I am a 47 year old ultramarathon runner who is learning to run injury-free. I want to share the lessons I've learned...I think I've found a solution...read on with the understanding that what follows is my experience and as they say, (your) "results may vary".
I've been a trail runner for 34 years since my high school cross country days; I 've been running ultras since 1991 when I ran the AC100. In the nineties I ran a few 50 milers with some success (PR 6:46 at McKenzie River Trail run), but by the late nineties I became injury prone. Well, OK I was a bit injury prone before that. Back then it was my knees (the old "Runner's knee"...thankfully I never believed the docs who told me they could "fix it"). I could never train for more than one big race a year and it was a dicey thing whether I would make it to the starting line for any given race (my batting average was about 50% and I was a big believer in "vitamin I"). For the last decade or so my training and racing has been severely limited: When I get my base mileage up and start to really train I've tended to get calf strains (calf "heart attack") and when I increase the mileage in the mountains the big grinding decents of the San Gabriels trash my quads and knees. So my modus operandi has been to ramp up to a base of 30-40 miles a week, quickly toss the mileage up to 50 miles a week, and do my big run before my body notices whats happening...get the run done and then either stop running; or try to continue and get injured. I did 2 Grand Canyon R2R2Rs this way and a few 50ks and trail marathons.
I stayed away from long ultras because I knew that I wouldnt be able to swing the sustained training required.
But I decided last July to run the AC100 again. I got fired up working the finish line of AC100 as a volunteer. This time would be different! I would ramp up gradually, following the 10% rules, and really be patient. Lack of patience was my problem!
So I started up in August, at 20 miles a week and strictly followed a 10% ramp rule (that always applied to other people but now I would be humble and give it a try). I took every fourth week off for rest.
It all went pretty well if you put aside the fact that I had to ice my knees after any significant mountain run. By October the knees were just getting trashed by the decents on Mt Lowe and Mt Wilson! But I persisted. I worked through a hamstring strain with an ART therapist in Pasadena. Worked through a gastroc strain. Kept icing the knees.
I was getting worried and was reading everything in sight. I bought a pair of Merrill Trailgloves, thinking maybe I would try a barefoot style of running since I had read that that minimizes the beating that running puts on the body. I went out in December and gingerly tried them. 5 minutes in, PING! my calves had been feeling brittle and damn, the right medial gastroc just went. That was that, I walked home (I'd learned that much over the years). I rested a few days, started running again in my ASICs, it felt OK, but after a couple days of light running PING! I did it again, same spot. Rested a week, repeat. PING! Started mountain biking to maintain fitness. Rest 2 weeks. Start running again, PING! did it again on Jan 2. Thats when I pulled out of the Ray Miller 50 that I had registered for as a qualifier for AC100.
It must have been the Trailgloves, I thought. I over-did it after 5 minutes. Huh?
Well, at $110 I had to use those Trailgloves for something. So I started in early January by power walking in the Merrill trailgloves to keep some modicum of fitness. I started walking 3 miles....then 4...then 5. Turns out you can put in some decent mileage walking! After a week, I ramped the walking to 30 miles /week; Then to 40 miles/wk. My arches ached at first...but then they were OK. I started feeling good, and wearing the Trailgloves everywhere. My feet felt GOOD. I started alternating walking and running.
Then I tackled Mt Lowe in my Trailgloves- power hike up; run/walk down, 15 miles total. No pain! Did it the next weekend, ran more- No pain! Last weekend I did a 12 miler to Inspiration point. Ran/walked up; and ran the whole way down. No problems...7.5 miles in the Trailgloves. Today I did the same drill to Henninger Flats. No Pain.
The thing that is just amazing to me is that with a 6-7 mile downhill run of 4000 feet drop, I experienced ZERO quad soreness and ZERO knee pain these last 3 weeks- quite different from the usual experience I have in traditional running shoes of having to ice my knees after such a grind. Its unprecedented (for me). Instead, Ive had soreness in the soleus muscles; but my legs are transforming and I am adapting.
The Trailgloves are a zero-drop shoe (heel and forefoot are at the same level...no wedge like in traditional marshmello shoes) with a huge toe box and with just enough vibram rubber on the bottom to keep sharp rocks from bruising your foot. Actually they remind me of my old track racing flats I used as a highschooler but without the spikes/spike sockets, and with a wider toe box. In this sense they are very retro. You cannot heel strike in them but must run with a light forefoot/midfoot strike with a high cadence. If you don't, your teeth get jarred out of your head. You just cannot heel strike in these shoes.
After spending the last month re-learning how to run in the trailgloves, I am experiencing zero knee pain on grinding downhills. Unprecedented (for me). All the shock seems to be taken up by reflex in the lower leg.
A couple weeks ago I thought I should try running in my ASICs again, to take the stress off the soleus muscles which had a fair bit of tightness as I started to run again. Less than a half mile in, I could feel the old injury spot in my gastroc tightening up. I stopped and started to walk home. The ASICs felt like walking in a moon bouncer, I hated it. I took them off and walked home barefoot. I'll never run in them again.
Running in this new way (for me) uses the calves differently than when I run in traditional shoes....who'd have thunk it? For years my calves have had fasciculations after running (they look like a bag of worms writhing). No longer the case running in the minimalist Trailgloves.
I think the reason that I have been trashing my quads and knees and calves in traditional running shoes...its like running in high heels. The lower leg cannot take up the shock because of the high heels in the back prevent it....it all dumps on the quads and knee. The gastroc is stressed because I was trying to run while "front-pointing" in these mushy high-heels.
OK thats it for now.