A Skeptic Fail: The Sad Story of My Poorly Informed Shoe Selection

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As you know Pal, in the past five years I have become a recreationally semi-avid runner. I love it.  Physically, running has been great for my overall health. At least I think it has. Moreover, running has also definitely been beneficial to my mental health. If I am stressed or need to work something out in my head, I will just strap on my running shoes, slip in my ear buds, put on some electronic music (Daft Punk’s Alive album is phenomenal for running) or a podcast (Doug Loves Movies is my go to) and off I go. Answers to issues or questions or problems I couldn’t figure out begin to fall in to place with every step I take. Tack on a runner’s high to that and you have the makings of a running addict.

I actually started to get pretty fast. I made it my mission to break a 40minute 10k which, for an amateur with no training, was proving to be difficult. My best run was the Toronto Sporting Life 10k a few years back where I finished in 40min13sec. So close. It was becoming frustrating to not be able to do it. It was also becoming a bit painful. I became very nervous about injury. Not that I was doing much about prevention. My knees were starting to hurt just a little bit and I was becoming fretful of my running longevity.

It was around this time when I read the book “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall.
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It’s a great read. I highly recommend it, however, in this story I am about to tell, it was also the beginning of my downfall. The book is non-fiction, about a journalist that loves to run but was always plagued with injury. He knew of a tribe in South America who run religiously as part of their culture and never suffer from the same frail ailments as he and many other American runners did. These guys would run 100 miles at a time! The book is about him going south with some other well known runners to discover their secret.

The secret was barefoot or practically barefoot running. These tribespeople would run up rocky terrain for great distances every day practically with nothing but thin sandals strapped to their feet.

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Imagine running 100 miles in a pair of these.  Jeepers.  The book also went into the physiological reason that running this way might be better. It requires running on the your fore feet (instead of the traditional heal strike) which is like running with a spring hinge. It absorbs impact way better than heal strike running which shoots the force straight up your leg leaving your joints to brace the full impact.

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The book also went in depth about the running shoe industry and claimed that these well fitted thick souled shoes were locking our feet in place and not allowing for enough mobility which is why North American runners were way more prone to injury. A lot of blame was put on shoe corporations for creating a product that wasn’t really needed, which was weakening our bodies, increasing our risk of injury and thereby making us dependant on them to provide proper support.

Well, like a hipster and his longboard, I hopped on.  It all seemed to make sense to me.  The minimal shoe craze had started and new minimal, or “barefoot”, shoes were becoming a new marketing tool for shoe companies. I bought a pair and immediately started running in them. The next day I was limping from calf pain due to over work. I persisted (and it persisted). I thought it was something neat and cool that I was trying and I was convinced it was the right thing to do. Despite the pain I kept running.

The advice from experts is to slowly transition into minimal shoes. Bit by bit run in minimal shoes for longer distances until your body adjusts. I am like a Gorilla when I exercise. I just put my head down and try to sweat as much as I possibly can until I can’t take it anymore. Not the greatest way to avoid injury.

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My knees were great, but I was now starting to get a sharp pain in my achilles. Every morning I would walk down the stairs like Scatman Crothers looking for his tractor in The Shining. The pain was pretty severe, but would go away during the day. I looked it up on-line (one site) and it was clearly stated that achilles injuries were unlikely using minimal shoes. So I pressed on.

Then one day….

…….I went for a run.

Bom Bom …….Bummmmm!

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Twenty minutes into the run, I felt great pain. Problem was that I was twenty minutes out and had to get back. Stupidly, I decided to run back in pain. With every step I was ripping and tearing at my already inflamed achilles. When I got back the damage was done.

I did see a physiotherapist and the ultimate diagnosis was that I had over worked and over stretched my achilles to the point of tendonosis. Hooray!!! This was going to take a long time to heal.

It was last September that this happened and I was not able to run for another 6 months. It is now July (10 months) and I am only now able to run the way I used to, albeit at a slower pace.

So where is the “Skeptic Fail” in my sad running story?

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Well, I think there were a few places that I could have been more critical of myself and maybe could have avoided severe injury.

(1) When I was researching minimal versus traditional running shoes, the expert opinions were not unanimous. In reading the discussions on the matter, I tended to only consider the pro side as correct even when the article presented balanced viewpoints. Hey, I had read this cool book and I thought I was on the cutting edge of shoe technology. I had biased blinders on. Essentially the science is still out on whether this solved some fundamental issue with traditional running or whether it is just transferring risk of injury from one body part to another.

(2) I ignored the glaring fact that most things are always more complicated than the easy answer I was looking for. People’s physiologies are different and some can handle switching to minimal shoes better than others.

(3) I was ignoring what my body was telling me. I was in pain but was living in denial. Even when the truth was right in front of my face, I pushed it aside and kept on running. I wasn’t being very critical of my actions.

Well, that’s it Pal.  Hopefully now I will be more cautious. I will treat this as a lesson learned. The ultimate truth is that running is just tough on the body and the damage I caused may never be fully reversed. I have to remind myself not to push so hard and just have fun out there.

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I am happier now that I am running again.  Here’s hoping I can keep it up, eh?

Later Pal.

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