Barefoot Running: The Agony of De Feet

My last VFF (Vibram Five Fingers) run ended in disaster. Stepping on whatever it was caused severe bruising to my foot and continuing to run on it anyway caused major top of foot pain (TFP) and swelling in both feet. Then, spending another 11 hours on my feet working while wearing my VFF’s just made matters worse. By the end of the day I could barely walk.
I spent the whole weekend in my sandals to give my feet some padding instead of wearing my VFF’s which I’d taken to wearing all of the time since I’d bought them in the beginning of September. I also took the weekend off from running. By the end of the weekend most of the swelling had dissipated and there was only minimal discomfort left in my feet. My right foot where I’d stepped on the object was still very tender but I was fully functional again.
The Monday following my injury I laced up my regular running shoes (Brooks Beast) and went out for a 14 mile run. There was a little discomfort in my right foot but for the most part I felt pretty good. I started wearing my VFF’s again during the day as well. I went for shorter runs in my running shoes on Tuesday and Wednesday and felt very good with them, to the point that I felt ready to give running in my VFF’s another try.
So, on Thursday October 1st I headed out for a short run in my VFF KSO’s. It was just an easy 3.4 mile run with the usual down hill to start and up hill finish. The run felt great until I got to the up hill finish. I felt the now regular discomfort in the base of my toes during the climb, but felt great afterwards. There was no return in swelling or additional pain afterwards.
Buoyed in confidence from my successful run on Thursday I decided to do my first back to back days running in my VFF’s and ran in them again on Friday. I did the same course as Thursday but at a slightly faster pace. About midway through the run I felt a little discomfort starting in my right foot, but nothing that concerned me. The discomfort grew worse on the up hill section, but once again, nothing that I felt was alarming. I knew I needed to develop the strength in my feet and lower legs and just wrote it off as muscle soreness from overworking the muscle with the back to back days in my VFF’s.
My foot was a little tender the rest of the day, but I was able to walk around and work in my VFF’s without any problems. The next day the soreness was gone. I took the weekend off from running anyway just to make sure that everything recovered fully. I really wanted to master running in the VFF’s, but didn’t want to risk serious injury.
By the following Monday my feet were feeling great and I decided to go for another run in my VFF’s. My confidence had risen after successful (I deemed the soreness on the second day insignificant) and decided to up my mileage again. This time I was going to try for 6 miles. I was going to do the same route I’d done on Thursday and Friday of the previous week, but extend it further before I turned around.
The run started off great. My feet and legs felt fantastic and I was comfortably holding a 7 minute/mile pace. I reached the 3 mile mark and made the turn to go back and almost immediately started feeling a sharp pain at the base of my toes and along the top on my right foot. I backed off the pace, tried altering my stride and foot plant, but the pain continued. Even though pretty sharp, I still considered the pain to be simple muscle/tendon soreness and pushed on through the run. My pace slowly dropped to an 8 minute/mile pace and then a 9 minute/mile pace. I made it all the way back in running, but I started to develop a bit of a limp by the end.
I soon as I finished my run I iced my foot for 25 minutes and took some ibuprofen. About an hour later I had some pretty significant swelling in the foot and was having difficulty even walking. Not sure what I was doing wrong, I posted my problem on twitter and quickly got a reply from @Oblinkin.
Based on the info that he gave me (links below) I realized what I’d been doing wrong. It wasn’t just simple soreness from muscles/tendons that needed to be strengthened, I was running incorrectly for barefoot running. I was trying to combine a heel strike running form with a barefoot. I was landing correctly on my forefoot like proper barefoot technique, but was pushing off with my toes the way I would with the heel strike form I’d been using for years. The problem was, to push off with my toes like that I needed the support from running shoes that I was no longer wearing. I needed to modify my running technique further to correct this problem.
Unfortunately, by continuing to run on my foot I caused myself a fairly significant injury. I had to take the next several days off and then I was alternating very slow, short runs in my running shoes with 1 to 2 days off. I took slightly over 3 weeks before I was able to run normally again and another week beyond that before I was pain free in my right foot.

Links explaining top of foot pain and how to avoid:

(original post 11/09)

About Douglas Sawyer, MS, ATC

I am an athletic trainer who is also a very avid athlete. My first love is running, but I also love cycling and triathlons and many other activities. I'm not a swimmer though, I just don't drown for 2.4 miles... As a athletic trainer I work with sports injuries. I currently work at a school with athletes in 7th-12th grade in a wide variety of sports. I can be found on twitter at two different names: @IronmanLongRunr - where I tweet about run, bike, tri, & more @Longrunr - where I tweet about athletic training
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