Wednesday, 21 December 2011

The Ups and Downs of New Shoes

Back in the summer, when I first started to discover the minimal vs traditional running shoe debate I got very enthusiastic (as I usually do about exciting new stuff!) and brought a pair of Saucony Kinvara 2 shoes. This slightly impulsive buy was fuelled by several very glowing reviews I read about the shoes (one can be found here on Runblogger).
These are very lightweight and as light (if not a tad lighter) than my Adidas racing flats. They have a small heel to toe drop differential of 4mm, compared to 12mm in the majority of modern running shoes. They are also pretty neutral with little pronation control. The design philosopy behind the Kinvara was to create a ‘gateway’ shoe that would allow runners to transition from traditional shoes (large heel to toe height differential, substantial cushioning and motion control) towards minimal & barefoot style shoes.
My first run in the Kinvaras was a short five mile lunchtime loop of Romsey from the office. They felt so light and I really could run quickly & easily in them. They were very close to the ground compared to my Brookes Vapour 9s, and I could feel it, I was now fully aware of the impact of landing on my heels! The first run passed off without an issue, except for some slightly sorer calves….
That evening I decided to go out again the Saucony’s for the Lymington Tri Club evening run at Milford on Sea. Vale (Tri Club founding member, marathon winner and my coach) can too and we ran a pretty quick 8 miles, including an out and back section on the Milford cliffs. Again the shoes felt very good and I was really enjoying them. However towards the end of the run, coming back along the cliff path with (in summer) is hardened mud and very unforgiving, I felt twinges of pain on the medial (inside) side of my right ankle. We finished the run and my ankle felt pretty much ok, nothing serious I thought….
That weekend I had some IT Band issues in my right leg and saw the osteopath on the following Tuesday. He diagnosed a twist in my lower back as causing my right IT band to tighten and snap back and fore across my hip joint as I ran. A spot of back manipulation and this was soon on the mend (had little trouble from my IT band since). The next day I competed in the final RR10 series cross country race in the grounds of IBM at Hursley. I was keen to maintain the position in the top 30 I had achieved so far in the series, but was very aware that I had to be careful of my IT band still. As it was my IT band was absolutely fine, my ankle however was not… 
I ran in my red Adidas Adizero Adios shoes (the very snug fitting ones) the course at IBM is 3 laps, mostly on paths and grass, but with some very heavily cambered slope sections to run along in places. after lap one my ankle was sore, after the second it was really hurting and by the third I was just about able to maintain pace. Each time I ran on along a slope it hurt and then it would recover slightly on the flat parts (where there was little lateral force on my ankle). I finished the race in 33th enough to earn me 29th overall, but I had paid for it dearly, as my ankle was shot!
I had to take a week off running, not good in the middle of training for the Abingdon Marathon, and put a lot of ice on my ankle. By the following weekend I managed to complete the Everton 10k at a gentle pace and put in some miles before and after too. Gradually my ankle got better, although never completely pain/discomfort free. I temporarily shelved the Kinvaras and switched back to my Brookes, the motion control of which helped to protect my ankle tendon. I occasionally ran in my adizeros too (races only). I stopped all off-road running to reduce the lateral loading on my ankle.
At the time is was difficult to pinpoint the cause of the ankle tendon injury, it definitely originated on the 2nd run with the Kinvaras. However I was also building up my weekly mileage at the time and doing a lot of running, the stress of which could have contributed to the problem. By the marathon my ankle was pretty much fine, and it gave me no problems. 
After Abingdon, when my legs had recovered from the race, I tried a few tentative road runs in the Kinvara’s again. No more than 5 miles at a time. The shoes have generally been good and I have learnt a lot more now about how to work on adjusting running form to suit minimal shoes. That said I have done a few fast runs in them and on the next run after my ankle would be sore.
In my opinion, it seems my ankle problems may stem from the classic ‘Too much, too soon’ effect of going straight into running in minimal shoes without first strengthening and adapting your feet musculature to the change in footware. Having read all about this and been warning to avoid it, I fell straight into the trap of assuming I could just go out and run in my new shoes as I did previously. Feet need time and exercises to prepare for the new stresses they will feel, the same goes for going completely barefooted. Trying to incorporate a completely new type of shoes into my marathon program was a bad idea!
Since the marathon I have dropped using my Brookes shoes and gone to full-time in my racing flats (red ones for speed work/short runs & green ones for longer distance), which has proved successful to date. The plan is now to do the Gosport Half Marathon next weekend and then to take a full week off to recuperate my ankle (including a trip to the Bath thermal spa :-) ).
I’m going to work on the basics of barefoot/minimal running and follow the drills and exercises in Jason Robillard’s “The Barefoot Running Book” This isn’t particularly easy in an English winter but I need to build up to being able to run in the Kinvara’s with enough strength to protect my feet. I’m also trying to practice and adopt some of the general good running form techniques in the book into my everyday running. This includes; relaxing my arms & shoulders, leaning forwards at the ankles and trying to lift my feet, instead of pushing back, to encourage softer foot falls (this also promotes running on the mid/fore foot as well)

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