05 July 2012

Do feet change with minimal shoe transition?

How have my feet changed with minimal shoes?

I really had not thought about the answer to this question until I saw someone write about their shrinking foot in the VFFs, having to go down a size.

I have not noticed a size change with my foot, nor have I noticed an arch change.  I suspect this is because I regularly go barefoot in the summer, and I was a dancer as a kid.  Dancing has left a very long lasting impression on my body, and I suspect part of my foot health can be contributed to this early experience (no, I was not in the original ballet toe shoes for very long).

However, I have noticed three major changes following 3/4 of a year in minimal shoes with regular (3 to 6x per week workouts): 1) more resistant to cold, 2) less spider veins, and 3) more sensitive to pressure.

My feet were always cold.  Even if going barefoot in summer, I'd be wearing a pair of socks.

However, in the last six months, this has been much less of a problem.  I only recently noticed, because I wasn't wearing out socks nearly as quickly, that I could stand on my tile floor for much longer without my feet turning into ice cubes.  This is a nice change.

If I try to slip into bed with icy feet and cold everything else, it will take me hours to fall asleep.  My core temperature must fall to a fairly low point.

Now, everything else may be cold, but my feet are not icy ... it does not take me nearly so long to fall asleep.  I could probably change this with a couple glasses of hot water or tea!

My feet, my brother's feet, and my dad's feet - along the inner (medial vs. lateral) side - are covered in spider veins.  Definitely a family trait.  Those red and blue veins do not hurt, but they are rather unattractive.  Whenever my brother and I would joke about being adopted, we'd just look at dad's feet and go, "Nope, we're in the right family."

So imagine my surprise when I took a look at my feet after several months of minimal shoes and exercise, and lo and behold, I have many fewer spider veins than I used to have.  Granted they have not all disappeared, and I'm sure quite a bit of it is the exercise too, but wow, what a change.  I wish I had taken before pictures ...

I have a large-ish shoe wardrobe, and while I don't have any ridiculous heels (nothing much over 2.5 inches in height), I do have some shoes that make pressure spots on my feet.  Before I went to minimal shoes, the pressure spots were fairly easy to handle, even if I was teaching all day long.

Fast forward several months, and those easy to handle pressure spots are not so easy to handle anymore.  In other words, my feet have become more sensitized.  I have several pairs of shoes that may end up in the donation bin due to this problem.

I have also lost a lot of the calluses on my feet as a result of wearing more minimal sole shoes.  The ones I have not lost are steadily shrinking.

I keep waiting for the fat pads on the bottom of my feet to thicken, but so far, I am waiting in vain ... perhaps that change will come next year (hey, I could gain a cm in height ...).

Other Minimal Shoes

My minimal trip through shoeville continued with further purchases for more "everyday" wear, and a continuing search for cross training shoes (which I've just about given up).

I bought a pair of Soft Star Shoes for winter wear.  My biggest issue with VFFs is that my ankles were getting cold.  I wanted shoes I could wear socks with.

So I ordered my Soft Star Original RunAmoc in smooth leather, size 8.5 as per a conversation with Soft Star (they were really helpful).  My only complaint about them is the width.  They are hugely wide, especially in the heel.  I've caught my shoe on stuff walking/jogging/jumping around my house, that I have never caught shoes on before (like the dogs' water bowl as I hopped around it).  And it is all due to the excessive width.  Since these are unisex, I suppose the width makes sense.  However, I have a B width forefoot, and probably a slightly narrow heel, so these are sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. 

Those "Original RunAmocs" are heading to the donation pile, because I got much better SoftStar shoes.  The above are a lovely size 9 narrow sheepskin lined Ramblers.


Oh, ah!  They fit so much better.  I no longer feel as though I am wearing too big hand me downs.

As per SoftStars measuring table, I am the small side of their normal width.  Being that I just so happened to catch their spring sale, and they had two narrow size 9s up, I bought them both.  A subsequent purchase or two on another sale netted me two more 9 narrows, and I wouldn't buy another normal width SoftStar ever again.

I am quite happy with close fitting, though not tight shoes.

