U.S. runner Ryan Hall seemed like a lock for a top-ten finish at the London Olympic marathon. After all, eight months earlier in Houston, Texas. he had placed second in the Olympic marathon trials in 2:09.30. But to the amazement of many, Hall was a DNF in London, withdrawing around the 11-mile mark while grabbing his thigh.  This is what he later told reporters:”It was my right hamstring, I don’t know if it is tendinitis or something up high in the connection. But it was nothing that was that serious in training. We’ve been doing a lot of work on it to keep it clean, but it is just something that got progressively tighter as the race was going on. I felt like I was really favoring my stride and didn’t want to get injured. I’ve never DNF’d a race before, so this is a first for me.”

To shed light on Hall’s race-injury predicament, NRC columnist Dr. Nick Campitelli looked at potential causes. Was it overtraining in a traditional over-supported shoe?  –NRC


Was Ryan Hall’s DNF in the London Olympic Marathon Due to Overtraining or Shoe-Related?

by Dr. Nick Campitelli

After waiting months to see Ryan Hall compete in the Olympic Marathon, it was heartbreaking to see him walk off after running 10 miles.  Months, or you could also say years, of training were sacrificed for this one event, only to have it come to an end by an injury.  Marathon training does take years to “build the engine” to get you to peak performance levels, but it most likely wasn’t this one event that lead to his injury.

Hall had been dealing with plantar fasciitis according to the media for months.  There are even photos of him standing next to MRI images of his foot ruling out any underlying stress fractures most likely as he continued to run.

Hall came in second at the U.S. Marathon Olympic Trials in January.

The question that I have is what caused his plantar fasciitis? This is an epidemic seen amongst our country most likely due to our unnatural shoe gear that is dictated by our society.  Why would such an elite athlete develop something like this?  His reason for dropping was not foot pain, but hamstring pain and tightness which would lead one to suspect there were gait changes along the way as he was dealing with the fasciitis causing his hamstrings to become overused.

As many have heard, Ryan had abandoned his coach to use a more unorthodox training method described as “faith based training” where he listened to God’s word to help his training regimen.  One specific training technique that Hall implemented was done in an attempt to see if he could break 2:00 hours in the marathon, a feat that has never been done.  This requires maintaining a pace of a 4:40 mile.  Ryan admitted to having a training partner get on a bike and ride at a 4:40 pace and he would follow for as long as he could.  This became an unsuccessful attempt although he still believed the feat to be possible.  Would this have been his “overuse” that led to the development of the plantar fasciitis?  Or, and I hate to say this, but could it be is traditional cushioned heel running shoes that he wore for training runs?

ASICs Gel HyperSpeed

I had discussions with ASICS rpresentatives (Hall’s number one sponsor) prior to the Olympics as to what shoes he was running in and what he will wear for the Olympics.  They showed me the sample shoes that they had which were size nine’s for Ryan of course, and admitted that he runs in a variety of models that ASICS has and that “he could pretty much wear any shoe he wanted to with his gait.”  While racing, Hall wears the ASICS Gel-HyperSpeeds which are a racing flat very much like a minimalist running shoe.

Despite the large incidence of plantar fasciitis seen in our society, I truly believe it is an epidemic that should not exist.  Over the past 60 years it has been described as many different diagnosis ranging from heel spurs, plantar fasciosis, plantar fasciitis, to in more severe cases- calcaneal stress fractures (heel bone.)  We have since demonstrated that heel spurs that arise on the calcaneous bone have no direct correlation to heel pain, and symptoms resolve in these patients without surgically removing the spur.

Studies have even demonstrated the non existence of inflammatory cells in the plantar fascia that was surgical released for treatment purposes in those suffering from heel pain.  Treatment regimens that exist utilizing custom orthotics, motion-control running shoes, and stretching exercises combined with injections and NSAIDS, do not always prove successful.  Routinely these patients present to my practice with bags of shoes and inserts who have been suffering for years asking for help.

So why do so many people suffer from this chronic heel pain?  A new theory exists that most likely will become more prevalent as we see more people transition out of motion-control shoes.  There are two important muscles in the foot that originate on the heel bone in the exact same position as the plantar fascia.  The abductor hallucis (ABH) and abductor digiti minimi (ADM)  muscles.  The ABH muscle is the  main supporting muscle of the arch.  If this muscle is not fully functional or utilized as a result of wearing motion-control shoes, then it becomes very weak and very prone to overuse.

It is this reason that we see so many people who immediately begin wearing flip flops in the summer months develop heel pain.  Their foot is used to being in a more supportive shoe during the off seasons, and when they place on their flip flops for 8 hours of wear, the muscles haven’t had a chance to adapt.  Especially the ABH.  The muscle then develops an overuse syndrome much like that of a tennis elbow which causes a tendonitis like reaction.  We see the classic pain and stiffness associated with movement of the foot after arising in the morning of after periods of rest, which is followed by relief only then to have the pain return later after being weight-bearing for a period of time.  These are the exact same symptoms that plagues someone with a typical tendonitis anywhere else on the body.

Could Ryan Hall’s plantar fasciitis been the culprit of a traditional running shoe?  I don’t think it is right to directly blame the shoe, however; your foot does not function the way it was intended to when you place a large cushioned heeled shoe under it.

This essay originally appeared on Dr. Nick’s blog.