One of the downsides of being born with bilateral club is that I am not a very good runner. So as a triathlete you can imagine the frustration with not being able to podium against athletes that are running faster miles.
I am determined this off season to train my body to run faster. I am determined to beat my feet into submission regardless of my limitations. With hard work, training, drills and practice I will reach my goals and once again prove my club feet wrong.
Here are some of things that I am up against. If you are club footer and you are reading this I am sure that you will be able to identify with each of these “mechanical” issues. Also, I hope with this information and encouragement you will be able to move a little easier.
Misshaped & misaligned tarsal bones and bones reduced in size
Unfortunately my bones are misshaped (reduced in size) and misaligned. The tarsal bones, seven in total, are located along the mid foot and ankle. These bones allow the motion of the foot to transfer the weight of the body. As a result of the shape,alingment and size my body weight is not transferred to the foot properly. This lack of motion limits my weight distribution causing pain along the top of my foot between these seven bones and joints. When my foot strikes the ground the uneven weight distribution causes pain and many other problems while running.
Limited range of motion particularly plantar and dorsal flexing
This lack of motion drives me crazy. I am unable to fully dorsal flex my feet. Dorsal flexing is when you can point your toes straight up. My toes, when I try to dorsal flex, maintain a nice horizontal line. In order to increase running times a runner must be able to “toe off” the ground with force (the longer in the air the faster run times). In addition, the ability to plantar flex (point toes down) is crucial to maintain speed and force when toeing off the ground. I recently spent some time watching Ironman world champion Mirinda Carfrae run in slow motion on a treadmill. Mirinda’s ability to toe off with great force and plantar flex is what has made her a world champion. Three time Ironman World Champion Craig Alexander runs with great toe off force and plantar flex also. Alexander’s running form is amazing and his ability to toe off while dorsal flexing and plantar flexing has led to running a marathon at a five to six minute pace. I am unable to plantar flex and dorsal flex in full range. As a result, my foot hits the ground flatfooted and I push off with limited motion. Most of the power I use to toe off comes from my calves and butt. While running I rely on unrelated muscles which results in a “funny looking” run style.
Calf muscles are smaller than normal
People born with club feet have smaller calf muscles than normal. These muscles are shorter which means they do not flex, contract and snap back like a rubber band like they should. There is limited motion in these muscle fibers. When I run I am using less muscle fibers then normal resulting in using unrelated muscles to compensate the lack of muscle in my calves. I usually experience inflammation and soreness in my calves on a daily basis while training, running, walking or standing. I am not able to use my calves to provide force and stability.
Tendons, muscles and ligaments are abnormal
Muscles, tendons, and ligaments are what cause your body to move in harmony with each other. The tendons and ligaments in people born with clubfeet often are tight, sore and stiff. As a result, limited motion in the foot becomes an issue while trying to maintain proper running form. Often muscle tightness along the bottom of the foot is present during a run and often during cycling sessions. These deformities limit the range of motion while cycling. This problem leads to slower turnover or cadence. Again, most of my force generated during cycling comes from my butt and hips. My feet do not follow a fluid circular rotation while hammering down on the pedals.
As an endurance athlete with clubfoot the above deformities make for very interesting training and racing sessions. I am positive though that I will be able to make somewhat of a difference in my speed and endurance with proper drills and strength training. It is important if you have clubfeet to start the process of making your feet stronger. Overtime, I have discovered that the more I strengthen my lower half I am able to feel less pain. The pain will never fully go away but strengthening the foot has been beneficial for me.
If you are not engaging in any endurance type activities, simple stretching and walking have been crucial in maintaining a stronger foot. If you do not move your feet in new ways those ligaments in my opinion stay tight and stiff. Try a nice hot foot bath followed by stretching your foot in a dorsal and plantar position. As mentioned above those with clubfeet have very limited motion. With proper care the foot can be a little easier to deal with over time.
I am not a doctor. Before you follow any of my advice speak to your doctor about what’s best for you and your feet.