My Achilles tendons were a bit sore yesterday after my run the day before, but have thankfully returned to normal today.
As well as Achilles tendons, the main soreness I’ve experienced since taking up barefoot running has been in my foot arches. This takes me back to 2012, when I first started running seriously. It was then that my arches first began to ache, so I went to the local sports shop in search of running shoes that would solve the problem.
The shop assistant asked to see my feet while standing and immediately diagnosed me as an over-pronator. These feet required stability shoes. I had never heard of pronation before, let along over-pronation, so it all sounded very impressive. Clearly, my feet just needed the right shoes and then everything would be all right.
The arch pain went away. I ran happily for a few months until my toes started to hit the ends of the shoes. The shoes themselves had barely any wear. I couldn’t believe that in my thirties I could have grown out of a pair of shoes. I went to another running shop. The owner explained that my feet hadn’t grown, it was just that the arches had dropped. That didn’t sound good, I thought. I knew that my feet were on the flat side to start with, so why were they getting flatter?
I bought another pair of stability shoes, half a size bigger than the last ones, and didn’t think much more about it. Soon it was winter and I found I was doing most of my running off-road, in trail shoes. Now, trail shoes troubled me because unlike road shoes there were not different models for different types of feet. Feeling my arches getting sore again, I went to a running shop to see if there was a fix. They explained that off-road running didn’t generally require stability shoes as the ground was softer, but I could buy these expensive insoles anyway. Puzzled, I bought the insoles and found that because of their thickness they caused my ankles to buckle over on uneven ground. I stopped using them after that.
Then I read the fabulous Born To Run. As well as containing a fantastic account of the native running people of Mexico (who are excellent runners but extremely reclusive), it includes sections that are highly critical of the modern, highly cushioned running shoe. The humble trainer, it seems, is the root of all evil. I tried to be sceptical, but certain elements resonated with me. In particular, the suggestion that trainers and insoles that support the arch actually help weaken it. It made sense. Just like putting a cast on a broken arm, the muscles underneath deteriorate through lack of use. I was doing just the same by wearing stability shoes – my arches (that may not have been great to start with) were withering away. As they say, use it or lose it!
So, I thought, maybe that pain in my arches was not a bad thing after all. Maybe it was a sign that the important muscles in my feet were being worked and were hopefully getting stronger. And that’s why I’m not too worried today that I have a bit of arch pain for a day or so after a barefoot run. I am working new muscles, ones that expensive running shoes try to suppress. I’m now beginning to appreciate what an incredible design the feet are, and how sad it is that most of the time they are hidden, something that we are embarrassed about because they smell or look funny, and something that running shoe manufacturers have tried to convince us are inherently faulty.