Running Reader Q: Why Are My Feet On Fire?

Feet Treats: Shoes that fit, high-tech socks, and anti-friction products keep burning and blisters away.
Feet Treats: Shoes that fit, high-tech socks, and anti-friction products keep burning and blisters away.

When you’re just getting into running, there are a lot of little aches and pains—muscle soreness, side stitches, skin chafing, and the like—that might make you stop in your tracks. But when you push through, they ease up and running begins to feel better. Usually.

Tracey H. started running in the spring. “I’m new to running, so I thought I’d stick to softer surfaces,” says Tracey, who was hitting the trails three to four times a week, logging about 3 miles at a time. “My legs feel great, but somewhere around the 2-mile mark the soles of my feet start to burn. Any idea what’s going on?”

My initial thought was that Tracey’s sneakers were too tight and perhaps she should loosen up the laces—you want snug shoes when navigating roots and rocks on trails, but tying them too tightly can cause friction, making your feet feel like they’re on fire. To be sure I was giving her the best advice possible, I reached out to Brooke Jackson, M.D., marathon runner and associate professor of dermatology at the University of North Carolina, for a more official diagnosis.

Dr. Jackson, what could be causing that burning sensation? “Your assessment that her shoes are too tight is a good one, but it might be more than the laces. I would also make sure she’s wearing the right size. It’s normal to go up one half to a full size bigger in running shoes than regular shoes, so Tracey should head to a reputable running store for a proper fitting.”

Do you think she’s heading to Blister-ville if she runs longer distances? “Not at all! I’ve been running for over 10 years, and I rarely get them. Blisters are caused by friction, which can stem from too-tight shoes that rub or socks that get bunched up.  I like to coat my toes and heels with Aquaphor before heading out for long runs to reduce potential hot spots. Tracy might also benefit from rubbing some on the soles of her feet before slipping on her socks.”

Do you think her socks are part of the problem, too? “If she’s wearing cushiony cotton ones, definitely. Cotton doesn’t breathe the way technical fabrics do, which can add to friction and chafing when your feet start to sweat. If she’s serious about running, I would suggest Tracey trade in thicker socks for thinner, CoolMax or dri-fit ones—they really do make a difference.”

Thanks for the anti-friction advice, Dr. Jackson! “My pleasure!”

Tracey took all of this info to heart… and sole. She picked up a new pair of shoes, fancier socks, and a tube of skin lube. Then she hit the streets, added miles to her training routine, and recently participated in a 200-mile Ragnar Relay. That “on fire” feeling? “It’s totally gone now!” say Tracey. Hooray!

Have your feet ever been on fire, like Tracey’s? How do you prevent hot spots, blisters, and chafing?

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Running Reader Q: My Knee Hurts When I Run. Should I Get a Brace?

Happy Knees Happy RunnerLaurel has recently returned to running after taking some time off to focus on getting a masters degree. “I was really into it, but I kept getting shin splints,” says Laurel. “When my schedule got tighter with classes, I sort of stopped working a run into my day because it was painful anyway.”

Now, she’s back—the diploma is on her wall and she’s moved to a new city where running routes abound! “I’m excited about running again,” she says. “I’m ramping up slowly, but now my left knee is starting to bother me. Should I start wearing a brace?”

I’m a big believer in listening to your body. Pain is a message that something is wrong. Rather than trying to mask it with a brace, I think Laurel needs to figure out what’s really causing the problem—especially since she’s had injuries in the past. To double-check my diagnosis, I reached out to New York City-based rehabilitation specialist Nadya Swedan, M.D.

Dr. Swedan, what could be causing Laurel’s knee pain? “It sounds like she’s experiencing patellofemoral knee pain, also known as runner’s knee. The associated pain could be stemming from a couple of places—she may have injured the cartilage beneath the kneecap, or it could be tendonitis. Everyone runs differently, so depending on her gait Laurel could have gotten runner’s knee because her leg muscles are weak or imbalanced, or the muscles and tendons connected to the knee have become tight from overuse. A tight IT band, or tight quads and hamstrings are often the culprits.”

How do you feel about braces and compression bands? Would they help Laurel? “Those braces and bands are sporting goods store solutions, and I would never recommend them. Sure, using one takes the tension off the power tendon around the joint, but it would be dangerous to slide one on and continue running. It would become a crutch for Laurel—soon she wouldn’t be able to run without it, because it would change the alignment of her knee and lead to injuries elsewhere. Her best bet is to focus on fixing the root of the problem with strength training and stretching.”  

