Back in February I woke up with a sore knee. I had run in a 4km handicap race the day before but did not feel any pain during the run and nor did I pull up sore.
I hoped that it was just something very minor and that I’d be able to resume training after a day or two off. It didn’t go away and I could not run without debilitating pain so I was off to the physio. He suspected a torn meniscus and this was later confirmed by a specialist. My options were made clear: no surgery, but pretty much give up running, or have arthroscopy and hope that knee comes good. I was keen for surgery as I’d read here and elsewhere that there is a good success rate for returning to running after meniscal repair. Unfortunately, I soon found out that my health insurance would not cover me and I was staring at a minimum of 10 months waiting for surgery.
Because I couldn’t run, I spent more time reading running forums like this one and trying to vicariously experience everyone’s running stories. I became particularly fascinated with the ‘Transitioning to Barefoot’ thread and read every post on it.
I was really envious of some of the people doing it but still had the feeling in the back of my mind, that good bio-mechanics were playing a part in the success of some of the transitions.
When I started running, I couldn’t run more than 15 minutes without being unable to walk the next day. I had painful knees and back and it seemed that I wasn’t built for running, even though I enjoyed doing it (not the next day’s pain). Eventually, I saw a podiatrist and got orthotics prescribed with the appropriate stability shoes. This allowed me to run pain free and pretty much injury free for the next 6 years. I completed a marathon and several fun runs. I accepted that I needed some mechanical intervention to allow me to run without pain. So although I liked the idea of running barefoot/minimalist, I thought that it would be impossible for me.
A couple of months ago I downloaded the Merrell Barefoot app and decided to just follow the exercises in there as I figured that even though I wouldn’t be able to run, it wouldn’t hurt to do some foot and lower leg strengthening for when I could run again.
In the meantime, my stubbornness and impatience got the better of me on occasion and I would lace up the Adrenalines and try a tentative run, trying to convince myself that that little niggle in my knee was much better with all the rest. Within seconds the pain would be worse than it has ever been.
So I persisted with all the barefoot exercises and pretty much abandoned all shoes when not necessary and started to feel stronger in the feet.
I decided that I didn’t have much to lose and tried to do some of the short runs in the program, and to my complete surprise, I could run. Not far, but pain free. I persisted and it was definitely a slow process, sometimes I had to wait a week between runs for my calves to settle down. They got stronger and my runs have increased slowly.
The point of this whole post is because yesterday I had a watershed moment in my transition. I ran just over 3km (yes, only 3km, but this is the furthest I’ve gone since the injury). It wasn’t the distance that thrilled me, it was how effortless it felt, it was how painless it felt.
Today I have sore calves, but that nice sore you have after a run. I know I’ll be right in a day or two to do that again and providing everything continues to progress, I can’t see my self in anything but minimalist/barefoot again.
I will never say that this is the way everyone should go. I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t been hurt, just the timing I guess. I will say this though, we should all keep an open mind to this. I’ve had podiatrist and physios actually tell me that I should minimise any barefoot activity because my feet were so flat and over pronating. After a couple of months, my feet actually look different and I have arches.
Anyway I hope this might inspire people to be patient with the transition and hopefully you’ll be rewarded.