Dreaded Minimalist Calf Ache

Posted by on February 1, 2012

Since I have embraced the minimalistic running philosophy I have suffered calf strain/ache. A number of months ago it was a constant issue. The last couple of months it has not been a problem very much at all. Just recently I did a 16 mile run in the AZ desert. I made the mistake of wearing my New Balance Minimus shoes that are virtually cushion free. They are the closest to true barefoot that I get right now. They are buyultramnow.com not a zero drop show but they are very close at 3mm.

The last five days since my 16 mile run in AZ the calf ache is back. I decided to look at a cut away drawing of the calf and try to figure out exactly where the pain is. Have a look at this drawing.

After look at the above image I am confident that the strain that I develop is in the Tibialis Posterior. It is not in the larger meaty muscles of the Gastrocmemius. The pain is right down the back center and deep in the calf. It could also be the Achilles but I don’t think it is tendon related. It is muscular.

I don’t have weaks calfs by any means. They are some of the most cut and meaty parts of my body. The calf is probably my most lean muscle on my body. I have alway been a good jumper the calfs have pretty much always been very strong.

The question I have is what causes the ache that I get. I think my friend Sheldon on Daily Mile might also get the same ache or strain and he is trying to master the minimal running style as well. Other that us two I don’t think I read or heard anyone else having this issue.

Is this issue a common problem with barefoot running? I’d say my forefoot play is pretty decent at this point. I tend to think that maybe I am overloading the calf with my forefoot plant possibly. I am not sure really. Right now it only happens on my longer runs (15+ miles) in certain shoes. It never seems to happen any more in my Nike Free 2’s but it did when I started running in them.

So what do you think? Will it work its way out as I get in even more miles in some of my more minimalistic shoes?

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7 Responses to Dreaded Minimalist Calf Ache

  1. Brent

    I had some definite issues with calf pain and tightness as I was transitioning to more minimal shoes and for me it was the hardest part of the transition. My understanding is that it is primarily because shoes with a lower heel forces the calf to extend more. I experienced this off and on over the last year and a half as I ran in different shoes. After a my first marathon last May, I took about three months to rebuild using a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves. I had worn mostly Saucony Kinvaras in my marathon training and a pair of cross country racing flats for my first half before that.

    For me it just took time and starting from very short runs of a few miles every other day and slowly working up from there. It took a lot of patience and attention to how my muscles were feeling, but I started transitioning in May and by the end of the summer I was doing basically all my runs in the Trail Gloves without much inordinate soreness or tightness. I have taken them up to 22 miles without any more soreness in my calves than what I was feeling in the rest of my legs. As I transitioned, I also started wearing mostly low cushion, zero drop shoes for casual and work wear and it seemed to help (but wasn’t easy on the wallet). It meant my calf was staying stretched out all day and not just when I put on my running shoes after work for a run. I’ve also done eccentric calf raises on and off when I’m feeling my calves or achilles and made sure to stretch them well after runs.

  2. admin

    This makes total sense Brent. It is the stretching of the calf due to the lower or zero drop heal. I got the soreness all the time when I first started running in my Nike Free’s after a few months it went away. Not until I did something really long in my NB Minimus did it return. I just need to get in more miles with the lower drop of the Minimus to get the calfs used to them. I will start doing my Tuesday runs in them since that is only a 4 mile run for my ulta training.

    I will have to keep an eye on my New Ballance MT110’s and see what they do. They are not a zero drop and you know since I think you have a couple pair of them. But they are lover than my Nike Frees.

    See, I know the blog was a good idea. I found the answer to my first question right away.


  3. Jim


    I have also had this problem, and it continues for me. I have always loved running, but just could not continue due to knee issues and shin splints that would recur every time I attempted longer distance training. Then I decided to try the minimalist approach a few years ago. At first, I loved it because I wouldn’t have any of the knee or shin splint issues. But soon my calves starting giving me problems in the same area you experience – probably the Tibialis Posterior as you noted, or perhaps higher up on the Achilles Tendon in the mid-calf area.

    Now, even if I only run a few miles, I will be VERY sore in that area for several days. Not sure what to do other than just quit running. Which, is okay, because I do a lot of cycling with no problems. But I would like to run if I can.

    Any further update since your original post? Jim

    • Ed

      It took me about 3 months. After that I have not had any issue like when I first started. Without seeing you run I would guess it is a form issue. You could still be heal planting but I is really hard to tell. If you find any anything that helps please let me know.

  4. Jake

    This is an old old thread but I am having the same calf issue after a month or so. It would be great to hear how people got on long term now almost 3 years on. Is really interesting to hear the experiences of other people and I am optimistic that the pain will soon subside.

    I do 3 – 5 miles and get a really deed muscular pain in my thighs, i’m guessing mainly the Gastrocmemius.

    Thanks all!

  5. Dave


    I have had similar problems from zero drop shoes, and found stretching (i.e. heel drops, standing calf stretches, standing with leg on waist high object and pulling back on toes, and sitting on the floor while reaching and pulling back on my toes) helps dramatically.

    I do these stretches post runs, and throughout my normal day. Even if I don’t run, I still stretch.

  6. Alan

    I have recently started running after not doing so for 6 years or so. I stopped due to hip pain mainly. I started up again to months ago and chose to run with zero drop mildly cushioned Altra shoes. I have had no hip pain at all, but did suffer from calf tightness and pain which has decreased over time. I am trail running, and not pushing myself…going only a mile or mile and a half so far.
    I find that my left leg is still getting tight, while my right leg has vastly improved. Not sure why it’s the left only, but since it is improving I am hopeful it will eventually go away.
    I am 67 so careful about injury. I hope to get up to running a 5k or more sometime in the next few months.