After about two months of training for an ultramarathon, I’ve now realized that what I could only previously describe as indescribable heel pain, is actually plantar fasciitis. This had been a running injury I had previously thought I was immune to, but I’ve realized that like most of my running injuries over the years, plantar fasciitis is associated with weak hips and disrupted ankle joints. This means that I’ve run for probably close to four months on what I could call early-on-set plantar fasciitis, until finally identifying my condition on an early morning snowy run.
Even when following the 10% rule, injuries can come about if you’re not properly supplementing your body with the right strength/flexibility training, nutrition, or recovery. This is all the more true when blatantly ignoring the signs you’ve had for months in pursuit of continued running. For my own purposes, I would wake up in the morning, and feel pain in my heel. But after cycling, walking or running, that pain would instantaneously disappear. So I never thought much of it. But this past week, the pain never fully subsided, and so I started to wonder – could this be the dreaded plantar fasciitis? Given the crystal-clear connection of the most common sign of the injury (pain that is worse initially and then disappears), I have to believe that this has to be plantar fasciitis.
My injury comes after my first week of running 7 days in a row for the first time in a long, long time. It comes after an immaculate effort in a 34km run in which I felt so incredibly smooth throughout, and a snowy workout that I adapted to on the fly. But in the days that have followed that workout, my heel pain has stood the test of time (rather than disappearing). Like any niggling injury, this means I will now be taking the next two days off of running, while working on strengthening the areas of the body most directly related to the injury (in this case the hips, calves and ankles).
I’ve spoken about running addiction on my site before, and there’s nothing that fully wakes you up to your addiction like a missed day of running due to injury. You know the feeling! I simply want to get out there and run wild. Especially given that today is supposed to be a long-run day, which have been the most enjoyable on my journey since I started this process.
I can’t help but look down on anyone running with an eye of jealousy – wishing that were me! But rest is so often best when it comes to injuries, and I now hope to be back after a couple days of rest, rather than weeks or months, where I’d have to start this process all over again.
So before I give my tips on strengthening in relation to plantar fasciitis, I first want to reiterate one crucial message. Running through physical pain will eventually only lead to more pain. I generally subscribe to the belief that if it’s not changing your running form, you’re usually safe to keep pushing through the pain. But as I’ve found out, you need to be supplementing that with caution, and other forms of training on the side to stop something going from bad to worse.
One of the keys to a successful plantar fasciitis recovery is in strengthening and carefully moving the hip and ankle joints. Any exercise that allows for balance on one leg will naturally strengthen both simultaneously. With these exercises (tree pose, airplane, etc.), your focus should be on digging into the floor with your toes, rather than the heel. Lunge poses like Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 can also be useful in this regard, as stationary activities that strengthen both the ankles and hips.
You should avoid any exercises that include jumping or landing on the feet, including the hard-pounding of the roads we run on. If you have a favourite yoga teacher (whether they be in-person or virtual), chances are, they will have many exercises designed for plantar fasciitis. If not, I’d definitely recommend asking for their favourite exercises that focus on the strengthening of the hips and ankles. For any men looking to get into yoga, I highly recommend Dean Pohlman of Man Flow Yoga. He has an article and a video series on plantar fasciitis, including all of your best balance exercises for strengthening those joints.
That said, others in the industry will say that you should be keeping your heels flat on the ground and strengthening your calves instead. As long as you proceed with caution as you test out different exercises, the best advice is to find poses and exercises that feel right for you and your plantar fasciitis. But as much as it hurts us, that should not be running. It’s so easy to feel like you can continue to run on plantar fasciitis, especially if you’ve built up a high pain tolerance over the years from the excessive amounts of running you’ve done. But running on a foot injury will only make your life worse, and cause you to be out for longer in the long-run.
So how do you know that you’re ready for a return? Plantar fasciitis can be a particularly deceitful injury – often as one that we cannot only run through, but one that often feels better as we run. If you’ve gotten to a place where your heel continues to have that dull ache throughout the run and afterward, it’s probably time to stop. If you can do your normal A,B,C’s, without pain, you might be ready to try run-walking, and see how the pain feels both mid-run and at the end.
In the meantime, I strongly encourage you to conduct your own research on the topic, and confront the contradictions. Stay off those feet, and work toward flexibility and strength until you’re ready to return!
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