True or False: Running is a Contact Sport!

If you asked me this question last week when I was face planting and rolling on the concrete, my first response would have been, “TRUE!”  If you asked my friend Brian the same question the night before, he would have said, “TRUE,” as he was also sprawled out.  Unfortunately, both of our falls were in front of people, which means that our pride was probably hurt more than we were.  Or at least mine was!  Trail runners would probably also say, “TRUE” because of all the contact with the ground, trees, bushes, rocks, mud, mountain lions, monsters, and whatever else we encounter on the trail.  Running in Forest Park in the mud in the winter has definitely brought some humor into my life with all of the wipeouts… Luckily, there’s no one else around when it happens though…

I recently started running “longer” distances of up to 5-6 miles.  This is the first I have done this since my surgery on January 21st.  I got off to a bit of a slow start, but I just decided to sign up for the Born to Run ultramarathon in May, to give myself a little kick in the pants.  I sat around for about 5 minutes when I found out about Born to Run, wondering if I should do it.  Then, I realized that the bigger question was, why wouldn’t I do it??  The Born to Run ultramarathon is in Los Olivos, CA, which is only about 1 hour and 15 minutes from Ventura, CA which is where I’m likely going to be living in May.  And think about who is going to be there!!  Christopher McDougall, author of best seller Born to Run, Barefoot Ted from Born to Run, and Caity McCardell of runbarefootgirl.com.  Three legends of the barefoot running world.  Not to mention, the race is directed by Luis Escobar, also appearing in Born to Run.  It looks like one hell of a good time, so even if I can’t run the whole thing, I’ll finish it somehow.  It might take me a while, but at least I’ll have the experience!

When I first started running after my surgery, I was having a great time with shorter distances of 1-2 miles.  When I finally got up to 5-6 miles, I was feeling disconnected, like a thundering elephant running down the street trying to put one foot in front of the other.  I couldn’t figure out what was going on!  It took me two to three runs of this distance to figure it out.  It was during one of these first longer runs when I was really focusing on my form, when I saw a hooded man walking towards me.  I am a creature of habit, so when I’m running at night and I see any kind of figure approaching me, I immediately try to act like I am bigger and badder than whatever it is.  I even read something recently about what rapists look for in potential victims.  The main trait they look for is weakness, someone who avoids eye contact and looks like they won’t put up a fight.  So ladies, this is something to file away for your personal safety.  However, please don’t do what I did in this specific instance.

So, hooded man was walking towards me wearing headphones.  I gave him my best mean mug and looked him straight in the eye as I confidently ran past him.  I probably took two steps past him when my toe hit some imaginary object on the sidewalk and I immediately hit the deck, rolled and sprang back up in hopes that he didn’t see/hear me eat concrete.  Wild-eyed, yet feeling like I had succeeded in my graceful roll back to my feet, I quickly turned around to assess the situation.  Did he hear me?  He was wearing headphones after all, and I didn’t want to give up the impression that I intended to give him with my mean mug and cool confidence.  No chance.  “Holy crap!! Are you ok?” he cried while pulling his headphones off.  He was crouched low to the ground in a wrestler’s stance and frantically looked around in a paranoid state, as if some creature might lay him out on the sidewalk too.

“I’m fine!” I tried to yell cheerfully although I was painfully aware of my knee throbbing. “Sorry…” I muttered to him for some inexplicable reason.  I was so embarrassed, I guess it’s the first thing that came out of my mouth.  Sorry he had to witness my idiocy?   Needless to say, I only made it about 3 miles that night, but I intended to run further.  I guess the combination of the thundering elephant and the throbbing knee didn’t exactly scream longevity.

On the bright side, I finally figured out what the problem was.  It took a couple 5 mile runs over the next few days, but I finally realized that I was having a hard time with longer distances because my deep abdominal muscles were fatiguing. When I had surgery, I had four incisions, all of which went through my deep abdominal muscles.  I had a very difficult time getting out of bed in the beginning, so you can imagine that during any longer runs, I would not be able to maintain my pelvic and abdominal stability.  One aspect of barefoot running that I found out early on, was that the pelvis plays an important role in running form.  In order to maintain proper positioning and stability of the pelvis and thoracic area, a strong transverse abdominis and obliques are important.  This gentle, active, sustained contraction is considered by some to be called abdominal bracing.  We’ve all heard that a strong core is important for runners right?  The transverse abdominis (TrA) is the deepest abdominal muscular layer, whose job is to hold all the innards together, to put it one way. Additionally, the TrA reduces vertical compression in spine, so strengthening exercises for TrA are widely used in rehabilitation for stability of the lumbar spine.  For  runners, strong TrA and obliques connects the pelvis and thoracic area, which is important for power in running and proper alignment.  During running, think about a gentle sustained contraction of the abdominals by bringing your belly button in towards the spine and leading with the pelvis.  Here is a good video for aligning the body during running.  I really don’t know much about Chi Running, but I do like this video.  

