Sports: August 2010 Archives


August 30, 2010

Last time I reported on my experience running with VFFs things were going pretty well. I wrote:
Bottom Line

I suspect I'd be able to run much longer in VFFs (and I'll try a 10 this weekend), but given how much trouble I had when I ran on grave [gravel --EKR] of the wrong size, I'm not sure I would want to do something like an ultra, where I couldn't turn around and didn't know that the surface would be good. In view of that, I'll probably start mixing it up more to make sure I still can run in shoes if I want to.

Since then, things have taken a turn for the worse. About 10 weeks ago I felt like my overall fitness was good enough to start introducing intervals back into my training plan. I started out relatively easy with 1/2 mile repeats and thing were going well. In keeping with my "mixed footwear" strategy I was trying to run something like:

DayWorkoutSurface Footwear
TuesdayIntervalsAsphaltInov-8 295s
Wednesday Easy 3-5AsphaltVFFs
FridayModerate 5-7 TrailsVFFs
SundayEasy (8+)TrailsInov-8 295s

This was going OK and then after one interval workout (note: regular shoes) I noticed pain in my right foot at the first metatarsal-phalanges joint (where the big toe intersects the foot) and spreading across the metatarsals towards the little toe. wearing regular shoes. I'd noticed some pain like this before right when I first started running in VFFS, but it went away. Figuring it would go away again and not wanting to interrupt my workout plan I tried my Wednesday run as planned, but only got about 1/2 mile before I had to turn around and walk back; every impact hurt.

At this point I knew I had an injury but not how bad it was. I limped around for a day or two but then it seemed to get better so I waited a week and then tried a two mile run which had a little bit of discomfort but was mostly OK. I decided to try my ordinary Friday run (you've probably heard endurance athletes are stupid) but with Inov-8s instead of VFFs so I got some shock absorption. Bad idea. About 2 miles in I was in bad enough pain that I couldn't run at all (thanks to Kyle Welch for convincing me that running in intense pain was bad) and had to walk the two miles back. I spent the next 3-4 days barely able to run at all. Since then, I haven't been brave enough to run more than 2-3 miles at a stretch and even after doing that, I have discomfort or not pain. Visits to doctors produced some nonspecific diagnoses—possibly sesamoiditis, possibly tendonitis—and the all-purpose referral to PT, the go-to-plan for hard-to-diagnose joint-related injuries. We'll see if that helps.

It's obviously tempting to attribute this to the VFFs. The evidence for that view is that you tend to push off a lot harder with your toes, that it's a new injury occurring after a change in training regime, that I was experiencing pain there even before the acute injury, and that walking around the house barefoot seems to hurt more than wearing shoes.. The evidence against that view is that the actual acute injury happened after running in regular shoes and that it happened after a substantial change/ramp-up in training load, which is often a cause of injuries. I don't have an answer here and it's clear that—since we don't even really know what the problem is—the doctors don't know either. Once I'm able to run again in regular shoes I'll reassess whether I want to try minimal footwear again. For now, I'm supposed to stop running and wearing stiff-soled shoes all the time, so the question is kind of moot.