Finishing the 2011 Lobsterman Triathlon Barefoot

Staying on the white to keep cool.

This was my third year competing in the Lobsterman Triathlon but my first time running the 10k completely barefoot. Even six months ago I wondered if my foot pads would be able to weather that much asphalt but I figured I had plenty of time to toughen up. I was worried when early summer came and I was still maxing out at three miles before I had to put on my trusty Sockwas. Then, seemingly overnight, in mid-July, my once tender pads turned a corner – I was able to run 8+ miles on pavement blister and pain free. I was even comfortably kicking along at a 9 min/mile pace, which is a minor miracle for me.

Two weeks to go to my first 10k barefoot road race . . .

Two weeks before the race I was half-way through a “brick” workout (a 20 mile bike ride followed by a 3 mile run) when my inner calf muscle cramped-up in searing pain. I turned home slowly, running and then walking backwards and sideways, tail between my legs, trying not to cry.

Anusara Yoga to the Rescue

Fortunately as an Anusara yoga teacher I have a good understanding of how sports injuries occur and lots of healing techniques to fall back on. That first night lying in bed with my leg throbbing I realized that my overly fatigued soleus (calf) muscle had likely pulled away from the tibia and was thus inflamed, if not slightly torn. A tired muscle tends to fall away from the bone and this relaxing actually makes it more prone to injury. Tight and dehydrated muscles tire more easily, and muscles that are working over-time to compensate for other tight or tired muscles are also more vulnerable.

The Miracle of Muscular Energy

In Anusara yoga we spend a lot of time learning how to engage our muscles by hugging them closer to the bone (“muscular energy”). We are in effect providing our own compression wrap while we safely stretch and strengthen our muscles. However, if engaging the muscle is not possible (because the muscle is weak and injured) external compression also works wonderfully.

Remember RICE – Rest, Ice, COMPRESSION and Elevation

So I limped to the bathroom, found an old ace bandage and did what I consider the most important of the First Aid acronym: Compression. I wrapped my calf tightly, hugging muscle to bone all the way from ankle to knee. AHH, much better. That night, before gingerly climbing the stairs to bed, I rolled out my feet, hamstring and quadriceps muscles with “The Stick“. Then I took every herbal anti-inflammatory I could come up with: turmeric, boswellia, Traumeel, arnica . . . and drank a quart of water.

The pain was still pretty bad two days later. There is a tricky time after this kind of  injury when the muscle is still too weak to safely stretch, but too tight to allow for the proper alignment and circulation that let real healing to begin. So while rest is especially important immediately following an injury, weight-bearing exercise done with excellent alignment and muscular energy is the key to recovery. By the third day I was able to firmly engage my leg muscles to the bone while I stretched my hip flexors and hamstrings. I stuck to standing, weight-bearing poses and only stretched my muscles as long as I could keep the the muscles enganged. Finally, for good measure, I broke out the foam roller and worked my IT band. Ouch!

Back on the Road

A week after the injury (and one week to go before the race) I went for a casual walk-run to test things out. I covered 6 miles in 85 mins. I was both humbled and thrilled –  there was a good chance  that I could finish the race without being hauled off on a stretcher!

Barefoot at the 2011 Lobsterman Triathlon

Finally, race weekend. While packing I realized I hadn’t used my Sockwas all summer. Where were they??  I was worried the pavement might be blacker and the sun hotter in Freeport then it is Downeast! I finally dug up my husband’s barely used pair, stuffed them in my gear bag (and forgot all about them.)

After a rough one-mile swim (my goggles got kicked off by another swimmer!) and a casual 25-mile bike ride (I LOVE my new aero bars), I ran the 10k, slowly and pain-free. I ran as if there was nowhere to go, nowhere to be. Just a gorgeous late-summer day running in Maine. My feet got a little hot on one sunny stretch but I found staying on the white line was perfectly soothing and meditative.The more casual I was about my running, the more comfortable my calves were. Perfect. 60(!!!) other friendly runners passed me and everyone had something kind (or incredulous) to say. It was the slowest and most enjoyable race I’ve ever run.

Success! From Nike Frees to barefeet in one year

A year earlier I had set the goal of being exactly where I was right now, running the Lobsterman barefoot. And here I was supremely satisfied to be meeting that goal, one fore-foot landing at a time.

Coming down the finishing stretch.

P.S. For anatomy nerds out there – the cause of the injury: I realized that in my previous attempts to pick up my speed I had been tensing the top of my foot and lifting my big toe before each strike. This tightening of the anterior tibialis, (which is one of the antagonistic muscle to the soleus), was very  likely the source of my injury. In order to avoid a repeat injury I am keeping my feet a bit more floppy as I strike, and  even curling my toes as if to grip the earth as my foot moves under me. I’ll let you know how it goes.




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