barefoot running for bad genetics?

I come from a long line of bad feet.  Don’t get me wrong, my feet aren’t terrible to look at (please ignore my overgrown toenails), but structurally, they suck.  I blame genetics – my grandma had foot surgery in her 50s, my mom had foot surgery a few years ago, and my aunt had foot surgery several years ago.  And, yes, that is all one side of the family.

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Again, I blame genetics.  Well, mostly genetics.  Of course, none of my own foot issues started happening until I started seriously running 8 years ago.  In the past 8 years, I have suffered from:

  • Hammer toes – that one is ALL genetics
  • Stress fracture in the medial sesamoid bone in my right foot – overuse
  • Tendonitis in same tendon of stress fracture – overuse
  • Morton’s neuromas, 3 of them, all while training for my first marathon – poorly fitting shoes
  • Black toenails – also do to poorly fitting shoes
  • Plantar fasciitis – really high arches along with hammer toes (genetics)

OK, so I can’t completely blame genetics, but I do have horrible foot structure, making me particularly prone to foot injuries.

So, after reading how Christopher McDougall practically cured his knee problems when he started running correctly and dappling in the barefoot running “movement” in the book Born to Run, I was intrigued about barefoot running and what it could do for my chronic foot injuries.

And the I received these babies for Christmas.

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Oh, how I love you, my beautiful bright pink Vibram Five Fingers.  So, on the first of the year (or January 4, to be more precise), I started adding in some barefoot running (in my VFFs) to my current training.  Normally as part of a cool down.

I started off really slow, only running a quarter mile every other day for 2 weeks, and then adding an extra quarter mile every 2 weeks after.  With it being so cold outside and icy, I have actually started doing these runs as a warmup on the treadmill before my weight lifting routine.  (And yes, I wear these when I do my strength training.)  I hope to be doing these runs more outside when the weather is warmer, but right now, it’s just not happening.

I am currently doing 10 minutes a 6.0-6.2 mph, which is significantly slower than my normal running speed.  I also remind myself constantly, especially since I am on a treadmill, to keep my feet underneath my hips and to land on my midfoot – NOT my heel.  OUCH.  Don’t do that… it’s painful!

I can already tell it has improved my running form.  I am no longer a heel-striker (which actually slows you down, as a heel strike causes a braking motion) and I think running on my midfoot has actually made me a bit faster.  I can’t honestly say that it has cured me of my foot injuries, but I can say that I haven’t had a bout of PF pain since I’ve started running in my Vibrams.

My overall goal with these was just to strengthen my feet.  I still have no intention of ever being a “full time” barefoot runner, but now I am starting to think more about possibly doing a 5K in my VFFs, just for the sake of experience.  I’m going to be sticking with 10 minutes on the treadmill until the weather gets warmer, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

I am by far NOT an expert on barefoot running.  Most of the stuff I know about it has come from blogs and internet searches.  Here are my 2 favorites:

And a shout out to any people who might be stopping by from Katy’s blog!  Katy + Jess have done an amazing job and I am happy to be part of their Fitbloggin’ project!  I blog about food, fitness, and frozen custard – the St. Louis summer staple.  When I’m not trying out new frozen custard stands in the summer, I am developing new frozen custard + ice cream recipes and training for anything from 5K’s to marathons.  Hope you like what you see and come back often!

  • My next pair of running shoes will be VFFs – I can’t wait to try them!

    Also, I have a friend who was recently diagnosed with Morton’s neuroma – she’s been told only cortisone shots & eventually surgery will help her. Did you have to have surgery? If not, what helped? I’d love to give my friend some encouragement. Thanks!
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    • Kristen

      I don’t think I got cortisone shots for my neuromas, but some different type of shot. I might be wrong though! It was a few years ago! I switched my shoes from just a regular width to a D width to give my feet extra room, and they also gave me a type of toe pad to help with my hammer toes, since that was part of the problem also. I don’t have nearly the same issues as I did in the past, but my mom on the other hand had to have her nerve removed with surgery and all her hammer toes fixed. So, I think it just depends on the person. I would ask for the shot and put off surgery if she can! Hope that helps!

  • I am reading about barefoot running everywhere and I would love to try it and see for myself. I am going to have to get a pair of these shoes and hit the road!
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    • Kristen

      It’s so totally addicting! Well, the shoes are anyway! You don’t necessarily need to get the shoes to try running barefoot – most people suggest running literally in bare feet to toughen them up. I ran in just socks for awhile before I got my shoes. But, I think the shoes are a good investment. They cost about the same as running shoes but will probably last a bit longer since you probably won’t wear them as much as running shoes.

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