Barefoot in New York City

Discussion in 'New Member Introductions' started by Iftheshoedoesn'tfit, Oct 12, 2018 at 8:44 AM.

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  1. Iftheshoedoesn'tfit

    Iftheshoedoesn'tfit
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    After reading a bit on this forum, I realized that my calf cramps are very similar to a lot of other barefoot runners’ calf cramps: they hit at about 1.6 km, always while I am running slightly uphill on paved road, and usually when I am pushing my speed a little. They are nasty cramps that force me to slow to a walk. Then all the shod people I just left in the dust come pounding past me! The knot in my calf stops me from running for about a week.

    Anyway, yesterday I ran just under 1.6 km and had no problem, but I want to be sure to rest long enough to prevent a cramp next time- I have a feeling these cramps may have something to do with fatigue from previous runs. Obviously, though, if I rest too long, I will lose whatever endurance I may have built up, and then the risk for cramping would increase, I guess. Any suggestions are most welcome.

    I am 1.75 m tall, about 90 kg and 50 years old. I do some gymnastics and other balance-related stuff, so I don’t think there’s a problem with my “core,” and I am reasonably flexible. I once ran about 6 km barefoot without cramping.
     
  2. Barefoot TJ

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    Welcome! :barefoot:

    How long have you been running barefoot?
     
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  3. Iftheshoedoesn'tfit

    Iftheshoedoesn'tfit
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    I started barefoot running after reading Born to Run, and that was at least seven years ago. That book covers so much ground that some of it seems like extreme pop-science, or maybe even pseudo-science, but I still found its main argument very compelling. Since then, there have probably been periods of more than a year when I didn’t run at all, or when I just ran in shoes, but barefoot running is something I always seem to return to. Part of what prompted it this time was seeing that I was close to victory after a long and bruising battle with toenail fungus.

    I always wear flip-flops to and from the park where I run, mostly just so as not to frighten the neighbors, though the flip-flops also come in handy if something goes wrong, or if I need to pick up some groceries on the way home.
     
  4. Jon from PDX

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    I’m not a doctor or physical therapist, so this could all be horribly informed, but—

    Since the knot lasts for a week or so, it sounds more like a strain than a cramp. The difference is that cramps are caused by a neuromotor feedback loop that causes some muscle fibers to involuntarily contract, leading to a painfully anaerobic exertion, while strains are areas of damaged muscle tissue that is initially painful due to ruptured cells and is thereafter tight as the body effectively wraps a cast around the tissue to immobilize it while rebuilding the muscle. The acute pain of cramps should clear up soon after relaxing, stretching, and replenishing electrolytes, followed by delayed onset myscle soreness (the same thing as after weightlifting) that might be intense the next day but which should be gone in three or four days. Strains vary widely in intensity but lead to decreased range of motion a half-week to several weeks, then have lingering soreness for another half-week to several weeks. My understanding is that, as we age, we’re less able to perfectly repair the damaged tissue; some scarring might be left behind that causes lingering tightness, and the damaged area is prone to re-injury.

    I have a strain in my left calf. It first appeared when I started up a hill but left my foot flat so my heel never came down to carry my weight, was re-injured when I was exploring how fast I could run down a hill, and is now a factor every time I run. This has only been over the last few months, so it might not be a permanent thing. But, for now at least, I need to be careful with it. I warm up gradually and for a long time, and I slow down or walk any time my calf begins to feel tight. The one-mile mark might be where I’m getting fully warmed up after jogging slowly, and my calf is still vocal then, but the discomfort goes away after two miles or so. Form is also part of my issue: all the discomfort seems to come from pushing off from behind me, while there are no problems if I just focus on pushing myself up from directly beneath me.

    Another thing that might help you would be to more actively warm up on your way to the park. Some sandals with heel straps might make that more feasible.

    Regardless of my experiences — welcome! I hope you find a way to run comfortably, every time and every mile.
     
  5. Iftheshoedoesn'tfit

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    Hi Jon. I have had cramps before, from swimming when I was out of shape, and they were just as you describe them: involuntary muscle contractions that went away almost immediately with a bit of calf stretching. They only caused very slight delayed onset muscle soreness, or none at all. The "cramps" I described above were clearly a breed apart, -I was dimly aware of that- and your diagnosis of them makes perfect sense. Actually, now that you mention it, these "cramps" don't really seem to include involuntary contraction at all, just sudden, seemingly inexplicable muscle pain that puts an end to all running. This has now happened to me at least twice. The "knot" I mentioned before wasn't really a physical knot of involuntarily contracted muscle, just a conceptual knot of painfulness and immobility. Anyway, thank you for clarifying this.

    So if I have correctly understood what you said about stride, you were able to minimize these muscle strains by lifting your knees more while running? I guess running barefoot does increase the range of motion that our calf muscles have to work through...
     
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  6. Jon from PDX

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    Talking about the mechanics of running is a curiously hard thing to do. There’s our actual, objective behavior, and then there’s what we tell ourselves and what we think we’re doing. Maybe that’s old hat to long-time runners, but as a relative newbie I find it fascinating. So, here’s what I think I’m trying to do along with what I think about when I’m trying to do it:

    I’m trying to minimize the work my calves do by minimizing the amount of time they spend carrying my weight. That means carrying my weight on my heels as much as possible. (I should add that I’m overweight, so I might be more sensitive to this than you are.) So, when I’m landing, I’m not trying to absorb the impact with my feet and calves but rather trying to guide my feet to the right position at the right time, then using my feet and calves to make fine adjustments before letting my heels take all the burden. Ken Bob Saxton likens this to an airplane landing: when the ground coming up and the tires going down are paced just right, you can barely feel it when they make contact, but a little too much here or there and the result is a big bump. With feet, that’s true both vertically and horizontally, as I want my feet to get up to speed before they touch the ground so they aren’t braking me as they come up to speed. Then, on the back side, I try to pick my feet up off the ground as quickly as possible. There was an article on the front page recently about this by @trevize1138, and in the discussion I questioned it a bit but I’ve come around to agreement. I do not want to push off at all; you only need propulsion if you’re either accelerating or compensating for braking. So the stride as I want it comes down gently just barely in front of me, immediately starts pushing me up to get me in the air again, then lifts my feet off the ground (once I have enough upward momentum to carry me to the next step) which should happen just behind me.

