The week following my participation in Comrades, a 90 KM road race in South Africa, I was distraught with horrible knee pain that left me hobbling around and kept me out of my running shoes and off the trails. After trying to fix it on my own for a couple of weeks, I ended up with a double knee injury and a very gloomy spirit.
After returning from a hiking trip in which every step was practically unbearable, I headed to the physical therapist. The PT did some strength and flexibility tests in both legs, and then sympathetically told me: “Your lower limbs are jacked up.” My glutes (which I always thought were rock solid) were lazy, my previously sprained right ankle was stiff and weak, my IT bands were both tight has heck, and this was all working together to cause Runners Knee on my left side and ITB syndrome on my right. She gently put her hand on me and said, “Melissa, you’re going to have to lay off running while we rehabilitate your lower body.” With tears in my eyes and a trembling voice, I accepted my lot and asked her to fix me.
Over the next few months, as a I was slowly building flexibility and strength in my lower half, I read Born to Run by Christopher McDougall. It is an incredible book, both informative and inspiring. Check out his Tedtalk on the topic.
At the same time as I was reading this book, my friend Julie Wiley was talking to me about barefoot running. She had taken a barefoot running clinic with Barefoot Ted and was digging it. Being unemployed at the time, I wasn’t keen to dish out the cash for a clinic so Julie offered to give me a little tutoring. I loved it. I felt wild and free-- primitive almost. The rest of the summer I took to running barefoot several times perweek—injury free.
The idea behind barefoot running is that it strengthens your feet and gets you to run with a forefoot strike as opposed to a heal strike. Heal striking, which chuncky modern day running shoes promote, means that your knees are taking in a lot of the impact. So many people have said to me, “But you NEED padding! It’s going to wear out your knees!” But something wonderful happens when you run barefoot—you become aware of the dance between your body and the ground. You run lighter because if you don’t, it will hurt. When our feet are in cushiony shoes, we have a false sense of protection and pound away at the pavement. Naked feet means more mindful running.
Vibrim 5 Fingers:
Winter rolled around and the ground was getting cold. I started wearing my old trainers and my ITB issues started reappearing. Desperate to put an end to it before it got bad, I found myself a pair of Vibrim 5 fingers—or as I like to call them “gorilla feet”.
Vibrim 5 Fingers are a great way to emulate running barefoot without the risk of burning your feet on the hot or freezing pavement. They also ensure that you won’t end up with a piece of glass or other foreign object in your foot. I went for the Women’s KSO model. These shoes are really goofy and really fun. I like to wear my 5 fingers on shorter runs and hiking. My husband Josh, who wears the Classics, wears his for longer training runs and even ran Ironman in them this year—injury free.
Brooks Green Silence
After playing around with a few other minimalist shoes, I decided to follow in my ultra-running hero’s, Scott Jurek (also a vegan), footsteps and try out Brooks Green Silence:
Here’s what I love about my Green Silence Shoes:
- they are super light
- encourage a mid-foot strike
- they are the most environmentally friendly shoes I’m yet to find
My most recent foot related purchase was Luna Sandals. These guys were created by Barefoot Ted and are handmade to fit at a shop in Seattle—REPRESENT! Julie Wiley introduced me to these shoes. I wear them practically every day. I have the originals with a naked footbed (no leather) and ½ inch Equus elastisize (vegan) laces.
The sole is made from vibrim rubber and offers just enough protection to keep your feet safe from hot surfaces and sharp pokey things. Some people complain of a bit of rubbing between the toes but this goes away after you build up a bit of a callus.
My purpose for purchasing these guys is that we are getting ready for a 7 week trip through South East Asia and India. I wanted something that I could wear hiking, running, to the beach, to the market, and with dresses and skirts. These shoes are truly gems. I hike in them several times a week and wear them out and about nearly every day.
The one downfall I have found with these shoes is that my laces keep breaking. The knot on the bottom of the shoe is on the outside of the sole so it is exposed to whatever surface you are walking on. I enquired with Luna about this and they said that lace breakage is quite normal at the beginning because the knot has nowhere to go and so gets rubbed down rather quickly. After time, an indent begins to develop where the knot is and it can hide up in there. Regardless, they sent me an extra pair of laces for free—nice one Luna. I’m super excited to get back to Seattle and visit them in person.