I’m back: stronger and better

I know it has been a long time since my last post, and there is so much that has happened since then. The main thing is that I am still running and running well and learning so much. Running barefoot has been very rewarding for me in so many ways compared to shod running. It is quirky and makes me different and has helped my running in so many ways. Two and a half years on since starting my journey and I have learnt so much about my running and the biomechanics of my running. Things that I thought I knew about running I had to learn first hand again from practical experience. When I got things wrong, I could feel it. I’ve been tempted to get my shoes back on, but it never felt quite right when I tried a run or 2 with them. I have learnt to take things very slowly and to listen to my body.

Here are some figures that highlight my journey:

It has been 2.5 years during which time I have completed 232 runs that equalled a total of 938 km. I know not exactly setting the world alight, but I have learnt the value of quality miles rather than just junk miles.

My very first run was 300 metres at 5:30 min /km. The progress has been slow but the distances have increased and so has the speed. My fastest 4km is now 4:11 min /km and during speed sessions I can run very close to 3:00 min /km. I’ll be doing the Gold Coast Asics Half Marathon on the 5 July 2015.

My knee (left ) has improved out of sight. It still gets a bit sore every now and again but what a difference. I’ve hurt my knee on two occasions that needed a decrease in running on both occasions. On both those occasions, it is where I got carried away and increased my speed or went too far. There is some value to the rule of 10% in increasing training intensity. My calf muscles have taken a calculated beating and now after 2.5 years I can run 15 km with no stiffness or soreness in my calf; many calf raises later.

I’ve learnt the value of strength work. Again it’s what I’ve always taught but its essential both for injury prevention and performance. I’ve discovered the need to look at running rhythm and style. I’ve determined that each person’s style is unique, and there is no one size fits all but improvements in tempo and rhythm are essential.

I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is that running is fun and should be, It can be hard but its fun. It is an incredible stress release. This blog ran into a blip early on because we get busy and stressed and, to be honest, the last thing I wanted to do is write about my running. Running and my family were a great stress release and helped me massively. It is now time to share that journey, not of barefoot running but more about the journey of learning to run again not only from a physios perspectives but from a runner who had lost his way.

Barefoot Science

This post is to help explain a little more, in terms of the science, why I have chosen to run barefoot.
Reasons for running barefoot
Whilst running barefoot, there is more of a forefoot strike when taking off, and a more planta-flexed foot on landing. This leads to an increased ankle compliance, and decreases the mass of your body that collides with the ground; essentially, using your foot as a natural shock absorber – which in turn, increases your foot muscles.
Shod running (running with shoes on) tends to create more or a rear-foot strike when running. This is facilitated by the shoes, which are designed with an elevated and cushioned heel, encouraging a heel strike. These elevated and cushioned heels reduce the impact of rear-foot striking, and make it more comfortable; the shoes acting as shock absorbers. This is aimed at reducing potential injuries from running.
Foot-strike mechanics
The landing-impact force is one-third less in barefoot running than in shod running.
Rotational energy is a key factor in this:
  • In landing on your heel, the impact force is transmitted up into the body.
  • On the other hand, the forefoot strike decreases this impact force.
  • Through storing more energy in the calf muscles and Achilles tendon, this energy is used in rotation, helping with the forward kinetic propulsion, and improving running efficiency, as less energy is lost.
The evolution of running
Early evidence shows primitive men had an enlarged heel, suggesting they mobilised/strike on their heels.
Through evolution came an adaptation for survival as men needed to run for longer and faster when hunting for food. Through this process came a more efficient running style, thus the development of a longitudinal arch that is present in modern humans and forefoot running.
So why barefoot?
The self-cushioning of our feet diminishes with the use of shoes, and there is a lack of knee and ankle-bend at initial foot-strike. In running barefoot, there is an optimal knee bend, creating a somewhat lower centre of gravity, leading to more compliance with the running surface. This allows an adjustment in leg stiffness to accommodate the surface hardness.
What’s more, shoes with arch supports and stiffened or well cushioned soles may lead to weakened foot muscles, which increase the likelihood of excessive pronation and plantar fasciitis, and change rotation profile which can extend into the knee, hip, back, and even neck.
After three weeks, I have started to feel that I run more with the front of my foot; a shift of gravity. In a useful, but painful diagnostic, I have developed a blister on the outside of my toe, which indicates I’ve been running on more forefeet more, lowering my centre of gravity, and giving me more propulsion.
As an indication, I’ve got some pictures of my thighs, comparing muscle growth between them, my right leg is much larger, due to my left knee injury, very cool!

