My sister’s orthopedic shoe nightmare is giving me flashbacks. A few months ago, when I increased my mileage after signing up for my first half marathon, I started to feel pain in the balls of my feet. I immediately chalked this up to inferior cushioning and headed off to a lovely local store with a wonderful reputation for analyzing gait and outfitting elite runners in the latest and greatest aerodynamic gear.
When I entered the store, it appeared that all of the store’s workers were busy serving other customers. Promptly, a gentleman on a ladder fixing a light fixture asked if he could assist me. In hindsight, this probably should have led me question his authority to provide me with knowledgeable guidance in proper running footwear, but his name tag seem to lend sufficient credibility so I proceeded to tell him about my affinity for Asics.
I have worn Asics since day one of my running career without any foot problems and was hopeful to remain faithful to the brand. I told my store representative as much while he filmed my sluggish “running” gait. He suggested I try the fully cushioned, top of the line model, to help correct my over pronating form. This sounded great to me, and I asked him to try it in a size 10. I have worn size 10 shoes since forever, and it did not cross either of our brains that my foot could potentially be even more humongous. I acknowledged the enormity of my foot before he disappeared to retrieve my pricey future purchase. He insisted on another video, which he claimed was to verify my lack of over pronation, but was probably also in disbelief of the ungainly slothful movement pattern I insistently refer to as running. I prayed to God I would not pee myself during yet another stint on the treadmill, and with prayers answered shelled out nearly $180 on my new and improved foot cushioning system.
The following weekend I attempted my long run in my fancy new shoes, but by the 6th mile my nagging foot pain was back. Frustrated, I trekked back to the store to complain. I found my store assistant and he decided we should measure those big boys at the end of my legs. Turns out one is a 10.5 and the other’s a whopping size 11. While I dealt with my mortification, he looked at my feet and then at me, and decided to confer with a colleague. They whispered a bit, obviously perplexed with how best to address my many running eccentricities with a single podiatric device. They finally nodded in agreement, then my attendant suggested I try a different shoe altogether, in the newly appointed size of eleven.
He disappeared on his quest into the most remote recesses of the deepest, darkest corner of the Men’s storage closet. What he retrieved for my extra appendage to try on is arguably the ugliest running footwear ever created. I have owned my share of unattractive footwear, but all of my previous running shoes have at least resembled sneakers. It was comprised of material I could not identify. I guessed it to be a thick, grey green felt with highlights reminiscent of vomit with no discernible contours and a wide styrofoam sole. Why it had felt in the first place remains a mystery as it did not look particularly waterproof and was definitely not aerodynamic or fast. Perhaps in a smaller size it would have been less offensive, but on top of my body’s gargantuan infrastructure, it was ghastly. It looked swollen and orthopedic on the thing formerly known as my foot, and it looked like I needed a wheelchair instead of a run. I did not take a picture at the time, because I was so overwhelmed by its hideousness and enormity, rivaled only by the monstrosity of an orthopedic device currently found on my sister’s fractured foot.
As I stared at the beast, I tried to contemplate what I did to annoy the salesmen that they would attempt to present such an encasement as a valid solution to my running woes.
I told my dynamic duo no way, and they then let me try on my original Asics in a size 11, a size 11.5, and a size 11 wide. The one guy was convinced these still weren’t big enough and he wasn’t sure they could help me at all. I decided to go with the more optimistic guy, but even he was torn between the size 11 and the wide 11. He finally settled on the regular size 11 and sold them to me at the mildly discounted rate of $160.
That weekend I took my elevens out for a long run and woefully encountered my ball of foot pain once again. Perturbed, I headed back to the store, found my sales associate once again and told him of my persistent pain. He quizzically looked at me and my ginormous hoofs again and suggested metatarsal foot pads. This inexpensive option sounded plausible coming from my light bulb fixing sales representative, so I handed him another 5 dollars and headed off with a new game plan.
Unfortunately, after traipsing around the house in them for an hour, the small pads felt mountainous and I began to question the sanity of this strategy. At this point, my half marathon was two weeks away and I had been unable to complete a long run without significant, limp inducing foot pain. I came to my senses and decided to consult my PT friend and running expert, Lydia, who I have consulted in the past and who was already familiar with my spectacular running technique.
I met with Lydia and told her my sad and literally lengthy foot saga. She looked at my feet and advised me to not try the mountains-in-my-shoes option so close to my half marathon debut. She said it looks like I weight bear on my small toes instead of my large toes when I run, and that’s not normal. While I could argue that technically all of my toes are large, the less large ones do seem to carry the brunt of my load. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever felt my biggest toes do anything other than sleep. It’s like they’re royalty who just want to lie about while the abundant servants get the work done.
Anyway, she decided I should attempt wedges under the pinky side of my insoles to help shift my weight toward the work resistant Queen bee toes. She also lectured me about brands of shoes and added that for unknown reasons some brands she typically loves have given her similar pain in slightly different models. She suggested I may want to try a different brand altogether.
I tried the wedges that weekend on my last long run before the race, and within an hour had pain all the way up my right leg to my hip. I ripped out that wedge, as Lydia had instructed me to do, and persevered with my left wedge. I dutifully tried to power through with my big toes in command. In truth, I’ve no idea whether those piggies performed appropriately because my long runs are actually miraculous feats of stagnant, snaillike endurance that consume me for hours and I can’t be expected to maintain my attention throughout its entirety. It’s a wonder that the sheer size of my pedals can’t manage to muster a more impressive pace. By the end of my twelve miles, the left foot didn’t feel great, but it didn’t feel awful either, and I thought perhaps at least that foot had found a potential solution.
With less than a week before my race, I took my son shopping for his own running shoes. We went to a discount store and I was surprised to discover his 12 year old tootsies have expanded to within a half size of what I used to consider my appropriate shoe size. I eyed him empathetically and can only hope he continues to grow vertically so as to achieve some form of balance with his monumental inherited propulsion mechanisms. On a whim, I decided to try on a cushy pair of comparatively cheap, 60 dollar New Balance running shoes in an eleven. I had zero guidance and knew nothing about the shoe, but they felt comfy and I decided to buy them, feeling as though I had nothing to lose.
Well, I wore them in my half marathon and have worn them on every run since without any foot pain, other than a minor blister on one of my over worked helper toes. Sometimes the best option is not the fancy, most expensive one, and sometimes you need to just listen to your gut. And your feet. And my feet. Mostly my feet. Unavoidable with my size eleven stompers!