The Orthotic Saga Continues…


Shoes from left to right – Inov8 TrailRoc 255, Inov8 Roclite 295, Brooks Cascadia 7
Inserts from left to right – Orange Superfeet, Stock Inov8 footbeds, Custom Orthotics

If you read my entry back on April 1st, you know that I am trying to work my way out of my rock hard custom orthotics, and make efforts to improve my form to a shorter mid-foot strike. Well, it’s been a few weeks now, and they’ve been pretty much action packed!

The Pure Grits that I was trying out didn’t end up working for me. I got in a handful of 5-7 mile runs which were, in truth, feeling pretty good. After the 4th or 5th one of these runs however, I noticed that old familiar pain in my fascia of my left foot when I stepped out of the car. Feeling it again the next morning when I got out of bed, I freaked out! I cleaned up the shoes a little bit and brought them back to REI. Maybe a little bit of a knee jerk reaction considering the time it typically takes to work into more minimal shoes, but that specific pain triggered something in me that I couldn’t control. Back they went!

From REI I drove down to see Thomas Mikkelsen at RunFit in Milford, MA. A couple weeks earlier, I had been chatting with him about a pair of the new Inov8 TrailRoc 255’s that hadn’t come in yet. The 255 is the 6mm drop version of the current line (they come in 0, 3 and 6mm). The 255 has a little more drop than the 4mm Pure Grits as well as a little more structure. I was pleased to find out that they fit my heel much better than the Pure Grits as well. The Orange Superfeet inserts that I’ve been using to transition out of my custom orthotics fit in them well also. So on Thomas’ advice, I bought them.

By the way, if you’re the type that needs credentials for your running store guy, just check out Thomas’ Silver Western States buckle hanging on the wall. (to go along with 3 other 100 mile buckles that are there as well.)

My first run in the 255’s was a 13 miler at one of my regular spots, Callahan State Park in Framingham, MA. I know I shouldn’t have gone that far in them, but they felt great, and I had planned the route so that I would never really be too far from the car where my Inov8 Roclite 295’s were waiting for me. The entire run went great, and my feet felt fine afterwards.

A few days later, my buddy Mark and I planned a 20 miler in Vietnam Woods. I was really concerned about this run because I didn’t know what I should do in terms of orthotics. I hadn’t worn my customs in a couple of weeks, but I hadn’t come close to 20 miles in the softer Superfeet yet. I decided to run in my 9mm drop Inov8 295’s which I was used to, and do the first half in the Superfeet and then throw in my customs to limit the possibility of injury once my feet were tired. Things went according to plan, and I changed the inserts at about 9.5 miles into the run. Within a couple of miles however, I started noticing that my right big toe felt funny. This got progressively worse, and “funny” turned to painful! I had the guys stop so I could pull off my sock and see what the hell was going on. It was a blister!! I know that may not seem crazy to most runners, but I NEVER get blisters! (Thank you Smartwool)

I wasn’t sure why this blister was coming on all of a sudden, but the only thing that had changed during the run was the orthotics. I decided to lead us back to the car and switch back to the Superfeet inserts. On the way back to the car, the blister continued to worsen. By the time I got there, it was about the size of a quarter on the bottom-inside of my big toe. My gut instinct was to cut the run short, but the little voices in my head said, “Really Mr. Ultrarunner? You’re going to stop your long run because of a blister?”

I put the Superfeet back in and headed back out.

Surprisingly, the blister didn’t get any worse, and actually felt pretty much ok for the rest of the run. Later, some self-analysis and a conversation with Thomas gave me what I’m pretty sure is the answer. As my foot strike has shifted more towards the mid and fore-foot, the way my feet and toes interact with my shoes has changed as well. The leather uppers of the custom orthotics were rubbing my toes much more than they did when I was running on my heels. I think this rubbing caused the blister. The surface of the Superfeet inserts is fabric instead of leather, (similar to what you would find in the included footbed of almost every running shoe sold today), and therefor wasn’t rubbing nearly as much on my toes.

This analysis both excited and scared me! Excited because not only does this mean that my form and stride are improving, but it is yet another reason to get out of my orthotics! Scared because it means that I can’t just go running back to my orthotics with my tail between my legs if things get tough.

Side note: a silver lining to this blister experience was that I learned how to easily and safely lance a blister so I could be up and running quickly. I think I’ll make up a “blister kit” to carry with me on long runs and Ultras.

With the new shoes working well for me, and the Superfeet not causing me blisters, it seemed like I had my combination. The big test would be the upcoming Traprock 50k trail race on April 13th.

More uncertainty.

I really wasn’t confident in a footwear plan for Traprock. The new shoes are much more comfortable in the toe box than my Inov 295s. Considering Traprock has so much climbing and descending, (RD’s claim 6,900 feet of each in the race), I really wanted to wear the shoes that were more comfortable on the toes. After more consultation with Thomas, I decided to just go for it and wear the new shoes with the Orange Superfeet inserts. Since it was a 3 loop course, I could always make adjustments between laps. I loaded up my drop bag with extra shoes as well as my custom orthotics to change into if things went badly and headed off for the race.

I was both surprised and excited to get through the entire 50k with no real problems with my feet! I did need to change socks at one point, but my feet held up fine in the new shoes and softer inserts. This was a huge, HUGE breakthrough for me!

My full race recap of the Traprock 50k can be found here..

There is only one area where I feel any real concern going forward without my orthotics. Running on flat, non technical surfaces seems to induce me to lengthen my stride. A longer stride and slower cadence is the enemy right now, so I need to focus on this problem. I’ve begun to do some shorts runs targeting this. Running with only the footbeds that came in the shoe on either the rail trail or on the track, I am focusing on keeping a fast turnover, shooting for the recommended 180 steps per minute. Even on short runs, I have found it difficult not to lose focus on my turnover. To aid in this, I bought a Garmin foot pod to go along with my Fenix. I can set the watch to give me an alarm if my cadence gets too slow. I haven’t played with this yet, so I’ll hold off on giving you my thoughts until I do.

So up to this point, my effort to get out of my orthotics has been a huge success! I know the project is far from over, but I’m optimistic!

more to come…..

2 responses to “The Orthotic Saga Continues…

  1. Thank you. I have been struggling with Plantar for 8 months now and just bought custom orthotics. Get his is a nightmare for an ultrarunner. Your blog is very encouraging to me.

    • I’m glad it helped! Plantar sucks for sure, but in most of the cases I’ve come across (myself and my friends) it can usually be fixed with exercises, ice, and usually footwear adjustment. Sorry for the late reply! (see the tagline of my blog name… 🙂 )

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