Ian Left Leg Ian Right Leg

If you want to have a chat about the benefits of running barefoot or shod, or just want to let me know how you are going in your running journey, leave a comment below!

Maffetone Training

So, at the end of week two, and I’m feeling much stronger already, my calves are still a little sore, but definitely better than they were. I’ve had a bunch of people asking me about Phil Maffetone’s training program, so I thought I’d do a short post about it, just to explain a little about what the training entails. So far, it’s proven really useful for me, as it has forced me to control my running and heart rate to ensure that I don’t overexert myself. So, without further ado, lets talk about Maffetone training:
Phil Maffetone was an athletics coach during the 1970s to 1980s and begun using heart rate devices to monitor their performance. He quickly found that controlling an individual’s aerobic heart rate prevented injuries and increased their performance. Aerobic training allowed the athlete to focus on the mechanics of their running while also improving their endurance capacity. Training aerobically makes the athlete use a minimal amount of oxygen while only using their fat storage as the main fuel source. This means the athlete can run at faster pace for longer. This stemmed the saying, “training slow to go faster”.
Through monitoring his athletes Maffetone created the 180 formula. The formula is designed to find the individuals best aerobic heart rate zone, as different people are at different stages of their exercise regime. Firstly your age is subtracted from the number 180. Your optimum aerobic heart rate zone is then adjusted according to one of the following;
  1. If you have or recovering from a medical illness or on regular medication, subtract an additional 10
  2. If you are recovering from an injury, regressed in training, often have a cold/flu or asthma or just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5
  3. If you are training consistently (4 times a week) for two years without any of the problems listed above, keep the number the same.
  4. If you have been training for two years without any problems and progress in your competitions/training, add 5
The essential equipment needed for this type of training is a heart rate monitor. Currently these devices are becoming more accessible at very reasonable prices, especially those with the basic heart rate function.  
While this was designed for the athletes and used very successfully for them, this can be implemented into any social runner or athletes training program. Among the effects already mention aerobic training can also help with the following;
  • As you will be using your fat storage for your main source of fuel, this training can help with weight loss
  • Improve your resting heart rate, respiratory rate (breathing rate) and your blood pressure
  • Allow you to focus on optimising your running mechanics which will reduce the risk of an injury
  • As a result of the points above, this training can reduce the incidence of current social health issues like hypertension, diabetes and more
Implementing this strategy is easy and begins by calculating your heart rate zone from the above formula, then start training. It might be a challenge early on and you may even walk more often than you run. Though over the course of 6 to 8 weeks the changes will start to appear, you won’t have to walk as much and you’ll start running a lot quicker at a lower heart rate. 
So there you have it! If you have any other questions about the Maffetone training regime, or if you have started your own barefoot journey, let me know in the comments below! See you next week!

My second week of barefoot running

Wow! This is the second week of my barefoot running and it’s fair to say that the first week, running-wise, was a bit frustrating at times, but the show must go on!
The aim of the first week was to start off slowly and that’s what I did. My original plan was for the first 6 weeks to build a bit of base during which I would work on:
  1. get my feet, knees, and hips stronger and more flexible
  2. get my feet used to the ground (I have chosen to go completely barefoot)
  3. get used to a foot strike that was a bit more forward from the heel (I’ll discuss this aspect in future posts as this is where people can go wrong).
  4. get cardio working (I’m using a heart rate monitor and Phil Maffetone program of working only in my target zone)
In the first week I had a fair amount of left knee pain. At the start of my second week during my first run there was no knee pain… but, can you believe it, the left calf started hurting. I have felt my good leg (right) calf hurt the week before but this was the first time that I felt my left (injured) leg hurt. I strapped this with KTape to reduce the eccentric load a bit (see image below).I think this is because I’m starting to share weight a bit more evenly. This all reminds me just how slow the progress is going to be. I’m definitely looking at 6-8 weeks. This is so much slower than I have ever gone before but: ‘Looking forward’ is my mantra.
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I’m doing the following to help me as well:
  • Strengthening low load eccentric control for both calf muscles into mild discomfort
  • Low load adductor and sartorius strengthening.
  • Glute med clams and transversus base line setting
  • Ice rolling of the claves, hamstrings and quads at every moment I have. I think I have managed about 5 X a day.
This week the plan is that I’ll have a holding week. I expected it to be harder due to the reality of how slow the progress is and the fact that as my technique improves I can expect more pain in my calves.
I have been asked by many people: As a physio, would I recommend barefoot running to my clients? The answer isn’t a straight-forward one. I think there are many reasons why barefoot running could be beneficial and even reduce injuries (these will be discussed and highlighted in great depth through this blog) but the process is long, slow and very frustrating. You will need commitment and follow through by the bucket load and then some. If you want to take your shoes off and go for a run and think that is going to be it: think again. In terms of shod running I, and many other physios around the world, have gone from rigid motion control and more towards neutral shoes anyway. This is always augmented by exercises and technique advice. If orthotics were needed; softer orthotics providing neuromuscular facilitation are the go, and where I have found far more success than rigid orthotics and shoes with excessive motion control. Research has shown that even when feet are taped the effect on the mechanics far outlasts the mechanical effectiveness of the tape. This would imply that the tape has a learning effect and might change running (foot) mechanics through the feedback the tape provide. Through this blog I will look at all aspects of shod and barefoot running. I have included as a semi case study photos of my feet. As you can see how flat they are (the red arrow). I’ll do 2 weekly photos and hopefully if all the theory is correct then you should see a difference. I will do a dynamic video analysis this week as well.
Looking forward to each run now despite how slow the progress is but it is so exciting. Hope you enjoy and feel free to ask any questions.