In addition to remembering proper running form, a variety of core exercises should be utilized in order to increase strength.  I am a huge advocated for Pilates, and finding a good instructor is vital when beginning a Pilates program.  I also love body weight exercises in the form of planks, stability ball exercises and bridging.  I really probably just need to do an entirely separate post about core and stability exercises.

So, the moral of the story is, be safe when running, and if you want to avoid looking like a thundering elephant, increase your core strength and endurance!  If you’re going to mean mug someone, make sure you know what’s going on on the sidewalk or on the trail to avoid faceplanting.  Here are some battle pictures:

Brian's hands
Brian’s hands
IMG_0814
Brian’s knee

IMG_0813

Leigh's Knees
Leigh’s Knees

Too Much Too Soon Syndrome FAQ: A Look at Inside Ankle Pain

The most frequent question that barefoot runners ask me is, “Why does the top of my foot hurt?” Second, “Why do the insides of my ankles hurt?”  I will go a bit backward with my posts, because I’ve gotten two inside ankle pain questions in the past two weeks. I will try to address top of the foot pain in my next one.  First of all, what is Too Much Too Soon Syndrome (TMTS)?  TMTS is very common among us newly converted barefoot or minimalist runners.  Many of us have tried for years to run in traditional shoes and failed to run injury free, or failed to meet our goals, or just failed to run happy!  Running happy is the most important thing of all.  So, that being said, when we start running barefoot or even in Vibrams, something funny happens to us.  The first time, it’s a little weird, and we may even vow to never do it again.  All it takes is that second time.  Two barefoot runs, and you may find yourself addicted.  THIS IS FUN!! WHEEE!!!  All of the sudden, running is fun again, and it feels like play.  Sensation is on overload, your awareness is heightened, and you think to yourself, this is great!  I’m going to run my usual five mile route!  Now it’s very difficult for a barefoot runner to do their normal five mile route because their soles will force them to turn around, but this is where many Vibram Five Finger runners get in trouble.  We have a false sense of security from the rubber on the shoe, and we do not pick up the feedback that’s telling us to stop for the day. And that’s when I get an email, or a message on Facebook…

They usually go something like this: Leigh, I tried those stupid shoes (and yes I ignored you when you said to go barefoot first) and I started really slow by walking in them, and then I ran 4 miles.  Or 6 miles.  Or 8 miles.  Now, I can’t walk!  The top of my foot hurts, or my calves are dying a slow death, or the insides of my ankles hurt, or my whole body hates you Leigh, and I can’t even sit on the toilet correctly.  I broke myself.  These are all things that I’ve heard!  And guess what?  I’ve experienced all these things, because I too, am an impatient runner and ignore my own advice.  It’s true, PTs make the worst patients!

Anyway, what am I talking about? Right, TMTS.  So as new barefoot runners, we truly need to appreciate the amount of time it takes to build strength in the lower legs.  Not only that, but the mobility of our foot must be enough to accommodate our new running style which is decidedly different than say, running in a shoe with an 1.5 inch heel.  It is known that it takes about 8 weeks to gain strength and mass in a muscle.  While we may feel stronger after only a few sessions of weight training or barefoot running, this is only due to neurological factors, i.e. the signal from the brain to the muscle to tell it to contract is getting faster.  This is the common phenomenon that may happen when you’re trying to bench press for the first time.  The first time you try it in the gym, the bar wobbles around like a noodle, and everyone laughs.  Yes, it’s happened to me.  But after a few days of persistence, that bar is steady and you get to show off your mad skills.  Are you stronger?  Well, in a way.  You have better control.  But you won’t be maxing out on the bench press with the big boys and girls until you practice for a long time.  And so, there is the parallel to barefoot running. Just because you’ve been a runner, doesn’t mean that you can max out (run 5 miles barefoot) the second time you try.  We are learning to turn on muscles that have been off for a long, long time.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten questions from two different people about inside ankle pain after ramping up mileage in Vibram Five Fingers.  In both scenarios, the individual ramped up mileage very quickly. Because they were both runners before, they likely assumed they could do this.  Let me start out by saying that if you’re experiencing persistent pain after trying minimalist or barefoot running, please see a physical therapist who specializes in running.  If possible, seek an open minded, knowledgeable PT who has experience in minimalist running.  Physical therapists are movement and musculoskeletal experts, and they can evaluate and treat the specific problem.  While primary care doctors are a good starting point to get a referral to see a PT, they might not necessarily know exactly what’s going on or be open minded to a form of running that’s still considered to be “alternative” or “different.”

