I’ve been a long-time trail runner, never competitive but steadfastly committed to the sport for over 20 years. Three years ago two friends and I completed the Dirty 30 and Imogene Pass trail runs within a few months of each other. Dishearteningly, my aging knees never recovered from these visually stunning but physically brutal body-beating events. In the aftermath of that summer, today if the trail leads uphill or on inclined surfaces, or if my foot strikes the ground at the wrong angle on a flat surface, my knees feel as though someone struck my funny bone. Ouch! Although I’ve been able to keep up with running, mixing in healthy doses of other activities to keep my mileage low, even on running days I could usually only manage maybe 30 minutes at a time on the trails. I wasn’t upset, but I did miss those lovely long slow runs in the mountains.
This summer I was introduced to zero-drop running shoes. What a miraculous difference! The zero-drop heel forces me to run on the balls of my feet. There are debates on both sides about barefoot running, and if you haven’t read Born To Run it’s a fun and breezy collection of stories that support the notion. For my part, I’m sold. I have not felt my knees even once since using the zero-drop shoes. I can still feel where there is damage in the knees, but the transmission of load through my legs, when running on the balls of my feet, does not seem to engage that part of the knee. NO PAIN!
It’s fantastic to be out on the trails again. Increasing time/mileage slowly, because now there are other body parts that need to be strengthened. At first it was calves (wow how they burned the first few weeks), and now it’s ankles that are gradually coming up to snuff.
I don’t know if there’s another Dirty 30 or Imogene Pass in my future, but it’s liberating to at least be able to daydream about it again.
(By the way, the brand I went with is Altra and I will definitely be getting more of these. Wide toe box, grippy soles, and very breathable.)