Min/Maxing my Footwear

If you’re a regular at this blarg, or if you know me, then you know that I’ve been struggling with foot pain in one form or another for… ehh… erg… about a year and a half.

It started when I tore up my foot on a nail in our back porch, continued when I recovered from that injury and promptly blew up my left heel with plantar fasciitis, and continues further still when about a year ago I did something (doctor never did tell me exactly what was going on) to irritate the heel and Achilles in my right foot. The other injuries have all healed, but I’m still battling my right heel. The pain ebbs and flows like the tides. I’ll have good weeks and bad weeks, solid months and shaky months. One day I can go run a brisk eight miles and feel no ill effects, another day I can shuffle through a low-intensity three miles and be hobbling for days afterward. It’s maddening and frustrating.

And of course, it plays havoc with my running. It’s impossible to set any long-term goals because I don’t know if I’m going to have to slow down on my training to accommodate my injury throwing a tantrum. Over the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to fit in some speed workouts again, and it’s been going fine… until Monday, when I tweaked the heel again and spent the rest of Monday and Tuesday limping.

My wife — ever incisive and ready to call me out when I’m being dumb (thanks honey) — pointed out that I started having all these issues about the time I went bananas over minimal shoes and started trying to do a lot of my runs in my Vibram FiveFingers. Shoes that I love. I’ve written about them before. For good measure, she points me to stories of marathon runners, like, just off the top, this one from the NY times; marathon runners, plagued by injuries, who have tried this new shoe and had their chronic injuries vanish like students in the bathroom when the principal walks by.

And I’m conflicted. I’m wary of the magic bullet, and I don’t want to believe that simply buying “the right pair of shoes” is going to solve my problems. By the same token, I don’t want to believe that wearing “the wrong pair of shoes” is responsible for the issues I’m having.

And that doesn’t even touch my bias. I got into running when the minimalist trend was flying high. I read Born to Run and bought into the hype. The thinking was “less cushioning, more natural mechanics”, and boy oh boy does that keep in touch with my philosophy in general. Or at least the philosophy I try to believe in. Less stuff gumming up the works. More focus on what you control. Letting the body do what it’s meant to do without gadgets or ridiculous footwear getting in the way. All that hippy-dippy treehugging kind of stuff.

Maximalist shoes, from my vantage point, seem to go against everything that I thought was neat about minimalist shoes. Minimal shoes strip out the cushioning so that you feel more of the ground beneath your foot. Maximal shoes cram more and more cushioning in there to further insulate you and make every step feel the same. Minimal shoes allow for fuller range of motion so that the leg and foot can follow the circuit nature designed for them more closely. Maximal shoes cut out the motion of the ankle instead, keeping you “locked in” to a “better form”. (I’m air-quoting those because those are my unstudied perceptions. Make no mistake, I’m not an expert, and I’m not nearly impartial.)

Also, and this cannot be stated heartily enough, maximal shoes look RIDICULOUS. Honestly, they look like elevator sneakers. Just look.

The thought of even putting those on my feet makes me feel like I’m going to topple over like a tower of tinker toys. (We won’t say anything about the goofy toe-gloves I prefer.)

Still, the demon of doubt is in there now, clanging off the inside of my skull and raising all sorts of argument. Much though I love my minimal shoes, I really don’t want to accept that this pain in my foot might just be something I have to live with for the rest of my life.

I love my minimal shoes, and I loved the thought of unburdening myself from conventional shoes. For a while, it was great. I want to believe they could be great for me again, but the possibility that my minimal shoes have done this to me is getting hard to ignore. Could there be something to this maximal movement? It’s all anecdotal evidence at this point, but could it work for me?

I have to find a way to make running work for me again. When I run well, I write well… when my running suffers, so too does my writing. Could these land-whales be the way to get it back?

I have to think about this.

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About Pavowski

I am a teacher, runner, father, and husband. I am an author-in-progress. I know just enough about a lot of things to get me into a lot of trouble. View all posts by Pavowski

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