So let’s get back to inside ankle pain.  Inside ankle pain is not uncommon because the muscles that support the arch and muscles of the lower leg are usually atrophied from wearing regular shoes or running shoes with an arch support.  The arches including the intrinsic muscles of the feet need to learn to come alive again, but until then, sometimes certain muscles will try to do all the work to hold up and support the arch.  One such muscle that may become overworked while trying to control the arch, is a muscle called the posterior tibialis.  This muscle originates deep in the calf area and its tendon wraps underneath the inside ankle bone (medial malleolus) and connects to a small bone in the arch called navicular, and then attaches by fibrous expansion to many other small bones in the foot.  When this muscle is overworked, one could develop posterior tibialis tendonitis.  The action of that muscle inverts or brings the foot in towards the midline, plantarflexes the foot (points it like a ballerina)  supinates the foot (helps it roll out during running) and helps to control pronation (arch rolling in during running.)

Good Picture of Posterior Tibialis

So what can you do for this ailment? Well, for starters, RICE.  Rest, ice, compression, elevation.  Yes, it works!  Then, it will be necessary to restore normal mobility and strength in the feet and lower legs.  This is important for anyone who is considering barefoot/minimalist running!  So the question is, is there anything that could cause inside ankle pain other than the posterior tibialis tendon?  Of course! That’s why it’s important to talk to your PT.  But, these exercises below will be beneficial to ANYONE who is considering minimalist running, so you really can’t go wrong with them.

Stretch!

1. Gastroc/Soleus Stretch: Please perform this with knee straight and then bent to stretch both gastroc and soles muscles.  Soleus (knee bent) is of utmost importance as you will be eccentrically loading this guy with your barefoot running.  I like to hold this one for up to 1-2 minutes and repeat 3 times to really change the tissue and increase the dorsiflexion range of motion. Additionally, I like to use a slant board to obtain even more of a stretch. It is necessary for barefoot runners to have lots of dorsiflexion range of motion!

2.Ballerina Stretch: This will ensure the top of the foot has sufficient range of motion so that the muscles/tendons in back of the leg are not overworking. 

3. Roll Out!  Roll your calves out on a foam roller.  Get in there!  Also, roll out the arch of your foot on a golf ball.  Get in there! This should be a “good hurt” and the area should feel looser and freer afterward, not damaged and painful. The muscles/tendons need to be free of adhesions, rolling out can help bring circulation to the area.  Increased circulation means increased blood flow and oxygen, which brings the good stuff we need to repair tissue.

Strengthen!

1. Direct Isolated Posterior Tibialis Eccentric Strengthening: Tendonitis and eccentrics are enemies.  This one is a great addition to your toolbox! 

2. Short Foot Exercise: Janda’s genius idea.  This one is fantastic for intrinsic strength, so that posterior tibialis does not have to compensate for intrinsic weakness. Sanatan calls this the invisible arch support exercise:

3. Calf Raises with Eccentric Lower: Great strength exercise for minimalist runners, as we must have eccentric control via the muscles of the lower leg and foot to decelerate upon landing on the forefoot.  Please be sure that your weight is focused over the big toe.  In other words, do not allow the foot to roll out when lowering down. I use this daily! 

4. Calf Raise 100’s: Love this! 

5. Functional Posterior Tib Exercises: During the second video, you can stop watching at about 3:30, unless you want to know about the navicular drop test.  

These exercises are just a few things to put in your toolbox for minimalist barefoot running.  The most important thing to remember is that patience is key to success in your transition, and the reward in the end is well worth your time.  Run happy and run strong!

Have you experienced any TMTS injuries? What are/were they?  

Running Free? Or Running Bound? And Earth Runner Huaraches!

The past few days, I’ve been celebrating learning how to run again after about a month off, including surgery on January 21st.  I have had a series of short, barefoot, giddy runs that have left me wondering why some people don’t run.  And on the other hand, I saw a runner that have left me wondering why some do.  During my brief, restorative runs, I have felt so completely free that I theorized that perhaps I am actually becoming more bound.  More bound to the sport, more bound to the love of running, more bound to the earth and its healing qualities, and most importantly, more bound to myself.  

