Okay. Last week I decided…(well, that, is my wife decided) to enter us in a 10K race along the LA River, which was billed as a fundraiser for the Greenway 2020 Project. Yes! LA has a river, and we’re trying to create a long green space along its banks by the year 2020.
While 10K is twice as far as I have run in about 20 years, despite being an avid runner prior to my MS diagnosis, we were probably more inspired by the free beer offered at the end of the race at the Golden Road Brewing Company.
Now, here’s the deal with my crippled, 50-year-old body.
I have nerve damage from demyelination on my brain and most notably my spinal cord from my MS. (Demyelination is when you get holes or sclerosis in the myelin that covers and protects your brain and nerves, causing your nerves to spark, flare and otherwise act very unseemly. It’s the “literal” manifestation of “raw nerves,” and, in my case, it creates a painful burning or needle sensation down my entire lower torso. This pain goes from annoying numbness in my upper thighs to down-right nails piercing my skin along the soles of my feet. For any doctors “watching our show” right now, this is not the normal “tingling” sensation that one feels when having an MS attack. I’ve had that. This is something else all together, and much more painful. When the pain was out of control, I had to walk with a cane.
I’ve managed to alleviate about 50% of that pain by controlling my diet, which is focused on plants, significantly reduced sugars and no processed junk food. While it’s not ideal, the other 50% of the pain, I have managed to mentally adjust to.
Nonetheless, my recent running (stumbling) has typically peaked at about the 3 mile mark. That is, the pain just gets too severe after a couple, three miles of pounding on my old street pods.
But part of my ability to run even three miles has been my adoption of some new running shoes from Skechers that are insanely light and surprisingly un-padded. I was told by the sales person that the shoes would NOT be appropriate for me as they were designed for elite runners, who, were, let’s say, slightly less “bulky” than I. In other words, I was too heavy for these sleek shoes.Some of you may ask, “Skechers?!?!” Who would even buy that crap?”
I’ll tell you why Pal!
- They make some Vegan shoes, so I already shop there.
- They make a line of “Go Run” and “Go Bionic” shoes that are the most comfortable athletic shoes I’ve ever worn.
- There’s an outlet near my house and I’m cheap!
So, they were on sale and I bought them.
At first I had a hard time with the lack of padding and perceived support, so I stuck some in-soles in them. Problem is, when you flip off your shoes as one does at the end of a run, the insoles typically come flying out and get tossed to the side. One day, I couldn’t find them and so I went without. It changed my life. (My jogging life, that is).
These shoes are what are known as minimalist running shoes. Designed to better replicate the natural running style that early humans presumably adopted while running barefoot in the Garden of Eden or Africa, depending on your world view.
Apparently, modern running shoes with their heavily padded heel support, designed to cushion heel-to-toe running, has been a disservice to all of us and potentially causing more problems than the padding was intended to avoid.
This is by no means a proven hypothesis, but it is a concept that has a growing number of followers, and you can count me amongst them. For other opinions, check out the Reddit subreddit on barefoot or minimalist running.
Also, here’s some pretty “scientifically-looking” analysis of the difference in impact between heel-to-toe running vs. forefoot running.
What this shows (or is it “shoes?”) that a forefront or even midfoot strike is actually less jarring than a heel-to-toe strike. But by padding the heel of one’s running shoe, we’re actually encouraging people to run poorly.
So, I gave it a try a couple of days before my 10 k and focused on hitting the street on the balls of my feet and running almost five miles.
Two things happened.
- I ran faster because that positioning forces you to lean forward a bit, and in my case, tumble along at a faster clip. The downside is that unless you’re aerobically fit, you’ll tend to fade sooner and find yourself literally on the back foot.
- My ankles, which typically are swollen and in pain more from my age and weight than from MS, felt fine. What didn’t feel so great was the Achilles and back of my calf, which was not used to taking most of the impact (but better your muscle than your joint).
On race day, I discovered that I perhaps should have run my warm up on Wednesday not Thursday as I was still quite sore by Saturday.
Nonetheless, I focused on fore-foot and mid-foot running, and although many parts of the course were nothing more than a path littered with quite large pieces of gravel that often poked up through the thin padding of my shoes to exacerbate my already raw nerves like a princess atop a very sharp pea, I managed to trudge along the entire race without stopping and in this case finished just over an hour.*
* Shockingly, a 10K that ends at a brewery wasn’t the most organized event on the running calendar, and while billed as a 10K, the actual distance was 5.7 miles–about half a mile short. So my 1 hour and 1 minute run wasn’t as strong as it sounded, but I did manage to keep my pace just under 10 minutes a mile. Not bad for a 50-year old cancer survivor with MS.