Strengthening your feet and toes will improve your marathon experience

While training for a marathon, your feet take a major pounding. Many runners forget about their feet in their strengthening and stretching programs, but as every runner knows, those feet will make some noise when there is a problem. And when they’re being stuffed into sneakers and forced to hit the pavement over and over again, problems are likely. Since your feet are the only contact point between your body and the ground, that connection needs to feel good and strong or you, your feet, and your running performance will suffer.   Here are five things to do regularly.  1. Do some simple toe stretches when your feet feel tight. The flexor hallucis longus is a muscle that extends from the lower part of your leg all the way to the tip of your big toe. You need your big toe to balance and to help propel you forward when you run. Weakness or repetitive straining of this muscle, can cause it to feel tight or painful. Stretching it out can help ease discomfort. 2. Incorporate toe-strengthening exercises into your daily routine. Strengthening is a necessary and critical part of marathon training. The feet should be no exception. By strengthening the feet and toes, you can create a more sturdy foundation for your running and improve the propulsion capabilities of your feet while you run.  3. Make the “legs up the wall” stretch part of your post-run ritual. When you run, your heart rate goes up, increasing blood flow to the muscles. When you stop running, blood, lymph fluid, and extracellular fluid can pool in your legs and feet, causing swelling and pain. While the gastrocnemius (what’s known as the calf muscle) acts as a muscle pump to return fluid from your feet back up to your heart, it can’t always keep up. Compression garments may help minimize swelling (though evidence on their effectiveness remains mixed). 4. Roll it out with a lacrosse ball. If you don’t have the time to get regular foot massages, try self-massaging your feet with a lacrosse ball. By stretching and releasing restrictions in the soft tissue of the arch of your foot, you can help ease soreness and prevent inflammation and pain caused by repetitive straining of this fascia. 5. Give your feet a stability challenge. Imagine your hands are in mittens every day, and then you decide you want to go rock climbing. This isn’t too different from having your feet in cushy, supportive sneakers every day. When you surround the feet with tons of support, they may become weaker because they don’t have to work as hard to do their job. As advanced as running footwear technology has become, our feet are begging to be naked and free so they can adapt to different surfaces and grip onto uneven terrain.

posted Friday September 14th