Saturday, May 29, 2010

Shocking news: Trying out anti-minimalism

Long before Chris MacDougal wrote the "Born to Run" book, I was a minimalistic runner. I have always felt more comfortable in a lightweight pair of racing shoes than any trainer that I have tried. That has been true for my 35+ years of running. For quite a few years, I have been living out the philosophy of the "less shoe, the better." It seems to work for me. I always said that I like the lightweight shoes without all the doodads because they let my feet do what my feet want to do (which in reality is very strange things). So I have been running with lightweight racers (Asics HyperSpeeds) as my training shoes and Puma H Streets and K Streets as my racing and track shoes.

Despite the minimalistic shoes, my hips have remained imbalanced and unstable. However when I have tried training shoes, I have felt even worse. I have also forsaken traditional shoes and for over a year now, I have worn the Vivo Barefoot shoes at all other non-running times. They are extremely comfortable and also let my feet do "what they want to do." The problem that I have been thinking about is that even after all this minimalism, my hips are no better when running and my stability problems seem to be getting worse. A few weeks ago, I bought a more built up racing shoe, but it didn't seem to help my running and at times made it worse. It was more like running on a big sponge. I have improved my hips throught the Postural Restoration work this winter, but despite working on my hips and doing exercises all the time, once I start running things fall apart again. The previous three weeks have not been good. I get things balanced, go for a run and they fall apart for a couple of days, and if I try to run through it, things turn worse. I was back to having the problem where my whole left side was "stuck". Something was not right in my feet (I'd keep trying to mobilize the bones) and my hip. I was also back to the pressure under my kneecap that I get when things are out of alilgnment. My running was horrible as was my racing attempts. On Monday, I somehow got rid of the knee pressure and felt better alignment wise. I went up to race in Lowell Tuesday night for the 5K. I felt great despite for the 90 degree heat. When I started running though, I had no control of my legs and hips. Everything was going at wrong angles and it wasn't a fun run (results and I did win in my age-graded weight category). I went to the Gate City Striders workout the next evening in more 90 degree heat and did the 10 X 400m workout (81-86 secs). Again, my hips and alignment were throwing me all over the track and I was fighting my body to try to keep straight. Despite all the work I have been doing, I still can't run correctly! and there is nothing much left to find out there that I can try to improve things- or so I thought.

Then I saw Lori Thomson's newest video for running. I follow all her videos for runners, as she is a Postural Restoration therapist and  Postural Restoration work has improved my hips (no longer am I tight at the front of the hip) and if I don't run at all my hips feel better than in years, but I am a runner and I have to find the solution that keeps me running. The new video is called "Instability of the Feet in Runners" and it took me awhile to let the video sink in because of the "shoe" issue. First off, she talks about "calcaneal instability" or heel bone instability. Now this was interesting to me, because when I  got sent to a physical therapist this winter (who fortunately practiced "postural restoration") it was only because I asked my primary care doctor for a visit. I had pretty much given up on physical therapy due to previous attempts, but I wanted to ask a therapist about ankle mobility and issues with my heel not seeming to be lined up correctly. I was hoping I could just get a couple of questions answered and maybe learn a "trick" or two to fix things. I ended up getting 2 months of twice weekly Postural Restoration work with some traditional physical therapy techniques that helped my hips greatly, but with more running I seemed to be at an impasse. I was back to thinking the same question that plagued me for years, "Are my hips causing my problems or are my feet causing the problems?"

Instability of the Feet in Runners from Hruska Clinic on Vimeo.

In this video, Lori says that if your heel bone is unstable and not in the correct position for running, then your pelvis may not be in the correct position for running (she does say it can be the other way around too). She also then explains a major part of the postural restoration philosophy: most people have a forwardly rotated pelvis on the left side. That is me. My left shoulder and pelvis are way in front of my right pelvis and shoulder. She also shows how this affects the way the foot apporaches and lands on the ground.This also desribes  how my feet land and got me thinking that maybe this is why my stride is all over the place lately. My feet are landing at weird angles (and quite differently on both sides) and maybe as they hit the ground and try to roll, it send my legs in different directions and through different rotations.

Lori shows another exercise to learn how to shift into the left hip (my difficult move) and how to feel the bottom of the feet. This is all good stuff, but I wasn't willing to listen to the last part of the video, because this tells about how to choose a good running shoe. I thought I knew everything about shoes and minimalism was the way to go. Well, I thought it through and decided to give Lori's ideas a try. I printed out a list of PRI approved shoe options and headed over to Runner's Alley to see if they had any in stock and then to see how they might feel on my feet, but that was all. It was funny when I got there because there were a couple of other runners trying out Vibram 5 Fingers and Nike Free shoes as they were contemplating minimalism and there was I, a true minimalist believer, trying on what seemed to me to be boats!

I tried on about 5 pair of shoes. What I noticed in the brief moments in the shoes was how tight the heel counter was, how flat and solid the footboards were, and how I could get my big  toe down in all of the shoes (something I have been working on pre- postural restorartion and even during with my PT). They felt good for such beastly things. I think whenever I have tried training shoes in the past, I always gravitated towards more lightweight trainers that ended up being a bit soft and spongy with little foot control. This type of shoe often made my hips worse! I wasn't sure which one to try, so I ran just a bit on the treadmill with each pair. One pair left my left hip feeling unstable, one pair was a bit too tight in the heel, and one pair had my hip feeling real good on the treadmill. This was all so unscientific, but I decided to but the pair that left my hip feeling best. I bought real training shoes for the first time in years! I ended up with a pair of Brooks Defyance 3 shoes. I wasn't planning on running that day, as my left glute medius had been sore since the track workout the night before, but I felt good in the shoes and took them out for a run. It was interesting. Yes, they were big shoes, but they felt better than other trainers I had tried in the past. My feet felt very comfortable and I was getting a smooth transition from heel to toe (and I wasn't landing heel first as I thought would automatically happen). I ran Friday with not major problems again. The only thing is I am running slower than I normally would, but this could be because I am using different muscles. This morning I woke up and the first thing I thought was that I wanted to go for a morning run (I don't do morning runs- I hate morning runs- it usually takes all day to get my body to a place where I can even think about running) so off I went for a successfull morning run. I am still running slower, but my stride and the way my hips are hinging is feeling better. This is only three days in to my experiment, and it could be that I am feeling good for other reasons or the shoes may eventually throw my body off in other directions and create additional problems, but I am very intrigued with the results so far. I love my Vivo Barefoot shoes, but something else funny has happened. I wore the Brooks to school yesterday, because I liked the way my feet walked in them. I am also wearing them today. I feel much more stable wearing these things.  If this keeps up I will have to buy another pair: one for daily use and one for walking.

