Thursday, November 5, 2009

Barefoot Running: Going off the Rail

A couple of hours after my last VFF (Vibram Five Fingers) run on Wednesday September 16th I noticed an ache in several of my toes (joint at base of toe). It wasn’t anything bad, but definitely uncomfortable. This pain faded to barely noticeable and was gone by Friday. I wrote it off as too much strain on the toes going uphill. My run had finished with a ¾ mile uphill section and I thought the pain was most likely due to the stress placed on the shoes while making the climb.
So on the morning of Monday September 21st I decided to give my VFF’s another try but this time at a slightly shorter distance. I was going to try an easy 3.4 miles on the pavement. I’d have a ¾ mile downhill to start and have to climb it again at the end just like in my last run. The run was pretty much uneventful until near the end when I was headed back up the hill. I started feeling the same soreness in my toes that I felt after the last run, but this time I was feeling it while still running. It started shortly after I started the uphill climb and got steadily worse. This, at least in my mind, confirmed my thoughts from my previous run that it was due to the stress of going up the hill. Not a good thing, but something I felt was easily fixed.
The toes continued to get steadily worse as the day progressed. Nothing unbearable but they were aching pretty bad by the end of the day. I finally gave in and iced them that night, which helped somewhat, but didn’t completely ease the soreness.
The next day they were still pretty sore but I was able to go for a run in my normal running shoes, which I was running in daily between my VFF runs. I did the same route and had no problems whatsoever. The toes ached a bit on the uphill again, but were no worse after the run. They actually felt slightly better than they had before the run.
The week continued on and my toes felt steadily better. I did a 3.2 mile run on Wednesday and a 6 mile run on Thursday in my regular running shoes. I had no further problems and was feeling great. I was itching to try and run again in my VFF’s. I knew I had to find an adjustment or build strength in my feet so that the uphills no longer bothered me, but I had to get back out there and give it another go.
So on Friday, September 25th, I set out on another run in my VFF’s. Confident that my problem lay solely in the uphills, I decided to go for a longer run. I was going to have the same downhill start and uphill finish as the last two runs, but I was going to have a longer stretch of flat in between.
The run started off great. The first 1.5 miles felt great and I was having absolutely no problems. Unfortunately, that’s when things went bad. I stepped on something with my right foot, directly below the toe that had been the sorest. I’m not sure if it was a rock, an acorn or something else, but I felt a searing pain shoot through my foot like I’d been stabbed with a red hot nail. I hobbled a few more yards before stopping to walk. The base of my third toe felt like it was red hot and burning bright. I walked a short ways hoping for the pain to subside, which it didn’t. I started running again anyway and made it about another 100 yards before stopping to walk again. I was positive that something had pierced the shoe and my foot so I sat down to take a look.
I took my VFF off and examined the base of the toe. The skin was fine, not cut, discoloration, inflammation, bruising or any other problem. I took a look at the bottom of my VFF and found no damage there. I put it back on, got up and started walking again. The pain was no better, but it was also no worse so I decided to try and finish my run. It still hurt like crazy but it was getting no worse so I continued on.
After about a mile the pain, though still pretty bad, had lessened somewhat and my pace had picked up. At this point I reached my planned turn around point and I headed for home. Almost immediately I started feeling some soreness in my other foot. It wasn’t bad and I figured that it was from over compensating for the injured foot. I kept running and slowly picking the pace back up to where I had been before I injured my foot. I wasn’t running pretty, but I was running at a steady pace. The climb back up the hill was torture, but it was short lived and the run was soon over.
After the run I iced both feet. They felt slightly better afterwards and I was able to walk with out a limp. Unfortunately, I had a very long day of work left, mostly on my feet, and 11 hours later, when I was finally done for the day, I could barely walk. I got home and both feet were very swollen and painful. It didn’t take a genius moment on my part to realize that I’d made a huge mistake by finishing my run. I was pretty confident that I hadn’t damaged the bones, but I really hurt myself. My attempt to bullheaded charge into being a barefoot/VFF runner been derailed. I’m still convinced that forefoot running is the correct way, but I needed to take time out, heal and find out what all I was doing wrong.

Helpful links to cause and fix for some barefoot/VFF running foot pain (courtesy of @oblinken):


  1. That's really a drag. If you've not seen it before, take a look at Ken Saxton's site. Although he runs entirely barefoot, all the advice will apply to running in Vibrams.

    Number one rule: if it hurts, you're doing something wrong, stop and figure it out. Hopefully this is minor and you'll be back at it in no time.

    I've been running in Vibrams on and off for two years, full time since reading Born to Run in June. I'm running more than ever, faster than ever, and having more fun at it than ever. It's well worth the effort at retraining your body.

  2. I'm glad you posted something. The same thing has been happening to me. Not so much the stepping on a rock thing but the toe soreness. I initially blamed it on running too much in my VFFs. I didn't break in as slow as I probably should have. It took a good 3-4 weeks of icing and reducing my miles before the pain went away. I thought I had it licked, had a good month of slowly building my miles up without problems, until 3 days ago it started again. It's very mild and I iced my feet and today they seem to be fine. Very frustrating though. The biggest tip I learned to prevent this seems to be making sure your posture is perfect. If you lean forward at all or look down at your feet this will happen. You need to have your back straight, chest out, head up and looking forward. Someone on one of the barefoot running sites said when you lean forward you're putting more pressure on your toes to hold you up. I think the posture is the key and I was probably getting lazy the other day to cause this injury again. Hopefully I'll get a few miles in today and see how things go. Good luck and hang in there!

  3. Tuck, thanks for the link, will check it out. Post is new, but storyline is old. trying to catch it up. that injury healed, and i've cycled through several more.
    "My Blog (lame)" I attached a couple links if you check back that at the end of my post that you may find helpful.

  4. "My attempt to bullheaded charge into being a barefoot/VFF runner been derailed. I’m still convinced that forefoot running is the correct way, but I needed to take time out, heal and find out what all I was doing wrong."

    I think issued those exact words. 4 weeks ago, I suffered a stress fracture on my right foot. This came after ramping up my VFF runs to 20 miles per week. I was really enjoying myself when all-of-a-sudden this happened. Within 10 minutes on the trail, I could no longer continue. (even tho I tried). I don't know if it was the recent miles on concrete because of all the rain we had or if I stepped on a root. Tomorrow will be 4 weeks to the day that I have ran even one step. It is just now getting to the point that I'm ready to try. But so very scared of a relapse. All I've done since then is plan my recovery and runs and races for the next year. The race I was training for is next week-end. It was to be a 30K trail race and I thought I was ready to rock it for a top 10 finish. For recovery, patience is the key. I keep telling myself that. I need patience and I need it RIGHT NOW!


  5. i have only been running in vff's for about 6 months now, and very sparingly...afraid of injuring myself before i finish my 12 marathons in 12 months challenge in december. i have had one training session where i got strange pain in the ball of my right foot, at the base of my middle toe. took a week or so off from the vff's and it went away...and has not come back. since then i have done a 10 miler in them...thanks for the post and the links. will keep your situation in mind as we continue to press on in the vff's. all the best!