It happened slowly. It was a little over two years ago following the completion of my first marathon.
The pain was in my foot. It eventually started to hurt a lot – even just walking around. Every step was painful. And this wasn’t my first injury. I had been sidelined many times before on my path to see who can run the fastest. Here is my success story in beautiful, vivid detail.
#1 Shoes and Shoes and Shoes.
My foot hurt all the time, no matter what I was wearing on my feet. It would hurt the most when I would wear shoes with any heel support, arch support, or shoes that would restrict my toes in anyway. At this point I am now imagining all the shoe lovers and every podiatrist minus one jumping through their computers to attack me. I am not sorry. This is my story after all.
My foot hurt the least when I would either be barefoot or wear Dr. Ray McClanahan’s Correct Toes. I knew right away that this was giving me insight and that heading further in this direction would give me a full recovery at some point –
but I wasn’t sure how and I wasn’t sure when.
I didn’t have much to go on.
This was a frustrating mystery.
After all, while these efforts certainly made my foot feel better, I knew I wasn’t quite there yet and that something was missing. I needed to find another ingredient to add to the recipe called “pain-free running” – what until now seemed to be an unattainable holy grail.
I started strength training the right way and started to begin a Jon Messner approved interval program. I began doing soft-tissue manipulation and performed core exercises every day in an attempt to fix my hips and my overall moving pattern. I did soft-tissue manipulation to my glutes, quadriceps, adductors, thoracic spine, and my subscapularis. I did bracing, bridging, clamshells and quadruped leg extensions – improving my spinal stability (Stuart McGill would be proud), hip flexion and hip extension abilities. On top of that, I soon began performing intelligent upper and lower body strength exercises like the TRX row and the single leg squat.
Eventually, I started running 5-8 repeats of 10 second sprints with full walk recovery in between. This would be the only running I would do and I would perform this workout every other day. I certainly started to feel stronger, develop more muscle, and feel overall better. However, at this point things still were a bit frustrating because while I was feeling progress, my foot was still hurting a bit and I wasn’t getting immediate relief. Fortunately, while keeping my goals intact and holding on to what I believed to be the truth, I pressed on.
Sidenote: while I was performing these sprints, I started noticing that I felt zero pain while actually sprinting, but my foot would still hurt before and after. This revelation felt like grasping at the coattails of truth.
#3 My Big Ah-ha Moment
I kept at this running routine for a couple of months. Eventually, I worked up to a point where I would workout with the JMP Race Team and we would run 200 meter sprints (roughly 30 seconds intervals) and take a full 200 meter walk recovery.
By the time we finished our 2nd interval, I realized my foot pain had disappeared. This was, for the first time, breathing in fresh air. I had felt like a brand new runner all over again who had reset his entire system. It felt like I had given myself a clean running slate.
Foot pain, or any running related pain, is never what we think it is. It is stage one thinking to believe that where we are hurting in our bodies is where the problem is coming from. The problem is usually far removed from the source of pain and/or it is more of a global issue. When something starts to hurt, we must look at the system as a whole and attempt to repair or reset it. This is the only way one can find long lasting relief from pain and a truly life changing experience.
All the sprinting and core exercises I had done for months had rewired my movement system, teaching me to run the correct way. I didn’t stretch my quads, strengthen my calves, massage my hamstrings etc. – I changed the way my body as a whole worked together – and that is the only way to do it. The final step in eliminating my pain then was to increase my interval volume and start sprinting for longer durations now that I was running with improved biomechanics. I have never looked back since. I feel amazing now when I run.
To this day, I still incorporate sprinting roughly 2x per week to maintain that running pattern, but now I have managed to add an occasional long run and another couple of days in which I run pace-work (depending on the event I am training for).
So when the gang from Core Training for Distance Runners talk about sprinting as a means to prevent and eliminate pain, THIS is what we are talking about.
Learn to sprint and you will feel the difference yourself. Then you can thank me later.