Admittedly, I struggle with resting and allowing my body to heal.  The thing is, while I was sitting around doing all that healing stuff, my mind was lacking its usual outlet, which of course, is running.  All that sitting around can do funny things to a person, and that’s why I decided to head out the door and try to find some peace and quiet for my mind, which was consequently running amok.

So, I started with walking, which I did for a couple of days.  The next day, I walked again with Mike and was able to run four times for about 1 minute each time.  Now, I don’t mean really running exactly, more of a funny little skip/waddle combo that felt just perfect with the healing incisions in my belly.  Not to mention, I looked good, which is what really matters.  A few days later, I was up to my gentle skip/waddle for up to a half mile, which I did a couple of times, and I was starting to resemble a wannabe runner. Two days ago however, I had a real breakthrough.  I put on real running clothes, including my brand new huaraches, courtesy of www.earthrunners.com.  Thank you Earth Runners!   I will do a review of these guys once I’ve had more experience with them, but in the meantime, check out their website and what they have to offer.  I had a great first impression.

 

Earth Runners

 

Anyway, I went out for a run, and decided to start out very slowly, go until it felt right, then go back.  I gently plugged along for about a mile, then decided to turn around.  I took off the Earth Runners because I wanted to really feel the ground, and continued along barefoot.  I was going REALLY slow. And I felt REALLY good. Nothing hurt, and my body felt like it was drinking in the gentle movement and energy I was collecting along the way.  Afterall, that’s what healing is all about! Collecting energy vs. expending energy.  Whether I was barefoot or wearing the Earth Runners, I really felt connected, or bound to my surroundings.  This is good, Earth Runners nailed that part of it!

Last night, I decided to try that same 2 mile jaunt again, with the same choice in footwear.  Half in Earth Runners, half barefoot.  I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was meant to be running and finding happiness again.  Now, I know that recovering from ectopic pregnancy and surgery takes a toll on the whole person.  While the people around me have been instrumental in my recovery, it was as if I was in need of an old friend in the way of running outdoors.  So on I went last night, again slower than heck, but happy.  I was even whistling my new jam, Justin Timberlake’s “Suit and Tie.”  Don’t judge me, you know you love that song!

Anyway, I was whistling and shuffling along when I heard chaos behind me.  What the… I turned around, and I was about to get passed by another runner!  She was stomping towards me, with a look on her face that read, “GET OUT THE WAY!” and she had headphones on, but there wasn’t much point because I could hear her music blasting.  It was something I didn’t recognize, but I remember thinking it was hilarious because it was a bubbly, poppy tune with a fast beat.  It was a funny paradox because the girl attached to the tunes looked like she would sooner die than try to have a bubbly conversation with me.  She actually looked like she might die if she had to take one step around me, so I decided to give her some leeway and hop onto the grass next to the sidewalk so she could charge by. As she passed, I turned and gave her a lopsided smile and a cheerful wave, but she just glared and stampeded on.  I wanted to ask her if she was enjoying herself, but I figured she a) couldn’t hear me b) might kill me and c)I already knew the answer.

So, while I was pondering why some people don’t run, I found my answer through Miss I’d Sooner Die.  Unfortunately, instead of enjoying ourselves, feeling the chill in the air, experiencing the ground beneath our feet, and drinking in our surroundings, we blast music in our ears, lock our feet up, put on an “eat shit” face and try to barrel through a 3 mile run and hope to experience none of it.  Other times, maybe we hop on the treadmill to avoid the elements and put on a TV show and let the machine think for us.  My intent is not to criticize these runners, because I have absolute respect for anyone who is getting out there and putting their health first.  But, I do think that we’ve become a society that is much more bound to technology and distraction than bound to ourselves and relationships.  Relationships involving each other as well as relationships with our surroundings.  I’m guilty of this as well, when I’m networking on social media or sitting here on this blog instead of talking with my husband. But taking the time to escape those vices is valuable, and well worth the time.

Running has to be one of the purest forms of exercise, because you really don’t need any equipment.  We could even run nude if we weren’t risking getting arrested!  Now that would be entertaining… anyway,what was I talking about?  Oh, right, running is pure.  Yes, so the question is, are you running free?  Or are you running bound?  Both? And if you’re running bound, what are you bound to?  Maybe the best answer is to run free to find yourself bound to your heart, the earth, and your surroundings.