Does anyone know of a lost tribe of long distance running people that uses supportive running shoes to achieve thier mystical running abilities? If you do, let me know, because we may be able to turn the idea into a best-selling book. And I know that all my running friends who have laughed at my lightweiight running shoes through the years are probably getting a good chuckle from this post.

Here is a previous video where Lori explains PRI approved running shoe options.

Shoe Recommendations from Postural Restoration Institute on Vimeo.


Jee said...

Hi Jim,

Great blog! I have no where near the years of experience you have running but as a musician, I've always been interested in form, technique and movement.

I too have adopted a minimalist approach and have done a lot of barefoot running on the treadmill to analyse.

Have you ever noticed what's going on in your shoulders? For me, if I lose that compact arm swing, shoulder-blades held down and back by lower traps, my feet start stomping more. Also my right shoulder tends to droop forward from 36 years of playing the violin if I don't consciously support it, and if I let it droop while running I get that 'heel instability', (which for me involves how the forefoot rolls since I don't heel strike or toe off,) that Lori was talking about. Which comes first, the drooping right shoulder or the twisted pelvis? I don't know, but best wishes with your running.


Jim Hansen said...

Hi Jee,
I don't really pay attention to much the shoulder, but you are right there is a diret connection between the shoulder and hips. I know when I had rolfing done a few years back that after I had shoulder work done there was a dramatic change in the hip. I'll have to pay more attention. I can only imagine how years of violin playing could would impact things!

Matt Metzgar said...


This is just my opinion, but I think you are going in the wrong direction with the thicker shoes.

I would go with even less shoe, as in barefoot. On pavement. I have been running barefoot on pavement and it absolutely forces you to run correctly.

McDougall recently said if he had to do it all over again, he would go bare from the beginning.

Just my two cents.

Jim Hansen said...

Hi Matt,
I know it seems strange. I have to try something, though, and these shoes make me feel more solid on the ground. They also make me about 10 seconds slower per mile!

I did go to an ART (active release therapist) today. I had the feeling I was just strengthening disfunctions lately. Not only is he going to work on my hip, but he is the first person to seriously notice and address my left foot. He said I must have badly sprained it years ago. I can't remember. He said the heel is "inverted" or something and the forefoot fights it my doing the opposite of what is expected. He has some ideas for treatment. This may be why I liked lightweight shoes. I was trying not to use my heel. If things go well, I'll ask him what would work best.I think today's visit was very promissing. I'd like to be able to run in lighter shoes. Good luck with the barefoot on pavement stuff. Ouch!

Edster said...


I second Matt's advice to try barefooting on a hard surface like concrete or asphalt. I resisted the idea for many months, but when I finally tried it, I was hooked. I still do about 80% of my miles in shoes (minimalist trainers) but barefooting is actually very enjoyable and soothing, even meditative. And yes it will force your body to teach you optimal form, simply as a survival mechanism. The hardest part about it is accepting the drastically reduced distance and speed compared to shod running---you want to start out at no more than 5-10 minutes, 1/2 to 2/3 of your normal pace. I started out doing that at the end of my shod runs. Noticed a dramatic and quick increase in foot/ankle/calf strength.

Just read up on it a little, and above all, try it!

Jim Hansen said...

Hi Edster,
I did try it last week after a run and hope to do so again. I was a bit interested in touching the grass barefoot "earthing" which is something Matt wrote about last year and decided to try it on the pavement too.

I am however trying out new insoles for a condition called "functional hallux limitis" which means my big toe and its metatarsal joint do not work right. Upon impact the arch and toe joint collapse. It makes sense for everything I have been trying to fix for years. I will have to see how well the insole works as I just started using it this week. It feels great for walking and all my other activities even cycling. however I am still adjusting to running with them. I am 30-60 seconds slower per mile as my whole stride is changing (but no joint or imbalance pain)!
Dr. Ivo of the Gait Guys website(and consultant (biomechanical advisory board) to the Vibram Five Fingers shoe even analyzed my running videos and says I am in good hands with the podiatrist I got them from. Of course this condition is what my podiatrist is well known around the world for treating. I think this is the way to go for now. I am not sure if I can be weaned off the insoles later, but I do think it would be a great idea to do bits of barefoot running and striding to keep the parts of my feet working on their own. I will definitely try it out some more.
Thanks for the advice.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this, I have also found Hruska's site very informative.

I am always surprised though when folks give the example of lost tribes or other recent runners from Ethopia or other countries who run barefoot. For once, this culture has had years of not wearing any shoes-kids grow up without shoes, their feet are accustomed or even molded towards being better at walking/running with any footwear. To say that we, in the West, who have never walked barefoot on the streets should suddenly do great without shoes is like saying these cultures should start wearing shoes and would do great with it. I am sure going barefoot or so must work great with some but I don't think it is the right path for all.