What should she do to alleviate the pain? “Ice is her knee’s best friend. It will alleviate any swelling, decrease the inflammation, and help her body’s own healing mechanisms kick in. She could also take some ibuprofen, but I definitely don’t want her to pop a couple and then head out for a run—that might make her knee worse.” 

Can Laurel keep running? “She can run a little bit, nice and easy, but if the pain continues she should get off her feet. Cycling, with the bike seat raised a bit higher to take pressure off the knee, and the elliptical machine would be good cardio options for her. Rollerblading would also be really great right now, because it strengthens the inner and outer thigh muscles—areas that tend be weak in runners.”

Thanks, Dr. Swedan. I think Laurel will be happy to hear this!

Laurel is a smart cookie, so I’m pretty sure she’ll listen to her body and follow the doctor’s advice. (I just hope she doesn’t sign up for roller derby and find herself with a whole new set of injuries!)

Runner’s knee is super common—have you ever experienced it? What did you do to get rid of it? 

Running Reader Q: I Cross-Trained And Still Got Injured—What Gives?

Regularly rolling out your legs after running helps ease tightness by breaking up the fascia around your muscles and can prevent injuries down the road.
Regularly rolling out your legs after running helps ease tightness by breaking up the fascia around your muscles and can prevent injuries down the road.

Emily P., a regular Some Kind Of Runderful reader, is dealing with her first running-related injury. She’s fairly new to pavement pounding, and she was smart with the build up. She ran an easy pace three days a week for the past five months, “Plus, I did two days of exercises with weights in the gym,” Emily says. Despite her careful routine, she still managed to pull a hammy. “It was during my very first 5K two weekends ago. I was a few feet from the finish when something in the back of my leg popped. I practically had to limp to across the line,” she says. A quick trip to the doctor confirmed a strain and, luckily, no major muscle tearing.

Now, Emily is nursing a sore hamstring and a bruised ego. “I just don’t get it,” she says. “I’ve been cross-training and I thought I was doing everything right. Where did I go wrong?” To help me find the best answer for her, I reached out to Dan Trink, a fitness trainer and director of training operations at Peak Performance in New York, NY.

Dan, what do you think brought on Emily’s injury? Most running injuries are not acute, meaning someone doesn’t run out from behind a tree and hit your leg with a stick when you’re in the middle of a 5K. The injuries incurred from running are caused by overuse or muscle imbalances.

But Emily’s been hitting the weight room to build muscle. She may have been focusing on the wrong types exercises, or ones that use the same muscles and motions as running. Too many people mimic the energy system that they utilize in running in their strength training, which means that they try to build strength-endurance by only doing high-rep sets or metabolic circuits. Most runners are better served by increasing their strength with high-weight, low-rep sets in the weight room. Logging miles gives you plenty of endurance for running, but you’ve got to rely on your strength training to help you get stronger and keep injuries at bay.

What’s the best way for Emily to work through this injury? Very often overuse issues and muscle imbalances can be resolved with a smart strength-training program that not only builds foundational strength, but also incorporates foam rolling and soft-tissue work, dynamic warm-up and activation drills, and pre-hab or rehab movements as well as strength movements that will give you more stability and reduce your chance of the injury recurring when you return to running.

What should Emily do when she’s done with rehab and ready to run again? The key is not to get carried away, thinking she can drop everything else now that she’s running again. She should maintain a strength-training program that still includes all of the factors I mentioned before.

Thanks, Dan. This is great advice. Any time! By the way, how are your arms? Are you still working on your upper body strength?

…Um, no comment.

I’ve been through my fair share of injuries and I know how frustrating the recovery period can be. Your body will tell you when it’s ready to run again—but you have to be gentle with yourself and listen. Wishing you many more happy miles, Emily P.!

What’s the worst running injury you’ve ever been through? Got any rehab tips to share?

The Diagnosis: Strained Gluteus Medius (a.k.a. A Pain In The Butt)

8 miles at warp speed on the Alter G—engage!

The fix: Cancelling my marathon plans and diving head first into rehab. (Cue: Amy Whinehouse, “They tried to make me go to rehab.”)

I mentioned last week that my marathon training wasn’t going well. I’d been plagued with pain, and I was debating whether to push through and run the marathon anyway. To help me make the best possible choice for my body and future running, I made an appointment with physical therapist extraordinaire Michael Conlon at Finish Line PT. I picked him for three reasons: 1. He and Michael K. Farrell are buddies. 2. He takes my insurance. 3. He has the most adorable golden retriever, Miles, who sometimes hangs out in the office. (I’m a sucker for a cute pup!)

