Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Picky feet

I have been told that I have an obsession with running shoes. I'm not into running shoes for making a fashion statement; I have problem feet. Specifically, my feet pronate quite a bit and over the past 15 years they have developed bunions. Large enough that my feet do not fit in most medium width shoes. This has become a very limiting factor, as I cannot wear certain brands that focus on narrow feet.

After having various small issues (peroneal tendinitis) resulting from wearing stability shoes, a physical therapist suggested that I go more minimal and reduce the shoe drop. My feet pronate, but my arches are not flat. The transition was gradual. I was running in Brooks Adrenaline (too much stability) and changed to Brooks Cascadias (10 mm drop, too high). I ran a road marathon in the Cascadias without difficulty, not caring that they were trail shoes. I transitioned to Brooks Launch, then a New Balance trail shoe with an 7-8 mm drop that made a hilariously annoying squeaking noise from an exterior plastic rock plate, and these shoes demonstrated the durability of a raspberry in a panini press. The next shoe in the transition was a Pearl Izumi N2 Trail. Excellent shoes, but too narrow because after 300 miles, my left foot (which is wider than the right foot) had developed a full blast Morton's Neuroma. A quick and desperate transition to the Altra Lone Peak 2.0s allowed me to keep running with the neuroma, and I added metatarsal pads to the insoles to help split apart the 3rd and 4th metatarsal heads.

One hundred miles of trail running in the Lone Peaks, and the front part of the soles was getting worn flat and several lugs had broken off. I emailed Altra with photos of the soles, mentioning that the durability of the shoes is cause for concern.

 Altra Lone Peak 2.0, with 100 trail miles

Thus, I'm going to try a pair of shoes from Topo Athletic next - the Runventures. Same wide forefoot as the Altras, but the soles look more rugged and the stack height is similar. I'd like to see how the Topos compare to the Altras with a real life test.

Transitioning to zero drop has resulted in some very sore calves, but I am optimistic that my legs and hips will eventually adjust. Running with a splayed toe/forefoot has been very comfortable. I hope other shoe manufacturers decide to capture this market.

Update: Topo Athletic sent me this useful site via Twitter to improve your stability and correct weaknesses: ACU-Running

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

How I ran a marathon on the Appalachian Trail with a Morton's Neuroma...

My foot developed a Morton's Neuroma in early April; I ignored it until it flared up in mid-May. I ran a trail marathon in late April (Scenic City Trail Marathon in Chattanooga, TN) with no issues, so I didn't think it was anything significant. Until it started hurting enough to make me walk when I went for a run. Immediately I changed running shoes from Pearl Izumi N2 Trail to Altra Lone Peak 2.0s. I went to an orthopedic doctor and had a cortisone shot, which provided a small amount of relief. And then I swallowed the bitter pill that I was going to have to cut back on running. I tried to console myself with, "Well, you can go outside and do more rock climbing in the interim!"

Two days before the trip to run 42 miles of the SCAR route on the Appalachian Trail, my neuroma had a bad flare up. I had run 4 miles the prior day, and the only thing I did was bend down to pick something up, and it felt like someone had pulled the nerve and released it like an archery bow string. My hopes of running any of the AT at all were getting crushed. I decided to continue as planned and take two 600 mg rounds of Advil the next day , and then a not-recommended dose of Advil plus Aleve (folks, don't do this at home) on the day we were to run. (I should mention: I have an ironclad stomach lining.) I decided to use metatarsal pads plus a toe spacer between the third and fourth toe in my Altras.

On Saturday morning we woke up in our tents/hammocks at 3:30 am and drove up the road to Davenport Gap. I slept in my running clothes so I could save time when the alarm went off. The guys took off with headlamps and I drove the truck back to the campground and crawled in the backseat for a two hour nap.  Stopped for coffee at McDonald's through Gatlinburg. Parked the truck at Newfound Gap and got geared up and ready for my run. It's odd starting a run not knowing how far I'll end up going. I altered my plan the night before from running Newfound Gap to Fontana Dam (42 miles) to running towards Davenport Gap, turning around back to Newfound, then if my foot felt good, run 8 miles up to Clingman's Dome.

Two glorious hours into the run, my foot felt fine. But I was worried that I had somehow missed the guys coming in the opposite direction towards me. I decided to turn around and head back. Got back to the truck, no sign of them getting water refills. Turned back on the trail again, went about one mile before they appeared. Turned around again, ran the mile back to the truck.  At this point, I had logged 18 miles and was feeling good. I had eaten two GU gels during the first four hours, but due to cutting back on mileage to heal my foot, I was well rested and didn't feel like I needed extra calories. The guys had run 32 at this point, with 40-ish to go.

After the refueling stop, we started the uphill slog to Clingmans, which took around 2.5 hours and was barely runnable. The relentless uphill stepping drained my energy reserves and I started craving salt. I took a gel, a shot of Generation UCAN, and a single use packet of Peanut Butter & Co. By the time I reached Clingman's, I had logged 26.3 miles and 7000 feet of ascent. I felt like I could have gone further, but there is no exit point between Clingman's and Fontana Dam. I ended my run there, and was glad my foot allowed me to put weight on it for 7 hours.

I don't regret making a conservative choice not to stray too far from a ride (8 miles at my longest point). The 40 mile trek, mostly after dark, would not have been a good choice for someone with a foot injury and untested shoes (the longest run I had done in the Altras before this day was 10 miles).

The Lone Peaks have allowed me to keep running with this neuroma. Without Altras and their wide toe box advantage, I would not be running at all. I'm grateful.

This was my fourth 26 mile plus run in my life, and the marathon to 50K distance has become more joyous and fun each time I've done it. Of course, the slower the pace, the less I suffer.

Post run. Closed out the night with beers and a starry night sky. Set up the tents and feel asleep as the guys doing the whole SCAR route would not return for a few more hours. They arrived around 3-4 am and reported that the route is very challenging as a whole. It took them around 22-23 hours including breaks - an impressive effort for all three of them. I'd like to log a couple of 40-50 milers before I consider attempting the entire route.

My Strava activity for this run

Altra Lone Peak 2.0
Headsweats visor
Suunto Ambit3 watch
North Face polyester t-shirt
Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest with Camelbak 80 oz bladder & 20 oz Amphipod bottles
Pearl Izumi Infinity run short
Swiftwick Vibe One socks
GoPro Hero 3 with GoPole mount
Generation UCAN plain
Peanut Butter & Co chocolate peanut butter
GU Lemon Lime energy gels