Happy Feet – a year later

Finishing a training run in my Mizuno Wave Riders.

Since the beginning of April, I have logged 750 miles, or an average of 47 miles a week.  Running higher mileage like this for an extended period of time is new to me and I didn’t think that I would be able to hang onto this higher volume.  Doing a few double runs has helped me to build but looking after my feet has made a huge difference.

Many older runners will tell you that their feet start to hurt when they reach a certain distance.  My Mizuno waveriders gave me the support that I needed until five years ago when, at age 49, my feet would start to ache as soon as I reached 15 miles.   Thinking it was just the shoe, I tried a few other brands but kept going back to the waverider; I knew the sore feet were not caused by the shoe but, simply, just my getting older.  But, stubborn like a marathoner can be, I trained through these aches for the Buffalo, Chicago and Boston marathons, with my feet hurting more and more each time.  Now aches are common with many distance runners but they are that much more pronounced in older runners as our feet tend to have less fat.  Determined to not walk away from long distance yet, I needed to find a solution and turned to a chiropodist, Dr. Werkman.

I saw Dr. Werkman last August and he designed a more supportive insole for my shoes – not an orthotic, but my mizuno insole with the addition of poron, which provides more cushioning under the balls of my feet, the point of impact when I land.   It took a few adjustments to get them “just right” but they have made a huge difference in how comfortable my feet feel.  Since they aren’t traditional orthotics, this is also a much more financially reasonable solution.

My worn-down insole on the left vs newly constructed on the right.

Last week, I went to see Dr. Werkman as I knew that I was pushing the limits on my last pair of insoles.  He built this pair for me in March and, by mid-June, I could tell that they were well-worn because the balls of my feet were starting to hurt a little, something that I haven’t had in almost a year.  When Dr. Werkman saw how flat my insoles were, his eyes popped.  “How far have you run in these?” he asked.  The man is a magician.  He took my Mizuno insoles from the shoes that I purchased in June, lined them up with my old insoles (also Mizuno) and replicated them.   They felt exactly the same but the true test was my long run on Sunday.  After 18 miles, I complained about the heat and I complained about the hill at Mile 16, but I did not complain about my feet.

The 12 weeks ahead in preparation for the Chicago Marathon are not just about logging the miles.  They involve a lot of self-care; looking after my feet is just one part of that, one step to keep me chasing my dreams.

 

The Tale of Two Feet

Getting to the bottom of my foot issues.

For the past year, I have really noticed the effects of the aging process, the biggest change being in my feet.  Towards the end of training for Boston, I could barely get through a long run without my feet screaming at me.  I knew that I needed to pay some attention to the balls of my feet, but I wasn’t about to change shoes or add orthotics within weeks of Boston.  But that resulted in a marathon that broke me.  My feet were killing by the 10th mile and the sun was hot; the two were a rotten combination for me and I finished in an hour longer than planned – but I finished.  In Boston, that was all I needed to do.

Bye bye, Orthotics!

Once Boston was behind me, I started to research orthotics and look for chiropodists in my area.  I had orthotics before and hated them; they were heavy and painful to run in as they never seemed to target the part of my foot that was tender: the metatarsals and the midfoot.  Adjustments were done but they made running even more painful so, eventually, they were taken out and I only wore my orthotics for work, not running.  It wasn’t long before I took them out of my shoe and completely stopped wearing them.

Now, though, I was ready to go back.  It had become painfully obvious that I needed some kind of support or padding under the forefoot.  I met with a few chiropodists and decided to work with one who specialized in runners’ feet.   Over the past few weeks, we have started to find a solution to my aching feet.

The black lifts my heels to help straighten my hips.

The first problem seems to have been an easy correction: my left leg is longer than my right so that my left hip sits significantly higher.  Doc placed a heel lift in the bottom of my shoe, between the sole and the insole, to raise my right side.  Now my hips are straight, and it makes a noticeable difference in my running as I don’t feel that I am swinging my hips as much.

The sore forefoot is more of a challenge.  As it turns out, I have developed mild arthritis in my feet so that is part of the problem.  Since there is no cure, I need to find a way to work with what I have so that I can still run.  My feet are also concave, not convex like most, as the three middle metatarsals have dropped.  The good news is my bones are strong.  Other good news is Doc doesn’t feel that I need orthotics because of the way I land when I run – on my forefoot/midfoot.

Week One’s trial was a complete bust.  We added some poron to bottom of my insole to try to raise my metatarsals and create some cushioning.  My first run (4 miles) went well but my second (8 miles with some speedwork) was a disaster; that night I had such a burning sensation through my feet that I was sidelined and icing them in a bucket of ice water for the next two days.  When I started running again, I swapped the insoles for an older pair.

Week Two was better.  Doc removed and built more support under the footpad.  Every run, from an easy 4 mile run to 9 miles with intervals  went as planned, but I couldn’t finish my long run on Sunday; at 6 miles, I was fighting tears and ready to hang up my shoes.  I felt broken.

Later that night, I found myself playing teacher.  At school, I have to look at the strengths in kids and build on them.  Now it was time to do that with me.  Even though I have been having some issues, I still ran 28 and 35 mile weeks during these trial periods and my pacing is good.  My speedwork is getting better and my leg span seems to be increasing.  But on a long run, my feet hurt.

I’m now at the start of Week Three and am only one run in.  Today, things were fine.  Despite a bit of doubt that kicked in halfway through, I finished my run painfree again.  Optimism.

One day at a time, one foot in front of another, I am not giving up and will continue chasing my dreams.

“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”