Bearing my sole

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Hi everyone, this is sort of an introductory post about this blog, which is aimed at my process of getting back to running, not for any particular race, but for my life and fitness. This is my story and, with it, I hope to update you and highlight some research – relevant things that have helped me, with some personal experience mixed in too.
 I have been running for a week now, and it’s been very different to my previous attempts… In the past, I have probably done double the distance and twice the speed, the problem with that being that I was only looking backwards. I was focused on the runner that I was in the past, rather than who I am now. In the past I ran for races – I trained for races. I have run numerous 10ks and half-marathons in my time, but since my knee injury, I haven’t really been running or training for some time.
But this week has been different. Very different to how I would have done in the past. I ran 2.5 kilometres over 7 different runs, with a slow average speed of 5.5km/h, and an average heart rate of 130. In the past, I would have been much quicker to push myself and skyrocket my heart rate. The difference being, this week, I feel much better!
This process for me isn’t about training for the next race, but training so I can remain fit and run whatever I need to run; to be fit enough to run with my twin toddlers as they grow up, so when my son runs in his carnival, I can help him train. This is what it is all about, fitness for life rather than training for the next race.
The key aspects are, as I mentioned:
  • My ACL injury in my left knee. As it is an ACL deficiency, I really need to control it when I run, as I can get a lot of abnormal rotation, leaving me with a lot of patella femoral pain, a pes anserine bursitis on the knee, and a whole lot of shin splints because of the lack of control.
  • This means that my hamstrings, quads, and all muscles that control the rotation of the knee need to be really well balanced, sometimes stretched, and sometimes strengthened. My foot needs to be balanced as well, a key reason in my rationale behind running barefoot.
And, I love it! There is nothing quite like leaving my shoes at home when I go for a run. Interestingly enough, I have been running on the road, and my feet have been quite good, and I have no blisters. There is still a little tenderness on the tips of the toes, which highlights the push-off components of my runs.
I am feeling quite good; it’s almost like being 17 again! It’s lovely, invigorating, and very freeing.
There is a great deal of research that does show that the forces on the patella femoral are somewhat lessened because of the forefoot strike. But, with this eccentric work, comes a greater strain on the calf muscles from the slightly forward foot strike more towards the toes. Because of this, I must run slower; which, for me, is a win-win situation.
Another key aspect is my heart rate. I am using the Phillip Maffetone regime, in which you use a target heart rate to keep to, to avoid over-exerting your body; although, this is providing difficult. Because I am running further on my toes, I am actually running quicker, which increases my heart rate; forcing me to also balance my speed and heart rate. While this will benefit me in the long-term, it is difficult to fight the frustration.
My left knee is holding up really well, and I have started some strengthening exercises for my calf muscles: Some adductor strengthening exercises, a popliteal strengthening regime, and a sartorius strengthening exercise to help support the pes anserine and hamstring stretches. I’ve been doing a body check and an ice-roller daily on all the tight muscles.
I have been dealing with sports and running injuries for well over 20 years now, for much of which I was an athlete; but, once I started travelling and started a family, I have really only been training ad hoc for the races I planned to do. In many ways, I have been ignoring the same advice I give religiously to my patients to get them back on track, and I feel that this hypocrisy needs to end now. I’m finally going to have a taste of my own medicine.
This is about my personal experience, and what all of you go through to try to get back to fitness. This is what I am doing now. I have managed in the past, but there is a much better, more sustainable way – and I hope you share this journey with me.
Leave a comment and we can share this journey of learning how to run better together.