If you were in an accident and injured your neck a doctor may prescribe a neck brace for a short term period. Followed by a period of rehabilitation to strengthen your neck muscles. If your doctor prescribed a neck brace that you needed for the rest of your life you’d likely not be satisfied with this diagnosis.
Often with foot related running injuries we do just this by going to a podiatrist who prescribes orthotic inserts for your shoes. These are designed to be worn inside all your footwear forever and a day. This was my own experience when I became injured 10 years ago. At this time I was a keen competitor in triathlons up to Ironman 70.3 distances and training regularly for all three triathlon disciplines.
Not long before competing in an Ironman 70.3 race I suffered a stress fracture of my foot. It was my first time suffering an injury of this kind and went along with regular physiotherapy to get me to race day able to compete. Following this race I investigated further and was diagnosed with orthotics to help me overcome over pronation and over use that had apparently caused this running injury.
I was naïve to the facts at this time in my life, I didn’t pursue an alternative medical diagnosis and went with purchasing orthotics. Looking back at my history prior to this injury I had been running for 10+ years in cushioned running shoes, these shoes in conjunction with my everyday shoes had weakened my feet and the stress of relatively high mileage running had broken me slowly until the injury occurred. I’d been running for 10+ years without a major injury, at the time I didn’t think I needed orthotics but didn’t pursue a different alternative and went with the advice of my medical professional.
Looking back my mileage wasn’t high. I trained a lot but that was for the three triathlon disciplines. I wasn’t doing more than 50km a week pure running on most weeks. The mileage I was doing wasn’t high and I shouldn’t have fallen to an overuse injury. The problem was my foot muscles were weakened by my shoes and lifestyle.
After a few weeks I had my orthotics and used them in both my running and everyday shoes. There was a period of adjustment being able to walk let alone run in them without pain took some time. I persisted and was able to run successfully with orthotic inserts in my shoes. In time I became comfortable with them in my shoes and was satisfied that they had eliminated my running injuries. The main downside was in short triathlon races I’d often not cycle or run with socks due to minimising time in transition. With orthotics I very quickly got blisters on the arch of my foot if I attempted to run without socks, this was problematic but not the end of the world. At least I could run the mileage I wanted to do without pain.
After about two years in orthotics the barefoot running momentum was starting to build. Chris MacDougal had released ‘Born to Run’ and it was gaining in popularity and media attention. I decided to read his book and started researching alternative running styles to my current way.
To this point, I’d always been of the mindset that I shouldn’t deviate from my current footwear due to me being an injury prone runner. I’d always worn my trusty Asics GT-20 series shoes as I was injury prone and changing shoe may contribute to injury.
Reading Born to run and other research I’d been doing had me start to think differently. What if I changed shoes and didn’t need orthotics? What if the shoes I’d been wearing for 10 years were the problem?
I did more research and found that changing to a minimal shoe very appealing but knew it’d be a difficult transition in my current state. I couldn’t be further from a barefoot runner then I currently was.
I made the change anyway and purchased a pair of minimal shoes. In the six months after changing shoes I made many mistakes, or more accurately the same mistake repeatedly.
I tried to do too much running in the minimal shoes and had repeated soreness in my calves and Achilles to the point where I struggled to walk around at work. It was deflating to see the benefits to minimal running and not be able to get straight into it. The transition to barefoot running is difficult and certainly not a linear pathway.
I persisted with this plan though, I divided my running between running in cushioned shoes minus orthotics and minimal shoes. This was a plan that gave me hope, although still frustrating as the plan is long and I am impatient and wanted to transition quickly. Still I persisted and over time running in minimal shoes became easier. I would increase my minimal footwear mileage slowly, increase the individual run distance and overall weekly mileage. There were more setbacks along the way that made me need to retreat from increasing my mileage.
After a period of 18 months I was able to run a majority of my runs in minimal shoes. This made every step in traditional cushioned running shoes feel terrible. They were heavy and inflexible and I was happy to see the back of them. For the next six months I kept my cushioned shoes and used them just to mow the lawn and work in the garden, after a while even this became uncomfortable and I eventually gave these up altogether.
What transitioning to minimal footwear and later sandals has given me is immeasurable in terms of satisfaction in my running. What can be measured is my running injuries. In my time running in cushioned shoes I’d train for a specific race usually marathon or longer distance triathlon and suffer minor injuries during the race preparation. In the last four years I haven’t missed a day’s running due to injury. While everyone will at times suffer soreness when running relatively high mileage injuries occur when your body is weakened and can’t handle the training stress.
Cushioned shoes and orthotics are weakening your feet. Running in minimal shoes or barefoot will help strengthen your feet and help you handle the load and stress that running puts on your body.
My time in orthotics has taught me to not blindly trust any medical practitioner. If I had my time again I wouldn’t have purchased orthotics and would have sought an alternative advice. There was no reason I needed orthotics, I needed to be build strength in my feet and ankles.
I often get asked about running in sandals and barefoot running and how I can withstand it. It took me a long time, my transition was not simple and easy. Over time my feet and ankle became stronger and able to withstand this style of running. I was at the opposite end of the spectrum 10 years ago to where I am now. I am forever grateful for the decisions I made in making the change to my running and happy I persisted. Anyone can change to a minimal running style if that’s what you really want. It won’t be easy, it will take time, effort and patience.
If you have any questions regarding my time in orthotics reach out. It will be worth the change if you throw them in the rubbish bin, start again and commit to a different philosphy. It won’t be easy though, but it will be beneficial.