Can HEELS and RUNNING be friends?

I love shoes.  And because I’m almost 5’3, I love heels.  Pumps, wedges, platforms, all of it.  Anything that gives me an extra few inches in height is a friend to me.

But last year, when I was training for the Marine Corps Marathon, I decided to cut heels out of my wardrobe 6 weeks before the race.  I was super nervous about running 26 miles AND I was starting to have problems with plantar fasciitis.  So for those 6 weeks, I was flat on the ground, stuck at my almost-5’3 height (except for the occasional kitten heel :) ).

Since then, I’ve reintroduced heel height, and in the recent weeks, I’ve been wearing heels as much as 4 times a week (never on casual Fridays!).  However, in recent weeks I’ve started to notice some calf tightness and achilles tightness.  I thought it was part of the transition period to my new-ish Brooks Pure Connects.  So I’ve been taking it easy with them, and using my massage stick like CRAZY on my calves.

And I even got some compression socks to help with it!

Awesome pink socks!

So I thought that was it.  Problem solved, right?

WRONG. (you had to know that was coming)

Last week, I dragged myself out the door for an attempt at a tempo run.  I say “attempt” because the watch was (and still is!) out of commission, so I planned to do it based on feel.  I started with a 1 mile warm-up, and my calves immediately felt tight.  I probably stopped to stretch them every 2 blocks.  It was so uncomfortable.  And I probably looked like I was making excuses.  I told myself, that if they still felt super tight by the time I got to the Mall (about 1-1.5 miles), then I would just turn around and go home.  Luckily (or unluckily, rather) they loosened up, so I proceeded to begin the tempo portion of my workout.  Turns out stretching every block works. Well, temporarily.

My breathing felt fine, but my calves felt tired and VERY tight.  I knew I was going at a moderately fast pace, and that I should expect some resistance from the legs, but this was different.  My legs felt like I was asking them to do a 15th rep of 400m, AFTER having run 10 miles.  I kept going for as long as I could, but eventually I had to walk it out and stretch.  It felt like every muscle below the knee was contracting.  In the end, I think I only managed 2 miles of “tempo” pace.  I don’t know if it was the shoes (Brooks Pure Cadence), my pace (which wasn’t necessarily controlled) or the result of wearing 3in heels all day, but something screwed up my workout.

So, as soon as I got home, I googled “can wearing heels make your calf stronger?”.  (Actually I streeeetched my legs like crazy first) And there were many, many results.  Some legit, some speculation, some just observation.  The gist of it is that yes, wearing heels can make your calves stronger.  You’re essentially in the up-position of calf raises, all day long.  BUT, they can also shorten your achilles, which can lead to many problems (some speculated a snapped achilles could be the result – eek!). In addition to creating a shortened achilles, a lot of articles mentioned that ankle problems could result too.  Sounds like a lot of negatives for only a few positives, huh?

The solution? In moderation, I think.  And coupled with tons of calf stretches throughout the day, and more calf strengthening (something other than 3in heels), I think I should be good.  I will admit, I’m not the best at following through on my stretching routine.  And by the time I get to the calf portion, I’m usually over it, and only stretch for like 5-10 seconds.  Obviously, I need to pull myself together and stick with the full 20-30 seconds for each calf and each achilles.  And I’ll def keep up with the massage stick.

This past week I’ve taken it light on the heels – only wore a pair on Tuesday, and my calves feel so much better.  I was even able to knock out a 5 mile run in my Pure Cadence’s.  So I guess it’s all about sloooowly getting back to the heels, and increasing calf strength.  Oh yeah, and actually stretching too.  Duh.

Which is great, because I sure do love my heels :)

*I’m not any sort of medical professional/doctor/calf guru. This is just something that I THINK might work for ME. *

Flats or heels? What’s your preference?

Have you experienced any running/fitness problems from wearing heels?  If so, what did you do to fix it? 

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14 thoughts on “Can HEELS and RUNNING be friends?

  1. I love heels but rarely wear them because I do a lot of walking during the day. I do wear kitten heels or boots with heels in the winter though.

    I guess I don’t wear them enough to notice my heels hurting but thats scary how much it affected you! I’m glad your calves are feeling better though!

    • Honestly, I think it was the combo of wearing heels, and transitioning into the Pure Cadence. But, I feel like now I have a better grasp on how my at-work footwear can affect my runs. Just gotta stay smart about it!

  2. Danielle

    I had to give up heels (and flats like flip flops) when I was training for my first marathon. They made my arches and knees hurt too much that it just wasn’t worth it if I wanted to keep running. It wasn’t a hard transition since i’m 5’10 without heels ;) I still stay away from heels and much to my dismay, I can’t wear flip flops either.

    • Flip flops do hurt my feet too, bc I have very flat feet. So I try not to wear them for very long, or if I plan on walking a lot. Which is SO hard to do in the summer! It’s really the easiest shoe to just grab and go!

  3. Ah i know the feeling, when i had really bad plantar faciitis problems, pretty much the only thing i was comfortable and pain-free in was sneakers…luckily my job allows for that, but bye-bye flip flops!

    • Oh man, I would love to wear sneakers to work! I used to own so many pairs of casual sneakers in college bc that’s all I basically lived in. And its so easy to put sole inserts into sneakers to make them more comfy too!

  4. I love heels, but they are a deal breaker for me, outside of special occasions like weddings. I get terrible lower calf pain! I basically live in ballet flats and tom’s when i am training for a race. (i am also super afraid of falling in heels, because i am that big of a clutz!!)

  5. I have a friend who maintains that she’ll be able to run a 10k in heels, I remain skeptical to say the least!

  6. Being 5’1” ish, I love the way I look in heels and they way my pants fit much better with heals, but I don’t like wearing them because my feet get uncomfortable in them and I am too impatient of a person…when I’m walking somewhere, I want to get there FAST. Heels slow me up : )

    When I had achilles issues, I stopped wearing heels for the 2 weeks leading up to my marathon.

  7. I know I’ve heard something about runners shouldn’t wear heels, so I tend to avoid them. I notice too if I run after a big swim my calves will seize up too.
    Calves can be fickle!

  8. It’s so funny you wrote about this because my calves have been bothering me lately and I wear heels at least 3 times/week and out on the weekend (even though I’m 5’8″ I always wear heels out). I’ve just been foam rolling and stretching those suckers like crazy. Seems to be working…

  9. I am also 5’3″, I love heels! I don’t care if the literature says I shouldn’t wear them because they’re bad for my legs or whatever. I need the height, so I wear them, enough said!

    • Yep! I’m definitely rocking heels today, and doing some online shopping for a new pair! Haha, its so hard to stay away!

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