    As far as knees go: as much of this as possible should be in the hips and glutes. They have a lot of strength but not as much mobility. So, I bend my knees to help fold my feet under me, but my quads are more there as shock absorbers than as jumping muscles. At least, that’s how I think about it.

    The cue I use to help me reduce calf strain is to try to run like my legs are straight, dumb springs. Pogo sticks, if you will. They compress in front of me during the landing, support my weight as I swing forward, then release their energy behind me to send me back into the air. The thing is, the further in front of me that they begin compressing, the more they’re acting as brakes rather than cushions; the more they’re extending behind me, the more they’re trying to accelerate or topple me and the more braking I’ll need to stay balanced. So, they transform from a pair of dumb springs into a wheel of spokes. (Let’s ignore that spokes support the wheel from above.) Down, quick deflection, quick release, then the next spoke gets its turn.

    I feel like I’m doing it right when my abs are more sore from lifting my legs than my quads are sore from pushing them down. I know I’m doing it right when the steps feel absurdly short. Only when my support muscles, like my abs, start getting sore do I back off trying to turn my legs over more quickly.

    Also, when I’m going up hills, I’m highly aware of when I pull my heel off the ground. I want me heel to be solidly placed until I’m ready to take all pressure off that foot. I don’t feel like I have a lot of range of motion in my ankles, and they definitely stretch a bit on hills, but keeping my heels down has helped there. (For steeper hills, I’m not fit enough to run anyway, so I walk. With my weight carried on both feet, I can lift my heels a little early.)

    Ultimately, it comes down to mindfulness for me. Being ready to listen to my calf if it starts with the barest of twinges, and being willing to slow down and try different things until it reports that it is comfortable again. The times I’ve hurt it have been when I wasn’t paying attention at all to what I was doing, instead focusing on what I wanted to be doing a few steps (or a few hours) from now.

    That seems lot a lot of meandering thoughts. Sorry. :) Happy to explain more, though, about anything in particular if that’d help. And thanks for allowing me an opportunity to try to think this through and explain things — that’s an exercise I always enjoy.
     
  7. Barefoot TJ

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    Those are great responses, @Jon from PDX. Thanks for helping out.
     
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  8. Iftheshoedoesn'tfit

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    Hmm. I have built a couple of wheels before, and even read a book about wheelbuilding. I am not an engineer or physicist, and even as a bike mechanic, I am only an amateur, but my understanding is that scientists still have differing opinions on the degree to which the hub of a rolling wheel is being pushed up by the spokes or hanging from the spokes. In any case, though, thank you for your description of the mechanics of barefoot running! It will be helpful as I continue down this road. I guess we really are reinventing the wheel here, or actually, reinventing something far older than the wheel!

    It’s hard to imagine getting sore abdominal muscles from barefoot running. I used to sometimes get sore abdominal muscles -and trapezius muscles- from running shod if I hadn’t run in a while, but I think that was just because those muscles had to hold up my innards -and my shoulders- amidst all the pounding. There is very little pounding when I run barefoot, and so far I generally run shorter distances than I would with shoes, though I have noticed that the impact of my bare feet on the pavement can be absorbed either a little or a lot by the foot movement I choose. I don’t think I ever strike with my heel when not wearing running shoes, but sometimes mid-foot, at least if I am opting for less springiness in my step. Anyway, from what you have told me, I can now see that this is a far more complex topic than I had realized.

    In my last barefoot run, I stopped before getting any calf pain, but I did get a bit of normal delayed-onset muscle soreness in my calves the next day. Once that goes away, I will go back out for more short runs and try to build up slowly. Cheers!
     
  9. Jon from PDX

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    I hope I didn’t confuse the issue. I’m not expert enough to articulate these ideas succinctly, but I’ve loved learning about the mechanics of running due to how infinitely complex this elegant movement can be. Last weekend I volunteered at a marathon and was quite surprised by how vastly different running styles can be even among those with similar pacing and body types. Everyone gets to invent their own gait. I think we all have a lot in common, so particular issues like calf strains might have similar solutions like shorter strides, but there seems to be no one form that is better than all others. Go with what works for you.

    I’ve learned a lot from other folks writing about their experiences here, though, so I hope I’m continuing that tradition.

    Interesting to hear that there’s debate about how spokes support wheels! Just goes to show, I suppose, that knowledge and certainty can be inversely related.
     
  10. Iftheshoedoesn'tfit

    Iftheshoedoesn'tfit
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    Yes, your comments are definitely helpful, Jon. From Born to Run, I learned that the heel strike goes away when you stop wearing running shoes, and from you I have learned that it is not quite that simple! Actually, I think Born to Run does go into more detail, but it’s been a while since I read it. Anyway, yeah, I will experiment with different running styles, starting with the shorter stride that you suggest. Barefoot running seems to lend itself to experimentation in a way that running shod does not, although even with shoes on, I guess people come up with their own running styles- consciously or not. A person’s gait is supposedly something that is almost as unique as his or her fingerprints.
     
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