After a thorough evaluation that involved me standing on one leg and leaning awkwardly in several precarious directions, doing moves reminiscent of a hula dancer, and getting a torturous psoas massage, Michael diagnosed the problem: left gluteus medius strain. (I would like to formally apologize to my hip. I’ve been complaining about the poor thing for weeks, when it was a broke-down butt muscle causing the problem the entire time.)

I didn’t decide to cancel my marathon plans right away. Nope, instead I attempted to run a half marathon four days after being diagnosed. I dropped out when the pain set in at mile three—my first, and hopefully last, DNF…did not finish. I cried the whole walk home and I didn’t even feel better when a plate of banana and Nutella crepes showed up in front of me.

My legs are in outer space and my head is in Shasta County, California—I’m watching game wardens bust poachers on NatGeo’s Wild Justice.

I’ll be spending time with Michael at Finish Line PT for the next 4 to 6 weeks. I’m pretty bummed about not running the NYC marathon in November, but the gadgets in this high-tech treatment center should keep me distracted. And I still get to run—at 75 percent body weight on an Alter G treadmill! It’s not Central Park, but at least I don’t have to completely cut running out of my life.

Have you ever run on an Alter G treadmill? What’s your “pain in the butt” running story?

If Running Were My Bread & Butter, Last Month I Would Have Starved

Running may have to be added to my “enjoyed in moderation” list—right under refined carbs and saturated fats.

I missed several days of running last month, making a huge mess of my beautifully laid out NYC marathon training plan. 45 percent of the blame lies in a seriously tough work schedule the first two weeks of September (those of you who have anything to do with NY Fashion Week can offer a knowing nod here) and the other 65 percent goes to an angry left hip. (Noticing my math skills? I’m sure I’m not the only person who gives 110% when training for a marathon…)

I had some incredibly positive long runs heading into September. My pacing was great, my body felt sound, and mentally I was flying high. Then a nagging little popping sensation showed up in my left hip and put a wrench in the whole thing. I had hoped the crazy work schedule—which prevented me from hitting my (almost) daily runs and forced me to skip a long run altogether, would give my hip a much needed break. But now that I’m attempting to build back up and finish out my long runs before the taper, I’m realizing a slow September didn’t offer much relief. My hip still hurts.

I’ve officially gone OTP (off the plan), and I don’t know if this new run-until-it hurts-then-stop  routine will get me to the start line on Staten Island on 4 November. At this point, I think I have two options:

  1. Forget my time goal and just run the marathon slow—walking if necessary to be kind to my hip. (And set my sights on next season.)
  2. Cancel my marathon plans altogether, so I don’t risk any more damage—physical or mental, because not finishing would be really depressing. (And set my sights on next season.)

What would you do if you were in my sneakers?

Short Run, Long Story

The grass is a little greener on the west side

I took on a new full-time job a few weeks ago, and it’s been a huge shock to my system. No more sleeping until 8:45am and commuting from the bedroom to my computer in the kitchen. And I’ve had to say so long to my 3:00pm “coffee runs,” which involved me doing a loop in the park, finishing at Starbucks, and then walking home to check email again by 4:15pm. Yep, I’ve got a full on, 9-to-6 office gig with a traditional subway start and finish to call my very own these days.

I’ve managed to keep my training on track (got to be ready for The North Face Endurance Challenge Bear Mountain Half Marathon!), but all of my runs are starting to feel the same. My easy days and my hard days have all morphed into tempo runs—comfortably hard efforts that I rely on to help me deal with my new work-related stress. But while all that speed is great for unwinding my head, it’s made a tight, whiny mess out of my left calf.

Which brings me to yesterday, the final Saturday of March 2012. I thought a nice gentle run on the flat path along the west side of Manhattan would be just the thing to loosen up my leg muscles. It wasn’t. I spent more time pulling over to stretch than I did running, and after 35 minutes of stop-and-go effort I got frustrated and decided to pack it in.

I know that short, easy runs are good for your body from time to time. But part of me still thinks they’re pointless. In the back of my mind I’ve always thought that if I’m not running for at least an hour, I shouldn’t bother tying my shoes.

Still, yesterday did more good than I gave it credit for in the moment. All that stretching loosened up the knots in my calf and I was able to have a mental-stress-busting run today. I ran 7 pain-free miles at a comfortable pace, with a few surges tossed in for fun.

The moral of this long story: I need balance and I need to listen to my body (always tough for me). Sticking to a couple of hard runs per week and doing easy ones on the other days will continue to keep my mind and my muscles stress free.

Do you have trouble keeping an easy pace when you’re stressed, too? Do you wait for sore muscles to remind you to slow down?  

My Hips Are Working Harder Than My Backside

Grete’s Great Gallop, Here I Come!

