On rehabbing achilles after Vivobarefoot shoes (part two)

Tank Green/ August 5, 2023/ Health

Earlier this year, I wrote about my achilles tendinopathy which was caused by wearing Vivobarefoot shoes. I still have the tendinopathy and am now on the waiting list for shockwave therapy. Please don’t wear barefoot shoes. Learn from my mistake and don’t wear barefoot shoes.

I actually had this conversation with a newbie convert recently. He was devoutly proselytising that our feet are evolutionarily ‘designed’ to be barefoot, so wearing shoes which mimic this state can’t be bad for us. Yes, young padawan, but whilst our feet are designed to be barefoot, they’re not designed to be barefoot on tarmac or concrete, which is what most of us spend our outdoor time walking on. They’re designed to be barefoot on grass, sand, soil, and and other natural materials: materials which all have some ‘give’ in them.

In my experience, those of us who live in urban environments need more cushioning in our shoes to protect our feet (and, frankly, our entire skeleton) from the impact of walking on tarmac and concrete. I guess, if you must wear barefoot shoes, only wear them for limited periods in the gym, but not to and from it, or as lifestyle shoes more generally.

Anyway, it’s been about a year now and my achilles are still not healed. I have been on a phased running programme since May which has been both highly frustrating and very welcome. The physio had me start back into running by following the Couch to 5K plan, which, prior to ever having done it, I thought was a marvellous plan. I know several people who have started running thanks to the programme. Having now tried it, I am mystified as to how anyone could learn to love running from such a highly irritating stop/start programme. You barely have any time to get into the flow before you have to stop again. Urgh.

I got all the way up to running for 13 minutes, walk for two, and then run for another 13 minutes, but I got a serious flare up, so I had to go back down to 2 x 8 mins with a 2 min walk in between. That said, it appears that the issue was not the running but a more advanced plyometric exercise the physio prescribed, which I like to call the ‘boingy-boingy’ exercise. (It involves putting a resistance band over a chin up bar and using it to assist in single leg hops.) We’ve since removed boingy-boingy and I am now back to 2 x 11 mins runs and doing fine.

One of the things we are also trying to improve is my running cadence. It was around 165 which is too low: the physio wants me to try to get it to around 180. It’s actually extremely difficult to change your cadence, or at least, I am finding it so.

My tinnitus means that I can’t wear earbuds when I run, so on my first attempt to improve my cadence, I tried using my phone’s speaker to listen to a 180bpm playlist. That didn’t work because the sound was too tinny, so then I tried a metronome on my phone. That also didn’t work, mainly because I couldn’t figure out how I should match it. Trying nearly resulted in me throwing my phone in the river. At the end of that run, highly frustrated, I accosted a young man whom I accused of being a professional runner and demanded to know his cadence. It was 183, the bastard. He seemed to be able to get it right naturally. My brain and soul were broken.

The next week, I thought about it logically: if the aim was to get more steps in per minute, then I had two options: 1) go faster, or 2) take smaller strides. I am not a total idiot, so opted for number two. I decided to forget external measurements and just concentrate on taking smaller steps, as well as feeling the difference in my body.

The first thing I noticed was that in taking smaller strides, I naturally shifted my striking point to the front/mid portion of my foot, where previously I landed mid/rear. The second thing I noticed was that this engaged the glutes more. The final thing I noticed was that it was weird, and I had to concentrate really hard to stop myself from gravitating back to longer strides/lower cadence. However, it worked: my average cadence at the end of the second week was 176. The next week I did even better: 180. Hurrah! But then I got cocky for the fourth week, as I felt like I’d cracked it, and was back down to 175. This week was even worse: 168. Urgh!

Point is, this shit’s hard. I’ve been running one particular way (and no, never in barefoot shoes) for decades, and trying to change the way I run now is really hard! However, I do like running and I want to be able to have one solid 5-10K run a week as part of my training regime, just like ye olde days. So, I will keep trying to improve my cadence and hope that this is also kinder to my achilles.

Finally, I have been running (and gyming and everythinging) in my Hoka Challengers and I really, really love them. I also have a pair of their Tor hiking boots for my long walks, which I also love. They feel like walking on marshmallows, in a very good way. I recently joined the Ramblers (I am now officially a geriatric), so they will be getting even more regular usage. If you’ve got achy, old, bashed up feet and achilles, I still highly recommend Hoka.