“The foot feels the foot when it feels the ground”

Um, it seems that people with 30 percent body fat should still be careful while running on a treadmill, as they can still injure tiny little structures in their feet through overzealous [tag]running[/tag] on said [tag]treadmill[/tag].

Dammit. Now I’ve been forced to use the goof-ass elliptical machine along with the stationary bike for my aerobic workouts during the week. The [tag]elliptical machine[/tag] is actually great for getting a no-impact workout, but it’s just so … strange. At least with a stationary bike or a treadmill, you are using the same muscles that you would use outside, in the same way, more or less. Yes, it is easier than the real thing, but it’s in the ball park. But the elliptical machine is just … I don’t know … unique unto itself, I guess. It feels so odd, I suppose, because there is no real-world correlation, with the possible exception of bounding across the moon or some other low-gravity orb. Since I don’t have an opportunity to do that very often, I would rather use the treadmill in lieu of running outside.

But, this is what I get for making a classic mistake. I felt good, so even though I’m out of shape and overweight, I hit it hard, and here I am. I’ve done it before; I have little doubt I that will do it again in the future. At first I thought I was suffering good ole plantar fasciitis. I’m familiar with this malady from my bartending days, and the current symptoms in my left foot—the same one that suffered the fasciitis back in the day—were similar.

But the pain this time occurs in the lateral plantar fascia, just behind the balls of my little toe and the one next to it, when I walk around, as opposed to in front of the heel. Further poking and prodding revealed that the actual apparent point of injury is between the balls of my little toe and the one next to it, as opposed to the area behind them. By the way, I figured that out while massaging my foot with a golf ball—as I say, I’ve been through all this before, so I’m familiar with this lovely little trick. Even if you don’t have foot problems, it feels so freakin’ great on sore or tired feet.

The first few days after I did whatever it is I did to my foot on the treadmill, it was just like plantar fasciitis: it would hurt the worst in the morning, until I stretched out my foot, and I could still walk/jog on it, and once it was warmed up, it would stop hurting altogether—classic symptoms, except, as I mentioned above, the pain wasn’t at the base, or the front of, my heel, where it typically occurs in ye olde [tag]plantar fasciitis[/tag]. And the last few days I’ve noticed that it hurts the least upon waking in the morning (or this afternoon, in the case of today).

So what might it be? I don’t know. Stress fracture? Some manner of soft tissue injury? It’s not a sprain of some sort; of that I’m sure. I’m all too familiar with those symptoms as well. I suppose since I have insurance for the time being, I should see a doctor, but that would be such a pain in the butt, and the odds are I’ll be told what I already know: rest, ice, NSAIDS, etc. With the exception of the NSAIDS, which never seem to do me much good for these types of injuries, I’ll stick with the elliptical trainer and the ice, and see how it progresses. I hope in a few weeks I’ll be able to return to the treadmill, and eventually take it outside. If not, then we’ll go the professional orthopedic/podiatric route, my foot and I.

But during my research on foot injuries and running—I’m a nerd, I’m injured, and have the Internet at my disposal, gods help me—I came across some interesting data on [tag]running barefoot[/tag] as it relates to foot and ankle injuries. It struck a cord, because I’ve noticed that when I walk around the house barefoot, the pain in my foot is less, which seems counterintuitive.

But then I’ve had the same experience when I’ve torn up my ankles on various occasions; there’s less discomfort once I’m off the crutches/couch when I’m walking around barefoot (albeit with an ankle wrap or brace), as opposed to wearing athletic shoes. And I’ve always been intrigued by runners that compete barefoot—the Ethiopian distance runners, Zola Budd, the Raramuri people of Northern Mexico, etc.

I admit that the logic that barefoot runners espouse has always made sense to me, even though until now, it’s never occurred to me that perhaps I should try it. The foot, by design (we won’t get into whether it’s intelligent design or evolution, but you can perhaps guess on which side of the debate I land), is made to run on, so why not run on it? Wrapping it up in thick padding just makes it less stable. You don’t wrap up your hands in thick padding unless it is extremely cold; at most you cover them with the bare minimum necessary to provide more grip/protect the skin from sharp edges, etc. So why do that with your foot?

It seems that in populations that frequently run barefoot, there is considerably less frequency of foot, ankle and other orthopedic problems. Here in the United States and other first-world countries where we’re running with the most advanced athletic shoes that can be made, injuries and the instance of problems like plantar fasciitis remains relatively high.

Here is one scientific paper on injuries and running barefoot that piqued my interest; here is a review and bit of a counterpoint to that paper. These are just two examples; an Internet search reveals more if you find yourself interested, not to mention the usual glut of passionate-yet-biased information on barefoot running, both pro and con. Then of course, there is the living stereotype of a barefoot running proponent, Barefoot Ken Bob. Check out the YouTube video; he most assuredly kicks butt. Although I suppose he won’t be scoring a shoe sponsorship anytime soon.

I’ll be the first to admit to skepticism when it comes to tossing around statistics, scientific studies and shaggy old guys running barefoot; nevertheless, having an open mind I must also admit that there seems to have been enough real research done that I can’t help but wonder if the barefoot running people are onto something—not to mention the fact that they are regularly running marathons and whatnot these days.

Not my actual left foot.In any event, I used this to justify buying some new gear: a pair of Vibram Fivefingers. It’s going to be a while before I can actually get out on a trail and do a day-hike or run with them, even at a slow jog, thanks to my presently banged-up foot. But I like the way they felt walking around the store, as well as my front yard. It’s the next best thing to being barefoot.

It is a strange feeling to have something between all of your toes, but not unpleasant. One thing I’ve noticed already just from jogging around barefoot and in these, um, “shoes,” is that I tended to naturally correct my stride and avoid heel striking—and I’ve always been a big heel-strike runner, even when I’m in shape and running a lot. I’m not sure if it’s a biomechanical thing, or instinctive—full-on heel striking when running barefoot just seems like an obviously bad idea—or some combination of things, but it definitely makes me aware of my stride and foot strike, and that seems to keep me from getting sloppy, I suppose.

It will be interesting to see if that holds true over a distance longer than the circumference of my yard. Assuming that my foot continues to improve, I hope that in a few weeks I’ll be able to at least do some short walks around the local park in the [tag]Vibram Fivefingers[/tag], or maybe wear them out disc golfing or something. Of course a full report shall be forthcoming forthwith.

Oh, and I will be wearing these out and about in public, you can bet on it. I’ve always been fashion incompetent, why stop now?

And shouldn’t it be Vibram Fivetoes?

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