Foot Injury

I haven’t said too much about my athletics on here yet, and this seems like as good a place as any to start, even if it is on a somewhat sad note.

For the most part, I’ve had two major activities driving my athletics– cycling and running.  Cycling is my “bread and butter” event.  I’m better at it and I like it more.  It’s also been a very practical activity, in that I can bike to get where I’m going and I get a workout, too.  In fact, most of my training has come in the form of commuting.  But, as my cardiovascular endurance grew, I took up running as a secondary activity.  I wouldn’t say that I’m a great runner, but I’ve done pretty good with it for what’s ultimately been a “back-burner activity.”  Going out and getting a good 6 miles on foot, seeing an area from that point of view…well, it’s just fun.  It’s great to run up the hills of Richmond and look out over the San Francisco Bay.  It’s great to run the back trails around hilltop castles in Cornwall.  And during times when cycling has come to feel like a daily chore, running became a way to keep my joy of exercise alive.

And, I should note, almost all the running I’ve done has been barefoot running.  I’ve been using some form of Vibram Five Fingers for years now.  It’s made all the difference to me, because I used to get pretty frustrating back pain from running, but barefoot running, and the associated changes in gait, took care of this problem.  Barefoot, I’ve run all over Florida, California, and Cornwall.  I was barefoot in my first 5k, and then my first 10k, and then my first Bay to Breakers, and finally in my first half marathon.  I seriously doubt I’d have ever made it this far if I hadn’t made the switch to barefoot.

I mention this not just to shill for barefoot running but because I want to make it clear that I’m no rookie.  I’ve been running barefoot for years and I’ve even turned in some respectable times in my races.  But, now, it seems that my running may need to stop for an extended period of time, and I suspect that I’ve actually been a victim of my own success.  See, when I moved up to the East Bay, I saw the opportunity to use our train system for my commute, but I would need to still travel about 7.5 miles every day in order to cover the distances to and from the train stations.  Due to various reasons, a bike was out of the question, so I decided I’d try strapping on a backpack and running.  This seemed a pretty straightforward thing to do.  The contents of my backpack are only a couple of pounds (a tablet computer, wallet, and clothes, essentially), and running 7 miles is well within my reach, especially when each 7.5 mile day is actually 4 different runs.  And I’d be doing this 4 days a week, since I needed my car on Tuesdays.  Seemed like a great way to become a better runner, and I started to really look forward to the improvements in my times.

And this actually did work out pretty well for a couple of months.  I am beginning to suspect, however, that there were some odd aches and pains that I let slide which I shouldn’t have.  About six weeks ago, I finished my run to work experiencing some difficult pain in the bottom of my heel.  It was an intense but dull ache.  I ran home on it anyway, and then made it worse, and since then, I’ve had to stop running and heal.  After two weeks of being pain-free, I decided to try the daily runs again.  It only took one day of running to produce injury yet again.  Today, I’m limping around the office as the bottom of my foot aches with a strained/sprained sensation that runs all the way up to the base of my calf muscle.  I’m not 100% certain what I’ve done, but plantar fasciitis is my best guess.  I don’t believe that it’s been caused by a single acute episode but instead is the result of ongoing stress on my plantar fascia.  A likely story is that I may run with my heels a bit high and that this, coupled with a little extra weight from the backpack, has excessively stretched my plantar fascia.  No individual run caused the damage, but instead it’s been death by a thousand cuts as it’s crept up on me over time.

This is very frustrating, though, since it looks like I will have to back out of the Big Gay 10k, which is one of my favorite runs.  I also am going to have to seriously consider that I won’t be able to run in the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon, either.  Normally, I’d make up the slack in exercise with cycling, but my trusty road bike, Thumper, was stolen a few weeks ago and the only cardio equipment in my home gym is an elliptical machine, which still involves a bit of foot flexing.  High intensity interval squats may be in my future for a few weeks.  This is probably a good excuse to surf more and to buy a new bike.

What’s not clear to me, though, is what to do to heal sooner and prevent this in the future.  I should see a doctor, but I’m too busy (and you’ll find out why soon enough), so I’m just trying to take it easy.  It’s likely this was a chronic problem so healing may take a very long time.  I’m also not sure if I’ll be able to return to barefoot running without running another injury risk.  If I can’t, then it quite likely could be the end of my running “career,” because I find no pleasure in running in shoes.  I ran barefoot as a child, and I take too much direct pleasure in feeling the ground beneath my feet.  I should consider, however, that it is constant barefoot running that led to this.  I have no arches in my feet, and that much engagement with my forefoot might have stretched some ligaments more than they can endure.