Saturday, July 18, 2015

Matters of the Foot

A few weeks ago I mentioned this article by ultra-runner/coach/PT Joe Uhan, posted by the baddass fellow runner I've been doing some strength training with lately (though...not all that lately because I am lame). Everything in the article sounded spookily familiar re: the problems I've had with my right leg over the last couple of years, and based on that & some other observations my strength trainer has made, I was willing to at least consider the possibility that root the cause was not actually in my right hip but in my left foot. (Here is the post where I explained more about why.)

Step 1 was to fix what my left foot was doing. It's been a few years since it was outright terrible, but after reading the Uhan article, it was pretty clear that I still have a problem. No, I don't run on the absolute outside edges of my feet anymore, but by default I *definitely* do not let my foot roll through all the way onto the arch & let that inner part of my foot bear most of my weight as I push off with my left leg. (And according to the article, you must do this in order to have any chance of engaging your left glutes.)

I don't even do this when I walk. And if I'm just standing, I inevitably catch myself rolling my feet outward & standing with my weight on the outer edges of my feet. I've done this for as long as I can remember, since I was a kid. I don't know if it's something about the way my ankles work or if certain tendons or ligaments or whatever on the inside are just too tight, but it is definitely NOT super comfortable for me to bear weight on my arches, particularly the left one.

I know changing form/foot strike things are super hard for a lot of people but it's something I've done consciously several times in my life and thankfully I've always found it pretty easy. So basically, as soon as I read the Uhan article, I started trying to pay super close attention every time I was on my feet--standing, walking, running, whatever--and make sure I was ALWAYS rolling all the way in so that I was pushing off with my weight born by my arch.

Pretty much immediately, the pain on my inner left foot, kind of between my ankle & arch that plagued me occasionally during my NVM training (when I was having absolutely no right leg problems whatsoever, HMMM) immediately came back. I suspected that the fact that I hadn't been using my arch correctly probably meant it was not as strong as it should be, so this wasn't really surprising.

I think we can all agree that trading one injury for another counts as #notwinning, so I took Uhan's advice & 1) started doing the recommended arch strengthening exercises (which you can find at the bottom of the article), & 2) started taping my left foot for arch support (in hopes that eventually it would be strong enough that I wouldn't need to).


Sadly, Uhan did not explain in the article exactly how he went about taping the runners' feet, but I figured I could just google "how to tape runner's foot for arch support." Sadly, this returned about 10 different methods from the fairly simple to the devilishly complex. Now I am no expert at KT tape, so I decided to give one of the simplest methods a shot first.

This first method involved simply taking two lengths of tape ~4-5 squares in length & taping them around the foot:

My version (post-trail run):

On my first try, it basically felt like nothing; I couldn't even tell the tape was there. The instructions say the tape should be at about 50% tension, but only way I could make it work at all was by pulling the tape as tight as I could. (I was worried it would be too tight & cut off circulation, but that never happened.) This proved okay for shorter, easier runs but just really did not seem to stand up to track workouts or long runs (and DEFINITELY not to 2.5 hour trail runs!). So, after a couple of week of this, I went back to the drawing board, by which I mean YouTube.

The second method I tried was this one, which you may notice is massively more complicated & requires a solid five minutes of cutting & slicing tape & painstakingly pulling & smoothing it into place.

And here's my version:

As soon as I put my shoe on & stood up, I noticed an immediate difference in how supported my foot felt. Even just walking, it was so much easier and comfortable to bear my weight on the inside of my foot instead of the outside. And with running, suddenly it was way, WAY easier to roll onto my arch and engage my left glutes without a dull pain shooting through my left heel and ankle.

For maybe three weeks I taped my foot up like this religiously, for every run, without fail. Yes, it was annoying and time-consuming and required close to an entire roll of KT tape per week, but it also freaking WORKED.

After Sunnyvale, I decided to try an easy run tape-free & see if my foot was maybe up to the challenge at this point. I was able to run 8 easy miles using my arch correctly (I think?) with no pain in my right hip & only a little in my left foot/ankle, which seemed like a big improvement. That week I think I only taped it for speed work & long runs, & just recently have been experimenting with going tape-free with those as well.

The results have been mixed. On the plus side, I can land on my left foot & use my glutes the right way with little to no pain almost all the time, even doing speed work or on long runs. The downside is that I clearly still have some kind of left foot dysfunction, or my arch just isn't quite as strong as it needs to be yet, because MAN, the mornings after a harder or longer run can be brutal. My feet (both, but much more so the left) are sometimes so sore first thing in the morning that I kind of wish I had crutches. Thankfully they warm up after about ten minutes or so & by the time the next run rolls around they seem to be fine, but wow. Just some really, really uncomfortable moments first thing in the morning. So for now, I think I will probably go back to taping it for speed & long runs, at least some of the time, just so I can, like, walk in the morning.

BUT BUT BUT. The issues with my right hip? Essentially gone. (I mean I doubt it will ever be 100% normal again, but the pain & discomfort with running seems to be gone.)


  1. Have you looked into a simple arch elastic sleeve? It might be just the in-between support you need. And they're cheap and easy to use!

  2. I did that second complicated version of taping when I thought I had plantar. It was interesting, but not comfortable at all! Of course, I was doing it with actual athletic tape, not KT tape, and I didn't actually have plantar, so that didn't work well.

  3. It's exciting to have found the reason for your injuries. Sometimes I think that working out the root cause is the most difficult part.