Be A Fanatic About Your Gait and Heal Your Plantar Fasciitis
This is how I healed my PF and kept running ultramarathons.
Approximately 4% to 7% of the population experiences heel pain and plantar fasciitis (PF). Obesity, walking on hard surfaces for an extended period of time, flat feet, high arches, and running are some known risk factors.
Eighty percent of those with heel pain experience PF, inflammation of the plantar fascia. The pain is usually sharp.
PF sufferers experience the worse pain when bearing weight on the heel after it has been at rest. They also experience severe heel pain after getting out of bed, after being at rest, or after sitting for a long period of time.
In my experience, as soon as I got out of bed in the morning and hit the hardwood floor, the pain and discomfort caused me to limp and shuffle my feet.
In this piece, I share what remedies and treatment worked and didn’t work for me in search of relief and healing.
I hope how I healed my PF will help you to get your feet back out on the course pain-free.
PF and Runners
I have high arches and I run ultramarathons.
A few years ago I suffered with plantar fasciitis. I tried all kinds of contraptions and remedies prescribed by my podiatrist to alleviate the pain.
Plantar fasciitis was interfering with my running, walking, and quality of life.
I am not alone.
I come across runners and non-runners on social media who share their frustration with foot and heel pain that could be plantar fasciitis (PF). They are suffering. They are seeking relief and healing.
During the August 2016 Anchor Down 24 hour ultra, I slowed down to make sure a limping fellow runner was OK.
My headlamp shined on her face and hers on mine. She had a scrape and a bruise below her left eye.
She had fallen on the trail after tripping on a tree root. And she said she was limping because of her painful plantar fasciitis.
I empathized with her. I felt her pain. We walked for a while and I shared my PF story. I told her about my unsuccessful attempts to heal my PF.
I shared with her how I finally healed my painfully annoying and somewhat disabling PF in my right heel.
Overtaking My Active Life
My bout with PF began in spring 2015. Attempts by my podiatrist to treat my plantar fasciitis in my right heel included a foot brace, sport orthotics, a night splint, a Bosu ball, a short air walking boot, and crutches.
None of these well-intentioned contraptions provided relief, successful therapy, or healing.
I watched YouTube videos and came across contradictory tips. However, two tips that provided temporary relief was rolling my foot over a golf ball or a frozen water bottle.
My PF was distressfully overtaking my very active life.
I had never experienced or been sidelined by a running injury. A veteran of of a slew of 5Ks, 10Ks, 10 marathons, and 13 ultramarathons, I wasn’t going to let my PF completely sideline me.
I trained at a much slower pace and logged fewer miles through the discomfort.
But I completed 62 miles (100K) at the July 2015 Montour 24 hour trail ultra gently running the first 40 miles without my foot brace, taking two bloodied tumbles, immersing both feet in ice water for relief, and slowly walking the last 22 miles with my foot brace and with my pacer — my husband.
I managed to place 10th in the women’s division in a little over 22 hours. The previous year I placed 4th.
PF was also interfering with my teaching life. Walking and standing while teaching was painful. Hobbling around campus with a boot and crutches did nothing for my PF. I was frustrated.
A ray of hope alleviated my frustration when a friend told me about a doctor who successfully treated his left shoulder.
I googled the doctor and learned that Dr. Marc Legere is a recognized authority in sports and physical medicine.
He treats student athletes, professional athletes, and runners. I made several appointments with Dr. Legere. He manipulated and massaged my right heel, foot, leg, and hip.
I learned from Dr. Legere that PF is more about the hip and less about the foot.
I learned that my gait was incorrect. I stand with my feet outward instead of inward.
To strengthen my foot and calf muscles, and to reduce pain, he prescribed walking barefoot at home.
I also met with a physical therapist (PT) twice a week for about six weeks. He taught me great exercises to strengthen my balance and my core. I diligently did the exercises at home.
I had been running incorrectly all those years!
Muscle Weakness and Improper Gait
In an email correspondence with Dr. Legere, he explained two things that often cause PF.
Muscle weakness in the foot or calf muscles that hold up the arch of the foot can cause PF.
Muscle weakness and improper gait patterns (the movement our body makes when it walks or runs) stress and fatigue the muscles that hold up the arch.
The height of the arch can begin to decrease. This causes a pulling on the plantar fascia, which is close to the heel, and the heel to become painful.
He further explained that,
“In many cases of plantar fasciitis, the actual problem starts in the hip area. When the external hip rotators (a group of muscles that sit beneath the gluteus maximus) contract, they open up the leg, which turns the leg/foot into an outward position. When the leg is rotated outward, ever step causes a great deal of pressure on the arch of the foot and, therefore, the plantar fascia.”
Be A Fanatic About Your Gait
Dr. Legere’s advice to ultrarunners is simple —
“Be a fanatic about your gait. Imagine how much stress an ultrarunner is putting on their leg/foot over a long run or race! If your gait is off even a few degrees, over time all of those little differences can really add up…and [cause] pain in the plantar fascia.”
I tossed the foot brace, the air boot, the night splint, the Bosu ball, and the crutches into the attic.
I became a fanatic about my gait.
With my healed foot and no longer suffering from PF, in a five month period I went on to run the Lake Waramaug 50 mile road ultra and set a personal best. Next, I placed 3rd female in my age group at the Dirty German 50 mile trail ultra.
I also placed 3rd female in my age group and 5th overall female at the Anchor Down 24 hour ultra.
Before each of these ultras, my healed PF visited Dr. Legere for a tune-up manipulation. I continued to do my PT exercises at home.
I still continue to see Dr. Legere before each ultramarathon.
Don’t Let PF Keep You Off Course
Since Anchor Down I have finished six more ultras ranging from 50 miles, to 24 hour hour events, to 112 miles on a one mile jagged loop on a concrete parking lot at the A Race for the Ages.
Every runner’s and non-runner’s plantar fasciitis experience, pain, suffering, treatment, and healing is different. Do what works for you.
What worked for me was finding the right expert, whose treatment corrected my gait, healed my PF, and made me an improved runner.
In the process, I learned how to strengthen my core, calf, and foot muscles, my hips, ankles, and the arches of my feet.
I am conscious of my gait and how I plant my feet when I walk and run.
Walking barefoot on our hardwood floors at home has strengthen my plantar fascia and my ankles.
Rolling my foot over a frozen bottle water or a golf ball, if needed, while watching TV is also good.
Don’t let plantar fasciitis keep you off course and from your next race no matter the distance, or from enjoying life in whatever you do.
Watch my YouTube video — How I Healed My Plantar Fasciitis and Ran 3 More Ultras
Miriam Diaz-Gilbert (aka Miriam Gilbert) has been running over 30 years. I am training for my 27th ultramarathon — Across the Years 48 hour ultra. I invite you to visit my ultrarunning website and to reach out to me if you have any questions. Thank you for sharing this story.