I am now the happy owner of two pair of RunAmocs: black and chocolate - both narrow size 9s.


And my last (latest?) SoftStars are one single pair of Merry Janes, also size 9 narrow.

An actually cute, no foolin' pair of girly minimal shoes.  Bronze leather.  There are, however, two issue with these: lining and velcro.

Lining -  Holy blackened feet, Batman! The lining dye's my feet every wearing ... each and every single time.  Not something I can comfortably slip off and go barefoot after a couple hours use.  I look live I've got a serious fungal infection.  Yes, it does wash off, but yuck!

Velco - This is a minor quibble, and due mostly to old fashioned opinions and a high instep.  The strap is held on by a length of velcro sewed to the side.  You can see it in the bottom most picture.  And that is my problem, velcro is for kid's shoes, and my shoes should not show velcro!  If the bit sewn on the shoe was shorter, it would not be an issue as it would not be visible.  Still, very comfortable.

SoftStar is now offering several of their shoes in a narrow without charging extra, but there is still an additional charge with narrow Merry Janes.  I think it is worth it.

After all of this rigamaroll, I still didn't have anything for aerobics, since I don't actually work out in my Soft Star shoes, those are my nice shoes!

So I purchased three minimal-ish running shoes.

The Ecco Biom, Women's size 41, (another awesome discount sale), and I do not like them.  They do not feel right, nor do I like to run in them.  They have spent the majority of their wear time as walking shoes on vacation.  If they weren't such a pretty color, I'd donate them.

Additionally, they are wearing quickly, so I do not expect them to last long.  They have less than 100 miles on them, and I'm not sure they will make it to 200.

The Vivobarefoot Neo (sale), Women's 42, and I do not like these either.  I've hardly worn them ... which is a good indication that they need to visit Goodwill.  I feel like I am strongly inverting when I wear these, an extraordinarily disconcerting sensation.

Finally, the Saucony Kinvara 2.  These work very well for running, but very poorly for aerobics.  These have a lot of width stabilization built into the sole, which makes for a trippy (literally) experience when trying to perform any kind of side kicks, grapevines, or box steps ... especially when tired and coordination goes flying out the window. 

Behind my VFF KSO Treks, this is probably my second favorite running shoes.

When I read about Micah True having disappeared on a run and rescuers were looking for the triangle shaped imprints from soles of his shoes, I suspected he was weary a Kinvara.  Finding out he had a relationship with Saucony kind of confirmed the impression.  A strange result that, "Hello, I represent Saucony ... yes, the ultrarunning Micah True was wearing our shoes when he died."  It was a sad day when that legendary heart gave out, he had a remarkable story to tell!

So to conclude this long journey, SmartWool Toe socks turned my 0 to 30 minute exercise only VFF KSO Treks into 80 minute plus cross train and running shoes and winter shoes.  Thank goodness for woolen socks.  :)

Why is "Yoga" bad for "Runners"?

I remember reading a short conversation in "Born to Run" (BTR) regarding yoga and running.  I believe a coach or trainer comments that yoga is bad for runners.  And that is as far as they got.

I was insulted, truly.  I enjoy yoga on occasion.  It is amazing how flexible it can make you with regular practice, and I could not figure out why anyone would say yoga and running do not mix. 

Not until reading "Runner's Body" (RB). 


Let me clarify the bomb dropped in BTR ... yoga, and especially extreme yoga, may not be the best for a long distance runner trying to increase speed and/or distance.  It is the breakdown of energy use that RB pinpoints, and how joint health and mobility impacts running.

To start out, let me give you a little anatomy lesson: there are three stabilizing factors involved with all moveable joints: the shape of the bone tips that move together and create the joint (think elbow, knee, hip, etc), the ligaments that wrap around the joint (think about a twisted ankle and the swelling involved), and the muscles that reinforce and surround that same joint (think about how much stronger you get doing planks, almost pure muscle work).

The articulating surfaces of the shoulder joint are the head of the humerus and the glenoid cavity of the scapula.

 The articulating surfaces of the knee joint are primarily the distal head, or condyles, of the femur and the proximal head, or condyles, of the tibia.

