I have been trying to become a runner again for at least the past 6 years, and each of several attempts has somehow been waylaid. And my latest attempt to begin again has been only recently, and after a 6 month layoff to heal a bad case of plantar fasciitis.
Now that I've recapped that information, I would like to mention a that significant factor that has been adding complications has been that I'm overweight. In fact, one of the factors that kept me from returning to running for many years was that I became very very overweight.
I just read a blog that gives advice for people who want to start running while they are overweight: Training: Overweight and Starting a Running Program at Running-Advice.com This made me want to write about this aspect of my running.
Overall, the article is sensible, but the only part of the article that I cringe at a little is the part where he recommends getting a really good pair of shoes. The author says:
"It is important for all runners to be in high quality running shoes, but this is even more important for overweight runners. Running shoes are designs to absorb the impact of your body weight. Heavier runners need to make sure that they have shoes designed to support their weight and they will need to replace their shoes more often than most. Most running shoe brands have a model of shoe that is designed to support women over 140 pounds (mean over 165 pounds) to help in protecting your joints and lower-legs. Go to a running store and have yourself fitted for shoes and plan to replace your shoes every 3-4 months. [all emphasis mine]"At first glance, this advice seems logical and sensible, just as the advice to get a good pair of running shoes for any runner seems sensible. In fact, this is exactly what I thought, and I was a good girl and made sure I got a really supportive pair of shoes so that all my weight would not hurt my joints.
But some of the experiences I have been having now, with barefoot running has changed the way I view this advice, and I would like to explain why I now object to this advice. I object cautiously, because am a baby new barefoot runner and I don't want to be "cocky" about it in any way. I humbly and carefully object based on the experience I am having at present as an overweight runner wearing minimalist shoes and also running barefoot.
In order to explain, I want to backtrack a little and tell a bit of my running and overweight story.
I first started gaining a significant amount of weight after I got married. In fact, within a couple of years I had gained well over 100 pounds, and was to put on even more than that while pregnant.
So, I had this big obstacle in my mind that I needed to lose weight first before I could ever run again. The experience of being that heavy was so traumatic, after having been a relatively normal weight growing up, that I couldn't imagine myself running. All I could picture was that my whole body would become injured under the strain of all that weight: my knees, my feet, my hips, etc.... In fact the thought of the way everything would shake and move around horrified me and seemed downright dangerous.
Because I gained all this weight so rapidly I started having problems with my feet. I now -- many years later and looking back -- realize that the foot problems were not, as I thought then, merely because of how heavy I was -- although that was part of it -- but it was more so because of how rapidly I had gained the weight, and how my foot strength was not able to increase fast enough to accommodate it. I'm not sure how much extra weight the feet can condition to carry. There may be some top limit on it. But I thought the weight itself was over the limit and my feet were in such pain, that in the middle of the night if I woke up to go to the bathroom, I had to hobble like a crippled person.
Now, I had always gone barefoot or in my socks in the house. This was my habit for years and years. But when this foot trouble developed, I decided that it was because I was standing with all that weight on a tile floor washing dishes without shoes on. So, I bought a very supportive pair of shoes and began to wear them all the time. White New Balance Walking Shoes. This is a complicated situation, because I believe starting to wear supportive shoes further weakened my feet. Although the weight was a factor, it was more that the weight was gained so rapidly, leaving the foot strength behind. Now, by wearing supportive shoes, I had started down a slippery slope to weaker feet, when what I really needed was stronger feet, to accommodate the extra poundage. Not stronger shoes. Stronger feet.
Okay, got a little sidetracked there, but I don't think the details about the feet are irrelevant to the story.
Essentially, this new condition of being morbidly obese prevented me from even thinking I could go out running. I would drive in the streets every morning and see the runners out there and stare longingly. But the dream of being out there with them seemed so so far away. Too impossible. I was in a kind of despair about it for along time. I felt I was trapped. I want to start running. I can't start running until I lose weight. I can't lose weight. So I can't run.
I made attempts to manage my food better over the years and kind of went up and down with the weight. But I never got to the point where I thought I was light enough to begin running again without injuring myself. I always thought that being heavy would put too much stress on all my joints. (And actually, maybe it would, if one did not proceed with a smart gradual plan to condition right.)
Finally, about six years ago, I became very determined to correct my food imbalances. I joined Weight Watchers Online (I was already a lifetime member for many years) and seriously tackled the weight. I lost 70 lbs.
