Doubling down

If my left knee were a window, a rock just crashed through it with an adhered note that reads:

“An ‘S’ will soon be added to the acronym. Sincerely, ITB.”

On Sunday I was doing laps on one of the trails at Bur-Mil Park. I wasn’t feeling very fast, but I was feeling very healthy. I’ve been running a lot, but nothing felt stiff or sore or even tired. I was thinking to myself as I tripped around how the added mileage seemed to be doing me good. The ground was squishy from recent rain. I skidded down the hills, and leaped over ankle-deep mud puddles, crashing on the other side. Then I felt a twinge. “That’s disconcertingly familiar,” I thought. Then it went away. Whew, I said. Then it came back. Then went away. Then the twinge became a dull nail whacked with a mallet. I walked. My run was most emphatically finished.

I have 100% mobility. I can stand on my left foot, bend my knee as low as my tight legs allow, and even wiggle my knee back and forth with no pain. I can walk down stairs. I didn’t run yesterday. Today I went for a 3 2.88mi (&$!!#% Garmin) gentle sock trot around town. The first mile was fine, but I felt a “presence.” Then a little sensation of something, then nothing. Then a little more, then a little less, then nothing. I was home without any pain, but I could tell it was wanting to hurt. So it’s there, but it’s not yet there there.

I’ve run farther and faster than I am running now. I’m just building my mileage back up after a low-mileage December and first half of January. Maybe volume has contributed, but I don’t think it’s the reason for this blast from the past.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky. While I had believed the barefootery ended my ITBS concerns, I’m just a mime college dropout. What the hell do I know about running injuries? I posted somewhere on this blog about the ITB being a nerve (it’s not a nerve). That suggests the answer is nothing. I know nothing about running injuries. Maybe I should accept the fact that I’m broken, and adjust my running life accordingly. Maybe I should run away from running altogether. Cue the violins.

Or maybe I should just take some time off and reset. That’s another pattern in my life, running life that is. Lot’s of running for about four to six months then a break. Maybe I’m running when my knee is expecting to lounge. Could that just be my rhythm? Maybe.

So what have I been doing differently? For one thing, I’ve been in shoes. Not just in shoes, but in shoes on technical, unpredictable trails. I have very little single-track trail experience, and what I do have involves a lot of falling. I wear shoes on the trails because it would hurt my feet to run on them barefoot, at least the way I run on them in shoes… wait a minute, does that sound familiar?

Near the end of Grandfather Marathon 1, I felt a little ITBS twinge. I felt it again on a recovery run later that week. That’s when I committed to running barefoot. I pursued the theory that my ITBS was caused not so much by how I was built, but by how I moved. I needed to feel the ground to learn how to move. After almost three months of running most of my miles in shoes, it’s back after a 22-month hiatus.

No, I don’t have any superstitious beliefs that I’m being punished for betraying my feet for putting them in shoes. I’m not that far down the rabbit hole, thank you very much. But it’s a pretty big correlation for ITBS to come back when most of my running has been in shoes. Plus I’m on trails, where I crash and stumble and stomp frequently if not unceasingly. I feel my feet landing ahead of me. Maybe I should do what worked the last time:

Ditch the shoes.

This weekend is the Groundhog Gallop trail half marathon. It will be chilly, so I’ll wear my holed-up customized socks. I will run as gently as I can, walk when I have to, whatever to avoid that familiar stab of pain. I’ll try to keep up with Iris. I’ll bring an extra pair of socks and the aquas in case I get overwhelmed and/or too cold. I’m prepared to DNF. I don’t care. I think if I can just keep my feet under me instead of in front of me, which I think is what I’m doing in shoes on the trails, I can figure it out.

It’s not there there. I feel great. Well, physically. Emotionally I’m a mess. Aside from The Presence, I feel ready for a marathon tomorrow. I could run a sub-19 5k (I think). Still, even if it’s not there there, it’s there enough.

Can’t I have just a few boring years of steady progression?

Anyway, before I go the conventional route of rest,low mileage (or avoidance of trails), and race cancellations, I’m going to gamble. I’m doubling down on my feet. The arrival of the “S” to the “ITB” might be inevitable. The damage might have already been done. But maybe, with feet unblocked, I’ll learn how to move around it. Maybe It will make me a better runner.

11 thoughts on “Doubling down

  1. Sorry to hear that Josh.
    I know too well how much ITBS is a never ending story.
    Really hoping yours will go awayaway when you ditch the shoes.
    Let us know how it goes.

  2. The irony is dripping all over my keyboard as I blog this comment. Recall my blog comment last week about my “hernia”, err inflamation in the abdomen, and needing a rest, and barefootey not preventing all injuries. Good Lord, is there something in the water?!?

    So anyway, after deciding last week to not run for a few weeks and become an Ibuprofin addict for awhile to reduce inflammation, I asked Amy to buy a copy of “Run for Life” by Roy Wallack (the same guy coauthoring Ken Bob’s new book) so I’d have something to read instead of run and maybe learn something about preventing injuries.

