I've been running in the VFFs (mostly, though some in the Asics) for the past two weeks, and I've got a new issue cropping up: Ankle pain that runs from the bottom front of my inner ankle (still on the right foot that was diagnosed with PF, of course) up to my mid calf -- but primarily with the pain right around the ankle bone. It seems to crop up right at about mile 3.5 or 4 and is painful enough that I have to stop running almost immediately or else find myself hobbling up the street to get back home.
A little research suggests that I might be having an issue with my posterior tibial tendon (Dr. Google not being a real doctor and all, I'm totally self-diagnosing here). This seems to be an issue that can be caused by weak arches, and since I overpronate slightly and have been wearing arch supports (aka arch weakeners) for years, it's no surprise at all that my arches might need some help.
Full-time barefoot runners (www.runningbarefoot.org) say that you should only run as far as you can run barefoot. Since I'm currently experiencing pain at about the 3.5 mile mark (in the VFFs, not totally barefoot), I'm guessing that means that that's as strong as my arches currently are, and that I need to continue the strengthening/stretching that I've been doing, as well as the short-distance minimalist running to keep working my feet, calves, and ankles (my right ankle has been extremely stiff ever since this PFF business started). One interesting site that suggests that you can strengthen your arches by practicing standing and walking with your arches in neutral position. Sure enough, if I stand with my arches in a neutral position for about 10 minutes, the muscles all up the outside of my legs, and other muscles in my feet and ankles get surprisingly tired! They clearly aren't used to having to work so much to keep my arch strong, but by gosh they are going to learn! I also read that balancing on one foot with your eye closed is a good arch strengthener. Fortunately, I've been doing these all summer. And sure enough, it's amazing at all the muscles and bits that engage in the foot/ankle/leg doing this!
Square One? Naked Feet
In addition to adding more focus on standing and walking with a neutral arch, I'm thinking of taking this barefoot thing from the other direction. Full-time barefooters argue that you shouldn't transition down from shod running, but should rather go the other direction. Get rid of the shoes entirely and start running barefoot, and build up distance and pace as your body allows, aka as your body learns to run softly and strengthens the parts that need strengthening. If that means that either your skin or muscles or whatever can only handle 1/4 mile at first, well, then you should only be running 1/4 mile. This seems untenable for a runner used to running long distances. But guess what. News flash. I'm not running long distances these days. So do I really have anything to lose by starting uber-slow, if it ultimately means healing well, and eventually getting to a place where I'm running injury-free well into the future?
I have to admit that I'm not planning on being a full-on naked barefoot marathoner, but I am pretty much thinking that the VFFs are my new forever running shoe. So building back up some distance by barefooting, and then using the VFFs only after the barefooting has done its work, may be the way I go for a while. Tomorrow morning I'm going for a barefoot run, first thing in the morning. It shouldn't take long as I don’t expect I'll get very far (the sidewalks around here are super rough). If something hurts, I'll stop. Maybe I'll try that for a week or so and see how it goes.