

    Yeah, I primarily listen to podcasts. There's something about listening to people talk that makes me feel like I'm getting another thing done on top of the ellipting. When I listen to music, I don't feel that same accomplishment.

    That said, when I'm really pushing hard, I can't pay attention to spoken word. It's Swedish death metal all the way.

  6. Personally, I find it impossible to be lazy when listening to Lady Gaga. But then, that also makes me tend to want to dance while I'm ellipting, which isn't the smartest choice.