Joe Maller.com

Hurt feet

I’ve been reluctant to post this because there’s a weird sort of stigma among barefoot and near-barefoot runners that injuries should be a thing of the past. For the most part, that’s been completely true for me, but something is going on with my feet and I felt it was important to write about.

The pain is focused on the Extensor Digitorum Longus and Extensor Hallucis Longus on top of my feet, mostly behind the smaller toes, but with some sensitivity over the joint between the first metatarsal and first cuneiform bones. These muscles and tendons are responsible for lifting the toes–which is why I’ve become suspicious of the Bikilas, but more on that in a bit. There is no discoloration or swelling. Pain is most noticeable during the toe-off phase of walking, running mostly feels fine. It is very difficult to raise up on the toes of one foot at a time.

As seems to be tradition with running injuries, I’ve been spending a lot of time theorizing about what could be the cause.

In November, following my post about bad running form, I ran about 65 miles completely barefoot (and LOVED it). I spent a good amount of that time on Barefoot Ken Bob’s advice about lifting the entire foot, especially my toes. But December has been too cold for bare feet with only a few days above freezing, so I’ve been running in the Bikilas which are warmer than my open-top VFF Sprints.

I ran three races in December. The first two were MUCH faster than I normally run. By the third race, my feet were still sore from the previous week and I just wanted to finish without limping. Despite my growing suspicions, all three races were run in Bikilas.

What’s wrong with the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila

One of my first reactions to the VFF Bikilas was that the toes felt stiff. In this video, I demonstrate the differences in toe-flexibility between VFF Sprints and VFF Bikilas.

Toe dorsiflexion is severely limited with the VFF Bikilas. I suspect that trying to lift my toes against the stiffness of the Bikilas either pulled or strained my extensor muscles or caused some tendonitis where they attach.

I’d also considered the possibility of simple overuse or the switch to heavier winter shoes, but I’ve become convinced that the toe-stiffness of the VFF Bikilas is the culprit here. I’m taking some time off to heal, but I’m not planning on running in the Bikilas again for a while. When I do, I’ll be paying very close attention to how my feel are feeling.


  • http://bradyjfrey.com Brady J. Frey

    6 months ago I finished Born to Run, and finally found myself running without shin splints, it’s great to see someone talking about these things online!

    I haven’t purchased the Bikilas, but the KSO’s have been good for me… makes me wonder if the sprints would be better in the long run. Do you have problems with the strap rubbing at all?

    Either way, thanks for the tips, hope you feel better.

    • http://www.joemaller.com Joe

      The strap on the Sprints has never been a problem for me, but I keep it pretty loose. I do love the Injinji socks, even with regular shoes, but I mostly use them when it gets colder.

      I have had issues in the past with blisters on the balls of my feet, but these are usually a result of sloppy form. With an ideal footstrike, there is NO skidding or sliding. This is easy to get away with in VFFs but immediately apparent when running barefoot. I had a pretty bad sliding landing which really wore down the VFF’s sole quickly.

      I highly recommend mixing in some barefoot miles as a part of your training. Running completely barefoot will immediately reveal deficiencies in your form and leaves a stupid grin on your face for hours afterwards.

      • http://bradyjfrey.com Brady J. Frey

        Makes sense, thank you; living downtown San Francisco, it’s been hard to get my time in running barefoot (last time I was up to 4 miles on pavement, there was little skin left… much less, a little dodging of the odd tourist leftover). I’ll test it out when I get more off road play in Golden Gate Park, but until then, maybe some treadmill barefoot jogging.

        How much do you run barefoot compared to your other jogging? And apologies for the 20 questions here.

        • http://www.joemaller.com Joe

          I live in NYC and usually run at night, so I totally understand urban filth and the difficulty of finding places and the time to go barefoot.

          Before it got really cold I was trying to go barefoot as often as possible. That usually means one or two miles in shoes, then 3-6 barefoot with shoes in hand, then back home in shoes. About half my miles in November were completely barefoot.

          At first there’s a hyper-sensation period where the skin on your feet feels like its tingling or burning for a while after running, I attribute that to unused nerve-endings freaking out after years of disuse. Once that settles down the extra sensations are like discovering new tastes or never-before-seen colors.

          I’ve also found that the skin on my feet heals ridiculously quickly now and is actually LESS calloused than before.

          No problem with the questions, I love talking about this. (and I’ve really got to get back on Twitter someday)

          • http://bradyjfrey.com Brady J. Frey

            Twitter can be hard to love… and it was a trade for me. I’m never on facebook (save twitter posts to facebook) and my blog is ignored.

            Thanks for the feedback, I’ll give it a shot. I’ve got a half marathon in 4 weeks, so I may not push the street jogging just yet barefoot… but I’ll get a little going.

  • http://bradyjfrey.com Brady J. Frey

    PS… need… RSS feeds… for comments… or email…

    • http://www.joemaller.com Joe

      I added an icon linking to each post’s RSS feed

      • http://bradyjfrey.com Brady J. Frey

        Thank you sir!

        On my original comment, any issues with the straps for you and the sprints? I’ve heard of rubbing… I keep getting hotspots + blisters on the KSO now that I’m full marathon training, debating trying it with injinji socks or going with something more open.

  • http://www.barefootfresca.blogspot.com Frances aka “Barefoot Fresca”

    I think you may be absolutely right about that limited toe dorsiflexion with the stiff toes on the Bikila. It’s amazing how many things there are to consider when trying to design a shoe that can accommodate the way the foot moves when it is barefoot and free.

    I don’t run very far yet, so some of the issues that might arise when running further distances with my KSO’s have not come up. I’ve only used the KSOs once this winter because we’ve managed to have conditions where I could get out barefoot all December, but at some point I’m going to have to run longer in them and I’m wondering what might happen that I can’t foresee.

    • http://www.joemaller.com Joe

      Funny, I was just reading your site last night! (We met, very briefly, at the BarefootNYC run with Chris McDougall in August.)

      The feet are doing much better, though I haven’t been in VFFs since I posted this. Rest, ice and elevation, along with stretching has worked well. No barefooting due to the cold, but I have been trying out other near-barefoot shoes, ZEMGear booties and Soft Star RunAmocs. Seriously loving the RunAmocs so far, I’ll post something about them when I’ve got more miles on each.

  • http://www.mamarunsbarefoot.blogspot.com Nora

    This was exactly where my foot has been hurting in those darn things!!! Now I know why! Thank you!!!!