It may be a bit easier to picture in this flexed knee picture, where the condyles of the femur (covered in protective cartilage) are very easy to see.

The articulating surfaces of the hip joint are made up of the deep socket of the pelvis, the acetabulum, and the ball of the femur that fits rather neatly (usually) into the acetabulum.

For the most part, we cannot do much about the bone tip shape (it is genetically programmed) and generally holds us in good stead unless disease, such as arthritis, causes the shape to change.  Some of our joints have a shape that lock it out at certain extension angles (fingers, elbow), while other joints allow a remarkable range of motion (shoulders, hips).

Ligaments attach bone to bone, and stabilize joints.  The shoulder joint is fairly shallow as far as the bone structure is concerned, and therefore the ligaments have a very important job in stabilizing the shoulder joint.  If you ever pop the shoulder out of joint, you stretch the ligaments, which cannot return to their original, pre-stretched state.  It is that much easier to pop the joint out of place next time.

The knee joint is heavily surrounded by ligaments that do their best to stabilize this strange joint (our patella is such an interesting evolutionary adaptation IMO).  There are, in fact, three bones involved in ligamental attachment: femur, tibia, and fibula.  

This hip joint is also a "ball and socket" like the shoulder.  However, it is much more stable due to the depth of the acetabulum (much deeper than the glenoid cavity).  So the ligaments do not have to work quite as hard to keep the joint stable in the hip as they do in the shoulder. 

Much like the articulating surfaces, we cannot do much to "strengthen" our ligaments, but we can stretch them out.  With age and injury, we replace damaged tissue with scar tissue, which is remarkably strong, but with little stretch.  So we need to be careful of our ligaments, stressing them enough, but not too much. 

Our musculature is kind of like the layers of an onion.  The smaller muscles are in towards the center (usually) while the larger muscles wrap around the entire structure on the outside.  The three above photos show the superficial human musculature, and generally the biggest and strongest muscles.

These two pictures are some of the deeper muscles that stabilize the shoulder, they are much smaller than the superficial muscles.  It is the smaller muscles that are easy to damage, and damage badly, because we have other muscles that can compensate.

Finally we come to the root of the problem, musculature of the joint.  We can strengthen muscles quite easily.  Though again, like the ligaments, we want to push just hard enough, but not too hard.  We can also stretch muscles.  And this is what yoga does, it takes someone who has a set amount of flexibility and increases that flexibility, often by stretching the muscle (and to some extent the tendon that attaches that muscle to the bone).

This is the rub.  How many flexible runner's do you know?  Many runner's I've seen are, in fact, extremely inflexible.  Their joints have a very limited range of movement.  Have those runner's take a couple yoga classes, and their joints gain greater flexibility.

However, this very flexibility slows a runner down, and it all has to do with energy expenditure.  Once the joint gains greater flexibility, the muscles have to work harder to keep the joint within a certain range of motion in running.  By the muscles performing extra work in joint stabilization, there is less energy available for distance and speed. 

Is it going to have an impact on most runners?  I doubt it will be noticeable.

Is this going to up your injury likelihood?  No, I do not think so.  (However ... you can injure yourself in yoga by pushing your joints too far just like you can injure yourself in running by pushing yourself beyond your limits.)

Regular yoga for a runner does mean you will not be able to go as far as fast. 

Think of it as multitasking ... before yoga, the runner's joint could only do one thing, run.  After yoga, the joint is more flexible, and can handle a greater number of tasks.  But, it may not be able to do any one task exceptionally well.

I see runner's having several yoga options with this insight: 1) stop asking your joints to multitask, i.e. give up yoga, 2) stop worrying about the loss of a couple seconds in a run, i.e. enjoy all aspects of yoga, or 3) stop asking your main running joints to multitask, i.e. do not deeply stretch the hips and knees.

If you want to be a well rounded athlete, I think options 2 or 3 are the best.  If you are experiencing massive time loss after all those hip opening exercises, don't push your hip joints so much, let them stay a little stiffer.  Work on upper body strength exercises, instead. 

If you are trying to shave time off your PR in marathon, or "in the running" (ha, ha) for an Olympic medal, perhaps you would do better with option 1.