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!
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?