This ran in the paper Sunday:
Kick off your shoes and go for a jog in the grass. Let your heel strike the ground before the rest of your foot. Feel strange? Now run for a minute or two on the pavement the same way. That arc of pain shooting up your leg with every heel strike is Mother Nature telling you bluntly that your foot is biomechanically unsuited to run this way.
It’s an interesting experiment, and one I wish I’d tried before attempting to switch my flat-footed stride to one where I landed heel first. It was likely a mistake, I realize now, and one that will keep me out of the Hartford Marathon, which I’ve been training for since early July.
If you read running magazines and listen to a number of coaches, they’ll tell you that my decision to switch strides was a wise one. It’s supposed to increase running efficiency and make things easier on the body, but my experiment pretty much shows that such a stride is impossible to maintain comfortably without the intervention of the thick padding of a running shoe.
Many runners use this stride, but then again, by some estimates 50 percent of high-mileage runners suffer an injury every year.
A padded running shoe may block the pain, but it can’t fully correct the strain of landing repetitively on something that wasn’t made to absorb shock.
After switching over fully to a heel-strike, I ran the 12-mile New Haven Road in September, my first race ever. I did better than I expected and finished ahead of more than half the other runners, but after crossing the finish line I was hobbling. A bone on the inside of each foot was throbbing.
I stopped running in the hope of healing by the Hartford Marathon on Oct. 11, but the bones have made slow progress.
The pain isn’t severe now, but I have a feeling that if I ran 26 miles on still tenuous feet I’d be risking serious injury, and a talking to a few runners the consensus seems to be that I’d be a bad idea.
It’s also possible that throwing myself into running so quickly may have contributed as well.
There’s no question that I’m cardiovascularly fit enough to run a marathon. My breathing is never really la-bored, and I don’t find the running that strenuous.
I eat a raw food diet of only fruits and vegetables, and sip a mix of bananas and celery as I run, which seems to have kept me from ever having my muscles shut down from lack of carbohydrates. This process, called hitting the wall by runners, stops many racers in their tracks, but I haven’t had the problem so far.
But such a quick increase in mileage may have been too much for my bones to adapt to.
I also probably don’t have the bone structure to run well. Some people have arches that carve out graceful half moons in the wet sand of a beach.
My feet are as flat as they come and imprint of usually wide V in the sand.
The bones and muscles of my feet and ankles also continuously lock up. The staff of Omni Physical and Aquatic Therapy have graciously been volunteering their time to loosen me up but my body stubbornly refuses to stay loose.
Crunching down on feet that don’t move is likely compounding my problem.
I’m not giving up on my marathon, though.
I grew up overweight, and I never thought of myself as a runner. That I was able to expand from maxing out at five miles a run in June to 20 miles at the end of August completely stretched the horizons of what I thought was possible for myself.
After you’ve run 20 miles, 30 miles doesn’t seem all that daunting.
Besides that, I just love the feeling of propelling myself along with the road stretched out in front of me. I like the idea of improving myself and my time. The fact that I haven’t been able to run for over a month bothers me far more than the pain of the injury.
I’m going to heal up over the course of the winter and take some time to get back in shape, but I’ll find a spring Marathon to run next year.
In the meantime, you can read Dave Moran’s account of running the Hartford Marathon. He’s been doing these things for a while and would have likely left me in the dust if we’d both run.
Thanks to everyone in the community who has been rooting for me. I’ll keep you posted.