    The book showed up Monday. I’m not good at reading books from left to right. I scan the contents are read where I want to. Chapter 11 caught my eye: “The Radical “Primal Blueprint””. It seems like I’ve heard about Primal something or other on barefoot blogs. I turn to that chapter and see a pic of Mark Sisson flexing his 6-pack at age 55. The pic is titled “Anti-runner”. Interesting, a chapter about an anti-runner in a book called “Run for Life”. After a professional triathlon career (4th at 1982 Hawaiin Ironman) that ended due to osteoarthrisis, chroni hip tendonitis and recurrent upper respiratory tract infectons, Sisson became convinced that his carbo-fueled high-intensity aerobics were burdening his body with “continuous systematic inflammation that was severely suppressing my immune system…leaving me soaking in my own internal cortisol bath…increasing oxidative damage that was tearing apart my muscle an joint tissue.”

    He only believes in doing low-level intensity aerobic activity (55-75% max HR), coupled with strength training. He also follows a South Beachish diet. His blog “” has a crap load of articles that I’ve been reading before work at 4 AM this morning and a few hours after work.

    I’m tired now and was getting ready for bed. I thought I would check-in to see if you posted today and Holy Crap – more evidence that running doesn’t make you healthy, even when you are kinda sorta barefoot. Or said another way, runners are the healthiest injuried people on the planet. Sorry to here about your disappointment. Rest up.

  3. Oh no! To kind of add to what Kelly was writing, I just saw this post about a sad treadmill story:

    The blog author was discussing the idea that high cortisol levels from the stress of running too long eventually lead to insulin resistance. This was something I had never heard before.

    Well, I’m sure there is a way to work it all out so we can run the right amounts and the right way for us.

    I hope barefoot running lines things up good for you and takes the stress off the hurt muscles.

  4. It’s warm downhere in the rabbit hole. come on in… you know you want to. I don’t think this ITB issue is a coincidence. You can thank Walmart water shoes and… Merrell. LOL… maybe they pushed you over the edge. LOL… like I said, it tea time down here in the rabbit hole. 😀

    BTW: the garmin cant take away your PR’s. You are still fast. 🙂

  5. Kelly, your comment blog is perfect. Best line ever: “I’m not good at reading books from left to right.” I’m also replacing my usual cursing with the newly coined “thnak you!”

  6. I sometimes get very aggravated about the weather here in Northeast Ohio. I can’t run much, but maybe that’s a good thing with how much I run in the summer and fall.

    However, I agree with you that maybe you need to commit more fully to barefoot running. I don’t believe in coincidences. Cheers!

  7. to Iris: thnak me? thnak you!

    to Josh: Negative me says I’m jumping on another bandwagon. Positive me says I’m learning about stuff that interests me. What the heck, here’s a snipit out of the free ebook from Mark’s site:

    “Yes, we were born to run, but I argue strongly that
    we were not born to run 42 miles a week year in
    and year out as we accumulate marathon finisher
    medals on the wall. Let’s look at our own evolution.
    Our hunter-gatherer ancestors engaged in
    extensive low level of aerobic activity every day:
    walking, foraging, migrating, hunting and gathering.
    I guarantee you they didn’t regularly ramp
    their heart rates up to 80 percent of max for over
    an hour a day like so many of us do now. Even
    when the concept of organized or persistence
    hunting came along, it was something they did as
    occasionally necessary for survival and certainly
    not on a daily basis.”

    Oh, and I forgot to also mention that he isn’t completely against high intensity running, but only in short 20-40 sec intervals, just long enough to get to a tree and climb up to avoid a predator’s grasp.

    Another tidbit that intrigues me is that Mark favors intermittent fasting (couldn’t catch that antelope). I’m on board with that. I’m currently half-way through a 3 dayer.

  8. @Ludo: It’s not bad yet, so maybe I caught it in time. We’ll know soon enough…

    @Kelly: Just got home, so I haven’t checked the blog out yet. Will do tonight. Sounds very interesting. Re running less because our prehistoric ancestors did, that may (or may not; I’ll think on it a bit after I’m all read up) be so. But I want to do it anyway. The way my brain synapses are currently firing, I would argue that our ancestors have a lot to tell us about what is possible and what self-made obstacles are likely going to need overcoming, etc, but I’m not convinced that their lifestyle is worth emulating. The process of evolution is all about being able to adapt to conditions that are never ideal.

    @Frances: Hadn’t heard that about insulin resistance. But I disagree with the author that all running was fear-based. People had to get around, sometimes quickly. And if there’s one thing I learned hanging out with a bunch of dogs all day, play is an important part of most social structures. If running was important, especially for the young males who would do the speedy work of persistence hunting, we’d want to show it off. Right, ladies?

    @Steve: Apparently if you give me a few mm of protection, I’ll take an inch/foot/centimeter/whatever. It could be a psychosomatic reaction. Not just to shoes, but fear of the blog becoming boring.

    @Viper: Many elite runners take months off at a time every year. That whole periodizationalizing thing. Re getting back to barefoot, what with it being winter and all I thought I would try a lot of trail running since I’d be wearing footwear for warmth anyway. Might could be the trails + shoes was too much at once.

    I sincerely love the colloquialism, “might could.”

    @ac: I know, I’m totally copying you this time.

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