My left hip flexor is angry today and I’m not sure if it’s from the Cat Hill repeats I did last night or walking around my neighborhood in hiking boots (those suckers are heavy!). Either way, I know from experience that this is a sign of a weak butt and lazy hamstring muscles.

I’ll admit it—I’ve been slacking off on the strength work. I used to squeeze in a few moves post-run, but there’s been a severe lack of lunges and squats in my life lately. When your glutes and hamstrings fail to engage while you’re running, your quads end up doing all the work and in turn start to rely on your hip flexors for help, causing them to strain. The last time I let strength work slide, my hip flexor became inflamed and impinged, and I was sidelined for over a month.

Hopefully, I can get through tomorrow’s half marathon without my hip flexor throwing any tantrums. Post race I’m getting off my butt and getting it (and my hamstrings) back in shape with a squat-heavy regimen and some moves from FitSugar.

How strong is your butt? Do you incorporate strength moves into your weekly workout routine? 

My Legs Are In A Funk

The Boston Marathon was over a month ago, but my legs still haven’t completely bounced back. They feel heavy and achy after an easy run, and I’m just not getting quality miles out of them. Maybe I didn’t give them enough rest post 26.2, or maybe it’s all in my head, but I’m feeling a little burnt out.

In her book Run Your First Marathon: Everything You Need to Know to Reach the Finish Line, the late pro-marathoner Grete Waitz wrote, “Recovery from a marathon is both physical and mental.” She went on to say, “If burnout [strikes], take an easy week or two to recover your energy and enthusiasm.” And, “Run some different courses, with different scenery and new people, or, if you feel you can, mix up the times of day when you run. Sometimes even a simple change in a routine can be refreshing.”

I’m taking Grete’s advice—switching it up between pavement and dirt paths, hitting the streets after work instead of in the morning, running with friends, and waiting for the blahs to pass. Until then, I’ll try to gain a little perspective. I run for fun, not for a paycheck. I run for that happy feeling that comes with tackling a tough course. I don’t need to PR every workout; I just need to keep moving. And, even more important, I need to keep smiling.

Are you smiling today? How are your legs feeling? 

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

Running And Heels, For Me They Don’t Mix

Yesterday my quads were sore again. It felt like I’d run another marathon over the weekend—only I hadn’t. I’m being good about sticking to my recovery plan and easing back into running. I did my scheduled light run last night anyway, thinking maybe the muscles needed a little exercise to loosen up. Three miles of trails later (soft ground is easier on your body than pavement), my legs still hurt and going down a flight of stairs was no picnic.

This morning, I was reaching for a pair of pants I haven’t worn since last summer and remembered they were hemmed to be worn with heels. That’s when and it dawned on me—I wore cowboy boots that make me an inch and a half taller all day on Sunday. That’s why my quads are so sore!

 High heels throw your body out of alignment. To be able to walk in them without falling, you have to thrust your pelvis forward, which puts stress on your lower back and engages your legs muscles, from your calves up to your quads and glutes. I’d given them up during marathon training when I started having shin pain. So now, my body is used to being in flats and even walking around (and standing in a museum for a few hours) with the slightest lift gave my thighs a major workout.

Still, heels make my legs look hot! So I have two options: I can walk around in flats for the rest of my life, or I can go into training to be able to wear high ones again. (I’ll be wearing the ones in this photo to a friend’s wedding in October, so the choice has been made.)

Would you give up sexy stilettos and kitten heels to improve your running?

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.

Not Running Is Harder Than Running

I’ve taken the past three days off from running, since I just put my body through 26.2 miles of mega hills, and it’s driving me nuts. This morning I took a walk to Central Park and longingly watched others jog past me. In a moment of weakness I decided to run—just to the next lamppost, which turned into the one beyond that, which turned into half a mile. And now my knee feels funny. Oops.

Recovering from a marathon can be tricky. Experts say it takes about four weeks to fully bounce back—but you don’t want to completely stop exercising during that period and you also don’t want to put too much pressure on strained joints and muscles. So I’m filling the next two weeks with walking, spinning, and light running on trails and grass. And then I’ll ease back into running on pavement.

In the meantime, I’m going to stay as connected to the running community as possible.

Will you be in NYC tomorrow? Meet me at the Jack Rabbit New York City Running Show at the Metropolitan Pavilion (123 West 18th Street, between 6th and 7th Avenues). A $10 ticket gets you into the event, plus $15 off any purchase you make. I’ll be at the Achilles table on the 2nd floor from 3pm to 6pm. Come learn about the Hope & Possibility 5-miler and upcoming volunteer opportunities.

Originally posted in Running With It on Shape.com.