For the first 8 months of this serious attempt at improving my nutrition management, I deliberately did not exercise. I did not want to use exercise as an excuse to eat more. I wanted to learn how to manage food based on my nutritional and caloric needs in feast or famine. I didn't want to have to depend on exercise, but I wanted to be able to adjust my food intake based on activity, and be happy with the lesser amount of food required when one was less active.
After the 8 months passed, however, and I had lost about 50 pounds without exercise, I decided it was time to begin a walking program.
And it was after losing 20 more pounds while walking regularly -- for a total of 70 pounds lost altogether -- that I decided I could finally run. I was very very excited about this.
Well, I could tell the whole story about that first time running after all those years, but I will skip over it. I was gradually adding stretches of running to my walk and feeling really great about it, but then something happened that threw me for a loop and completely derailed me from this attempt. I became very discouraged and halted all my work. I ended up stopping my newly found return to running, and I ended up gaining more than half that weight back.
So, now let us fast-forward to last year, and a new attempt to run again. I had been losing weight again, and was now down to -50 from my original weight. This was 20 pounds heavier than when I had begun to run again the last time. I didn't want to wait to lose that 20 pounds to begin running again, because I had decided to use a training program for an "absolute beginner" to do the Disney half marathon, and I needed to start on a certain date and it was time to start, according to the plan.
So, I began while I weighed 220 pounds. I was a little worried about this, but I had built an 8 week walking base using Chi Walking, and had completed a 5K in 48 minutes walking ( a good walking clip) and was feeling pretty good. Besides that, I was planning to use the run/walk method, which seemed conservative and realistic, and I was going to be building very very gradually. And besides that I had bought myself a fantastic new pair of really supportive running shoes to start my training.
However, things did not go well, and by the time I had got up to 6.5 miles, I had to step things back because of a bad case of plantar fasciitis.
I went down to the Disney marathon and could not run in the 1/2 that I had signed up for. My family was there and I am the only one in the family who has not run the Disney 1/2 or the marathon. They've all done it.
But I did think it was very interesting, as I watched the marathon, that there were a LOT of overweight runners running in the marathon. Really? I marveled. There are overweight marathoners!! Boy, they must eat a lot.
(The same blog over at Running-Advice.com has a post about how marathoners can be overweight: Training -- Dissecting the Overweight Runner It all comes to food intake and nutrition management, just like you would think.)
And now, after this very lengthy post, I am going to discuss my latest discovery. I have found myself in the unfortunate position of having gained about 25 pounds since I last stopped running last Thanksgiving. I now weigh about 245, which is up 45 pounds from the weight was when I made my first attempt to get back into running (only -25 from my all-time high starting weight of 270)
But, despite the pounds, I did not want to wait this time to get down to a better starting weight for running. Despite the plantar fasciitis last year, and the fear of reactivating it or re-injuring my foot, I have begun again. AND I have begun in minimalist shoes AND now I am running barefoot.
And the miraculous thing is that my feet, knees, hip joints, etc ... feel fantastic!! I was really worried about attempting barefoot running while overweight, but it seems to be going very well. In fact, I am not even having to use the run/walk method at all. I am running at a very slow pace, probably over 12 min/mile, but, nevertheless, things are going well. I'm feeling very good, with no joint pains anywhere.
I now believe that, just like any runner, good form and proper alignment, which can be learned through barefoot running, can aid the overweight runner and prevent injuries and undue stress, just like it can for any more standard weight runner. The only difference is that the foot strength needs to be developed to a greater degree and, actually, all the muscles need to be stronger, and just as the process of developing muscles is a slow one that must be taken in stages, the key to overweight running is to build that strength even more gradually than the lighter runner.
An overweight person can become fit enough to manage and slug his weight around. He or she has to take the weight into account as a factor, but I think that using supportive shoes could actually even harm the overweight runner more because I think our feet become very weak in those shoes, and, if anything, an overweight runner needs stronger feet than others, not weaker ones.
Having said all that, who am I? Am I anybody who knows anything? No! I give some opinions based on a little bit of head knowledge from reading, and a very little bit of experiential knowledge. It is my opinion only and should not be acted on. Just thought about a little bit.
In the meantime, I know the difference between running when I am a more standard weight and running when I am this heavy, and it is a much more wonderful experience running lighter. So, I do plan to adjust my nutritional approach again and start taking care of myself and not eating more than I need. But I just wanted to say that just because I don't have a handle on all that just yet does not mean that I can't run AND that I can't run barefoot.