Barefoot Runners


screaming calves!!! (Read 390 times)


    I'm new to this group but have been following the posts for the past few weeks as I've been transitioning to BF.


    I've read all about the calf soreness to be expected as my body adjusts to the new form but the last few runs have lead to some very acute pain about a half mile into my run.  It's always on one leg only and it has alternated between them.  Feels more like a cramp than anything else but I've never had anything like this in all my years of running.


    I've been BF for four weeks now, slowly incrementing up from 0.25 mile.  I was up to a mile by two weeks and the third week in is when I started getting this.  I had sore calves after my first couple weeks of runs but it was the good kind of soreness I expected to get when working a new muscle group.  I run both BF and also with VFFs (depending on the terrain) and I've had this problem in both.  Very frustrating to have to cut my runs short after making good progress from the start. 


    Any thoughts on what I might be doing wrong?


    Barefoot and happy

      There are a few possibilities. 


      Most of us former heel-strikers go overboard at first and make the opposite mistake: too much weigh up on the forefoot, which can really burn out your calves fast.  Some of this is mental -- we're tense and afraid the ground is going to hurt, so we get up on our toes and stay too tight.  Concentrate on relaxing and letting your feet land how they want to land.  Don't try to force yourself to achieve some pre-conceived ideal landing. 


      Second, you may have short calves / achilles.  That can happen from always wearing shoes with elevated heels.  In that case you need lots of stretching and patience, they will eventually get looser.  Some people recommend stretching on a slant board.


      Third, maybe you just overdid it on a couple runs and have a minor strain.  Give it a few days of rest and see if it gets better.


      I'm actually taking a few days off myself because I overworked my calves in the 25k I ran last week, and then kept training despite their complaints since then.  I realized this is dumb and I need a short break.


      Running fast downhill on a rough surface is something I need to practice more.  It demands the utmost technique and relaxation. 

      Curious about running barefoot? Visit the new barefoot running group.

        I dont have any specifics for you as to what may be going on with your physiology/biomechanics.


        But I can let you know you are not alone.


        I would say that it took me a good solid year to fully shake off the sore calf /lower leg thing.  I ended up with several acutley painfull spots in my soleus, calf and peroneous longus areas. 

        How did I overcome this?  HTFU is all!!!  (to steal a term from the main forums )


        Its funny, barefoot running touts itself as a cure to running injuries- but we dont ever advertise that it is going to take a fair bit of pain and soreness to get to that point!


        Yes, you need to relax relax relax...  we hear that all the time.  The fact of the matter is that some of us will have to go through a good amount of pain and soreness in order to transition.   We spent most of our lives running around in cushiony shoes so no wonder it takes awhile to strengthen up without them.


        It took me several months to get over the "hump" and get back to the mileage and times I was putting out before ditching my shoes.   Nowadays I am running smooth, fast, and pain free!   I almost forget the tough times I had to go through to become a full barefoot/vibram runner.


        So just stick with it and dont feel like you are doing something wrong.  It will take much time, patience and strength.   But it will be very worth it!

        The right path is my path.

        Barefoot and happy

          Runners know the difference between "good sore" and real pain.  Learning to run barefoot involves some being sore, but it shouldn't cause acute pain.


          How much pain you experience is highly dependent on how patient you are.

          Curious about running barefoot? Visit the new barefoot running group.
          Barefoot Jim

            Hey Bryce -


            I think I experienced what you're describing early in my transition to barefoot running. As you go, a knot develops in the extreme lower calf, and in just a few steps it becomes to painful and awkward to run. You can rest it a couple of days, even a week, but it comes right back. Does this sound familiar?


            I thought it was a flexibility issue and made sure that I was stretching properly, but the problem continued. I finally figured out that it was a strength issue. In running shoes with a raised heel, your calf is shortened and not used as much as when running barefoot. Without shoes, the heel comes all the way to the ground, and while its a small amount, it requires more of the calf muscle to provide propulsion. The lower calf may not be strong enough to handle the load over an extended distance, and cramps to protect itself. 


            If what I've described sounds similar to your symptoms, I recommend going to the gym for some calf raises or other calf stregthening exercises. My cramps disappeared within a week and have not returned.




              That sounds about right.  I took 5 days off - unintentionally (sick) - and it came right back.  I'll certainly give strengthening a try.


              Thanks to Ed4 and Adam for the good thoughts too.  I'm finding it hard to relax, especially when I'm expecting the cramp to show up.  The more I think "relax" the harder it gets....   I try not to put too much thought into my foot landing, mostly just focus on keeping my knees bent and lifting my back foot instead of pushing off. 

                one tip I picked up for relaxing: try to focus only on how it feels when your feet touch the ground. Don't feel your calves/thighs.  Just allow them to process on through while you focus on the sensation of your feet touching the ground.


                Focusing your attention on one specific area can help the other areas naturally loosen up as you're no longer tensing, but simply observing what your body is doing.


                One other point, my calves screamed and cried and threw a fit when I started.  Why? My form wasn't right.  It's easy to say "fix your form" but rather hard to do.  The main thing you can do is to stop pushing off so much with your calves and instead focus on simply picking your feet up with your thighs. 


                I don't know if it'll help you, but applying these two things, and a bunch of practice, I haven't had calf pain since.


                Good luck.

                Creator of RunForth@robraux |