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Listening with the Feet

10/10/2010

So. It has been an entire week since I have run, and an interesting if challenging week at that. Since I ran the Freedom’s Run marathon last Saturday (a fabulously challenging, hilly course), since just prior to that I had been seeing red flags that I might be over training, and since I have had a lingering pain in my left arch I did not want to become an injury, I decided to go with my instincts and listen in to know what to do. Day by day I have assessed, and oddly, each day, a run was not in the plans. My head–even my legs said “Hell, yes, let’s run!!!” But my feet said “Unt-uh–not yet.” And, well, it seems my feet have become the boss of me, and they do have the final say.

So, instead, I cross trained–biked quite a few miles, did a lot of walking–including some hilly speed walking which is getting much stronger and faster–and now my aches and pains have subsided almost completely. The main thing  I notice: my feet are feeling stronger and more flexible than they have in months. The state of my feet was one aspect of over training to which I had not been paying much attention. Excessive pounding can certainly damage nerves in the feet, and desensitize them over time. (In addition to pounding them into the ground regularly, I also choose to stand at my desk at work, which probably isn’t the best thing for them either. Though that said, at the end of a day of standing they really do not complain.)

Some details on my feet, if you will: despite the beating I give them, they seem to have become more sensitive–in a good way. They talk to me a lot: tell me more about what is going on with them and with the rest of my body. I have a tendency to carry a lot of tension in my feet, and sometimes have to consciously relax them.  I have become more picky about my shoes, and like a child, want to forgo them whenever possible. Even socks are almost unbearably confining at times. And, yes, my feet hurt sometimes. I think there would be something wrong if they didn’t, with all of the running  and walking I do. And sometimes I wear stupid shoes (the name I give for shoes that were designed with something other than the comfort of your foot in mind) which doesn’t help. I do injure them on occasion.  I ask a lot of them, but for the most part, I try hard to take care of them, and when I do, they behave well.  They heal fast–many times over night.  I have come to recognize well that strange healing sensation when after a serious many-houred pounding of pavement, they swell and get warm at night, when the insides–especially the fascii get a weird “itchy” dull ache, not unlike a healing scrape. In the morning, they are a little stiff,  but usually after a good stretch, feeling good and strong, and right as rain.

I have watched running change them. They have grown stronger. They used to be rather slender and delicate.  Honestly I had always thought they looked like someone else’s  feet. I’m built like a Shetland pony–dainty feet are just funny on me. But over time they have grown more sturdy. Though still slender, they are a bit thicker from arch to top, and the little hammer toes I had are gone; in fact, the stretching of the tendons in the backs of my legs and feet has straightened my toes enough to go up a half shoe size–something I have read is not uncommon when one takes up running. I have a lot more control over the muscles governing the individual toes now, and now my toenails have finally stopped falling off from bad running shoes. Even blisters when the happen, heal really fast and don’t cause me grief.

Listening intently to my new, highly conscious feet, I decided to nurse this arch pain. And I looked for the cause of the problem. Maybe standing a lot is taking its toll, though by itself, it doesn’t seem to be cause for concern. I find there are so many benefits to standing vs. sitting, that I want to be able to continue. So I will be more careful of the shoes I stand in and see if this helps. I took a closer look at my shoes. I like to think my feet are strong enough to run in just about anything, (and I really wish I were brave enough to forgo shoes altogether), but I know, at least for mountain trails, I do need new running shoes.  I’ve put a lot of mileage on those poor Newtons, and there really is no tread left on them. Luckily, new ones are on the way.  So maybe this is the long and short of my achy arch, and after I break in the new ones, my foot problems will be history, and I’ll be ready to boldly tackle the mountains.

I have found that much of my outlook and confidence is really rooted in my feet. When they feel good, I feel ready to tackle anything. They have become a good gauge as to where I stand in my training and my readiness.  So I do have cause to baby them a little, and despite the week off from running, now that they are feeling better, so am I.

But even aside from the feet issues, I have been feeling stronger and more confident. Putting to practice some of the knowledge I have gleaned after the summer injury on listening more carefully and more intently to what my body is telling me has yielded more than just injury prevention.  I have been better able to assess my energy levels and know my paces better.  I have run the last two training races sans watch, and the pace challenging Freedom’s Run as a training run could not have been more perfect. It was on varied terrain: dirt and pavement, hilly and flat, shade and sun–all of those elements which vary the pace. Without Garmin or watch, I took it easy as planned. I aimed at 10 minutes slower than my marathon PR, and without watching the time or the miles, I came within three minutes of my ETA. Not bad, especially considering I walked a few hills and took a couple of pit stops I hadn’t initially bargained for.  So now I am feeling more confident in my ability to gauge my paces–a definite necessity for the races ahead.  More than anything, though, I know I will need to be able to assess my energy levels–esp. glycogen stores, hydration,  and mental as well as physical state in order to complete these  upcoming courses safely and efficiently. And with just a few weeks to go, I have my work cut out for me.

Now I am ready to ease back into it, fear fighting and readying for the next bout. But despite the strength of Saturday’s race, right after, I was worried. Contrasted  with where I was last year at about this time, it didn’t seem so strong. Last October, I had been running some pretty heavy mileage comfortably–even tackling the Marine Corps marathon as a training marathon  without a taper–running 26 miles the Sunday before (okay, I didn’t know I was going to run it until the Friday before when I bought someone’s bib. I sort of did it last minute on a whim.). But it turned out to be a strong run, and fun, and so close to home, I only had to walk a few miles afterward. I had run it in trail flats, and these were great in utilizing more of my calf muscles. There’s no cushion in these, and my feet and calves did feel somewhat sore after all of that pounding of pavement.  Also, there’s no give in the toes which cost me a big toenail.  A lot of the soreness–except for my toes–went away with the walk home, and I really enjoyed not worrying about my time.  This year, my training marathon was 5 minutes slower. When I compared more closely though, I considered that this year’s course was much more hilly, and I really did try harder to take it easy. I came out of it a bit stiff for the first half hour, but afterward no soreness other than the arch. No soreness. Though for the most part I was taking it easy, I really flew down some of those hills, (gawd, that’s so fun I can’t resist it) and thought surely my quads would pay. Nope nothin’. When I listened in, I heard crickets.  My legs were silent–maybe a whisper of “What? This is all you got? We can take it! No prob!”  But well, my cranky foot was shouting to take it easy. Over training may have cost me a week of no running, and as a result, a few days  of anxiousness.

I run for many reasons, mainly to keep psychologically and physically healthy, but also as training for races that keep me motivated, confident and help me grow.  Sometimes these goals conflict. To stay mentally healthy, I run what would be considered a lot of junk miles that are not good for training, and sometimes in training, too hard on too much mileage to overcompensate, and I end up knocking out that daily mileage that serves to keep me psychologically fit. Such was the case with this week. Down time is very hard for me to navigate. Despite cross training, and a good attitude toward it, sometimes it still feels like the end of the world.

Curiously, I have come across in two different publications this weekend, tricks for finding a training sweet spot, and strategies for “listening in” more while you run. I know there has to be a sweet spot for these varied goals of mine, and that it probably will be found if I practice more of that “listening in” I have been trying out. Maybe I have simply to think more with my feet.

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