In swimrun most people choose a shoe suitable for the demands of trail running and simply getting wet. They need to be light, drain and dry well and offer good grip. To meet these demands they are often a low profile shoe, without much drop (drop is the difference in height between the heel and toe sections). If you already run in a shoe similar to this hopefully you are injury free. If you are making the transition to a less cushioned shoe you may find some strengthening work for your feet and calf muscles a necessity.
We have all heard that barefoot shoes are what we should be wearing, but should we? Our ancient ancestors didn’t even wear shoes and they hunted and foraged for survival, navigating all kinds of terrain without too much trouble. But one terrain they didn’t navigate is the modern concrete jungle. It’s everywhere. Try to go a day without walking on concrete and tarmac - impossible! Also from the moment we start to walk as children our feet are covered and cushioned in the best leather and padding available. As a result our feet are probably not as strong as our ancestors, yet we have to cope with unforgiving surfaces. Our day-to-day foot training has reduced but we expect our feet to perform when it comes to sport!
Changing to a trail running shoe, and trail running itself, can stress our feet and calves in a way they have never experienced before. The lower heel height and running up and down hills means our ankle works through a larger range of motion, this requires better strength and control. This, combined with what are often less supportive shoes than regular trainers, creates a double whammy.
You can strengthen and optimise your muscles to cope with these new demands and avoid picking up problems with your calf muscles, Achilles tendons, plantar fascia and toes. These only need to be performed a couple of times a week for 5-10 minutes, preferably as part of your overall strength training, but you should notice the difference quickly.
1. Heel raises: with the balls of both feet (or one foot) on a the edge of a step lift and lower your heels, lift for a count of one and lower for a count of 3.
2. Arch lifts: Sitting with your feet on the floor engage your foot muscles to lift the arch, think about drawing your big toe towards your heel, avoid scrunching your toes under.
3. Single leg swings: Stand sideways on a step on one leg, gently swing the other leg whilst keeping the arch of your standing leg engaged (as in the arch lift exercise) and ankle stable. Try not to wobble – easier said than done.
4. Big toe press: With one foot in front of the other (stride position) roll onto the toes of the trailing leg and practise pushing through your big toe as though pushing off the ground; you don’t actually have to lift off.
5. Piano playing: imagine playing the scales with your toes. Lift one toe after the other off the floor and then lower one digit at time. See if you can play from baby toe in and big toe out!
Having strong feet is great to give your system support, but remember to maintain flexibility and stretch after each training session. Simple tricks like calf stretches and rolling out your feet with a ball can really help. They are simple enough to do in front of the TV or whilst you brush your teeth, if you are a true multi-tasker, but they can help to keep you on track (or trail) throughout the year.
Aileen Sullivan specialises in biomechanics and sports injuries, she has worked in the public health system, private practice and elite sports and is herself a keen triathlete. Currently Aileen consults at Victory Health & Performance in Liverpool Street in London, and is part of a skilled team of physios, sports and massage therapists and movement team (Pilates and yoga) who assess your whole body to treat the source of your problem rather than simply treating the symptoms. Book an appointment today at Victory Health & Performance or by calling 020 7175 0150