Hoof hell – looking after heels

I completed my first and so far only Parkrun this year. Down along the river was soft and slippery to run on, but nothing compared to the splashy sloping field on the hill to the finish. I went home and started looking for trail shoes.

Three online returns later, and utterly befuddled by the variations in size coupled with inconsistent translation to and from UK, EU and US sizes, I had a pair of shoes that I could get into, indeed they were pretty wide, and which appeared to have lots of tread. They also felt low around the heel, but apparently that helps avoid chafing up the tendon when running downhill.

Now I had, I thought, done my homework reasonably well, and looked up various articles and a review post to find which were good shoes. What I hadn’t done was try any in a shop, being afraid of looking a fool trying to buy specialist shoes before even starting the sport (although it doesn’t seem so illogical now somehow). What is a running shop anyway? No sports shops I know have treadmills.

Rookie mistake #1

I can’t say I wasn’t warned, every article on the subject I’ve read before or since says GO AND GET PROPERLY FITTED.

There’s clearly a difference between reading advice and actually putting it into practice 😤

So in the meantime, while buying and returning various sizes of the trail shoe of choice, I carried on pounding around in some general gym trainers, racking up the kilometres (they look like more than miles😂), and hoping it was doing me good.

Another week of hoofing around, now in the new trailies. I did a 30 mile two day hike and missed my weekend runs, so I used my rest days to catch up on missed mileage.

Rookie mistake #2

Something started to feel very wrong.

I’m following a 20 week Half marathon training plan and 3-4 weeks in, having tried to cram that missed mileage into rest days, I started getting a contraction feeling in the achilles tendon area from the calf to the heel during my run, a sensation of swelling followed by a prickling and then a stronger pain which frightened me a bit if I’m honest – I took notice of that and walked.

I got some advice as well as scouring t’internet, and rested. No running for two weeks, lots of physio and strength work on calves and tendon at the end of the two weeks, but 1st time out, it happened again. I was starting to get pretty worried, thinking I wouldn’t be able to keep running, until I came across an article which clicked right in. I’ve since found other similar explanations which reflect my experience.

Neutral shoes can be a factor apparently, as can a transfer to toe striking. Mmm. Thinks back to description of trail shoes.

Now, as it happens (you may be ahead of me here…), I’d just bought really quite neutral (4mm) trail shoes, and had been conscious of my tendency to heel strike for a while, so the explanation rang some bells. People who are slow – ahem – do tend to heel strike more, and it isn’t in itself a bad thing. This article delves into more of the dynamic mechanics of running and I found it really useful.

I added gel heel inserts to the trail shoes and set out again, determined not to have to ditch the new hooves.

It seems to be working so far; I’m getting heel lift in them, which is annoying, but no blistering as yet, and if I feel my calves blowing up I now try to resist the urge to stretch them.

All lessons learned; but it was back to the beginning on the half marathon plan. I’d had a few weeks spare so I can still do the 20 weeks run in, but this time I’ll remember that missed runs are gone, and that getting shoes fitted is not just for the fast.