100 Up and the “Vampire Bite” (aka, plantar fasciitis)
I’m curious to see whether anyone finds that the 100 Up relieves plantar fasciitis, beyond the possibility of preventing it. I had my own bout with the dreaded vampire bite back in late 2007, after I’d returned from the Copper Canyons and was working on Born to Run. It didn’t stop me from running, but it was annoying and enough to let me know something was wrong. Luckily, Men’s Health sent me to London to research an assignment about connective tissue, and I had the chance to consult two rather offbeat experts — Dr. Robert Schleip, a German fascia researcher who cured his own fasciitis by running barefoot, and Lee Saxby, a natural movement specialist who, at the time, was working for an expedition company called Wildfitness. Once Lee got me back to running Tarahumara-style, I was startled by how quickly the PF vanished, never to return. That experience with Schleip, Saxby, and plantar fasciitis convinced me that form is not only paramount, but far too easily taken for granted. It was also a turning point in my approach to footwear. I touched on this episode in the article I wrote for Men’s Health, but here’s a more detailed version I gave in answer to a follow-up question from Matt Metzgar, author of “Stone Age Power.”
here’s the back story:when i came down with plantar fasciitis, i was in the midst of writing “born to run,” and i was convinced that after studying the tarahumara and techniques like pose, chi and evolution running, i’d mastered perfect running form. i thought i’d never be injured again — and yet i was. so once again, i made the same round of visits to podiatrists, massage therapists and sports medicine physicians, and once again was given the same useless advice (night splint, stretch your calves, roll your foot on a golf ball…)
BUT NONE OF THEM — and this is so important, it deserves double all-caps — NONE OF THEM EVER ASKED TO SEE ME RUN.
Lee Saxby did. that’s the first thing he did. he took me outside, then videotaped me as I ran up and run down the street. when he played the tape back, i was astonished to see that instead of landing on my forefoot, i was coming down on my heel. and instead of keeping my back straight and feet under my hips, i was leaning waaaaaayyy back and striding way out past my center of gravity.
ugh. it was horrible.
it didn’t take long to figure out what happened. that past winter, we’d had a burst of snow back home in pennsylvania. since i believed i had mastered Tarahumara-style running, i thought i could get away with wearing a thick, warm, cushioned shoe. i started running in the nike vomeros, the shoe equivalent of an escalade. i didn’t realize it, but the shoes were so plush that i could no longer tell which part of my foot was hitting the ground. bit by bit, my running form went to hell. i was backsliding to my awful old technique, and totally unaware of it.
so what was lee’s cure?
first, the overhead squats with the 12-pound bar. the purpose of the bar is to force honest, upright posture. if you don’t stack your joints properly and come straight up-and-down, the bar will make you wobble and force you to kick out a foot for balance. when you can go all the way down to a full squat and back up again without moving your feet, you know your ankles, hips, shoulders and head are all in erect alignment.
so that means you have to get off your heels and up on your toes to execute the squat, which stretches the plantar fascia between the arch and heel. forget all that nonsense podiatrists tell you about stretching the calf; PF has NOTHING to do with the calf. it has EVERYTHING to do with the plantar fascia in the foot. i had this explained to me by Dr. Robert Schleip, head of the world-reknowned Fascia Research Clinic at Germany’s Ulm University. Schleip himself suffered from plantar fasciitis. and his cure? running barefoot through the parks of Berlin. “when you run in bare feet, you get a deep stretch in your foot that’s hard to accomplish any other way,” Schleip told me.
and that brings me to the final part of Lee’s Saxby’s Miraculous PF Cure:
lose the shoes.
after the squats and some rope-skipping (which also drives a deep stretch into your arch), lee took me back outside for some barefoot running drills. lee is one of the best POSE method teachers in the world, probably second only to dr. romanov himself, and it didn’t take him long to sharpen up my posture and correct my foot-strike. that afternoon, i went for a long barefoot through hyde park. it felt sensational. since then, i’ve never put on a running shoe — and never felt a twinge of heel pain again.
so my analysis? i think the overhead squats immediately relieved the irritation by stretching the fascia, and my subsequent maintenance has come from running in bare feet, usually about 50-70 miles a week. it’s been over a year, and my legs feel awesome.
Since then, whenever someone asks me what to do about plantar fasciitis, I’ve said “See Lee.” If you can’t catch him in person, you can learn a lot from this video. It demonstrates almost exactly what Lee did with me.