A Cinderella Story

The Long Jog to Comrades 6 Comments

This is a Cinderella story in that it talks about shoes. Not so much glass slippers. And #spoileralert – there is no handsome prince at the end. I can probably find 3 metaphorical frogs for you, though, if that’s your thing.

So, I might have mentioned (ad nauseum), I have little fat footsies. They’re not very long, but they are very wide. And following a visit to the physio, I have conformation that they are THE ONLY flexible part of my body. I can’t do the splits, but I can make the arch in my foot disappear. How’s that for a party trick? Yep – not very exciting. And after the momentary flash of hope that I had a new-found talent, I was informed it isn’t necessarily a good thing.

The Fatness of the Footsies
The Fatness of the Footsies

But I’m running ahead of myself.

So being the owner of little fat footsies, my early visits to shoe shops were reminiscent of Cinderella’s visits to dress shops with her ugly sisters. They would come home with armfuls of dresses and ribbons, whilst poor little Cinders was ignored. Now I wasn’t neglected so disgracefully. Absolutely not. I used to get plenty of attention in the shoe shop. And the shoe shop was always a Clarks shoe shop, because I was brought up in the UK, and you only put Clarks shoes on growing little footsies. Clarks fit shoes to feet correctly. And this was where this sad sad tale started.

Because they wouldn’t sell me the pretty shoes I wanted! They would only let me have the single pair of ugly brown lace-ups that fitted my feet. The last pair they found in the darkest corner of the storeroom. The colourful ones and the nicely styled ones all got confiscated and put back in the box they came out of and the ugly brown ones were held up as THE PAIR FOR ME.

I am emotionally scarred.

So when I took up running, apart from things like fab endorphins and the better documented benefits, it brought with it an unexpected possibility. Not of finish line glory. But a choice of shoes!

There are so many running shoes out there, some very funky designs AND they are not winkle-picker pointy, so obviously perfect for those of us with the fatter footsies.

It spoke to my inner Imelda Marcos.

Three Frogs (oh no - Altras)

I did plenty of research about all the different shoes on the market and followed the different diagrams in RunnersWorld to be guided to the perfect pair. Only I had no idea what pronation or supination was. Or if I had it. So despite my best efforts I was still clueless.

And of course, I didn’t feel like a runner or look like a runner (i.e. skinny – to be taken seriously as a runner I was convinced you had to be skinny), so only went to larger sports stores where it was possible to avoid any contact with the sales personnel up to the actual point of payment.

And in the early days, the furthest I ran was maybe a single 5km event per annum. I managed the Lincoln 10km once. And I had a 50% success rate. I bought some Reeboks – my first love. And I bought a pair of Adi-disasters. Totally rubbed my feet. But as my running was irregular and not high mileage, these amateur efforts at identifying “the right ones” were adequate.

A respected running colleague recommended Nike, so I bought a pair of Nike I-don’t-know-whats. And they were great.

I did not get injured.

When I finally got serious about running, I decided I needed to learn more. My ITB had started to play up. I read about all the latest technology. I loved the idea of Hoka’s. I acquired a pair over the t’interweb. But they weren’t really for me.

I got the message that fitting was important, but this presented a dilemma. I was going to have to go into a small specialist running shop, manned by runners and serving runners. I was a bit concerned there would be some sort of airport scanner at the door that would show me the red light.

You may not proceed!!! You do not belong here!!!

As it turned out, they were actually just like regular humans. And pretty courteous ones at that. They fitted me properly, explained that I pronate when I run (land on the inside of my foot first) and recommended a more stable shoe to help counter that. First I had Adidas Sequences and subsequently (because I was brave enough to go back) Saucony Omnis.

The ITB improved. (It was caused because my right knee swings in. A common curse of female runners). Many single leg squats and excruciating sessions on the foam roller later, and it was better. With the new shoes, I remained uninjured.

Then I read Born to Run. I fell in love with the whole barefoot running phenomenon. I was convinced that it would solve all my previous and hitherto undiscovered running woes.

I did more in-depth research. And by that I mean googling. I read about Altras and their natural fit. They had a WIDE TOE BOX. OMG – shoes actually designed for little fat footsies!!

So, wine in hand, mesmerised by the big SALE banner on the online shop site, I euphorically purchased my first pair of Altras over the internet.

And when my Torins arrived, it was a pure Jimmy Choo moment (or what I imagine one to be like – he doesn’t design shoes for little fat footsies, I don’t think). It was drool-tastic. Not so much the look, but the light, bouncy feel to each step, as well as the roomy fit: it was heaven in a shoe box!

And this is where my running woes began.

I might have flexible feet, but I don’t have flexible calves. And I do still pronate. Much as I love Altras, they are not right for me. (They are the frogs I kissed to no avail. METAPHORICALLY!!!).

Christopher McDougall* spent about 6 months following a programme designed by Eric Orton to change his gait before becoming a “barefoot runner”. I did not do that. I just slapped on the Altras and headed out to the hills.

And wondered why I kept getting injured.

So I have consulted the professionals. I need to continue to work on my right leg to avoid the knee rolling in. I need to strengthen my glutes. I need to stretch out my calves. And I need to stick to stable shoes (to keep my arches from dropping) with some heel – toe differential of at least 8mm to avoid putting additional stress on the muscle adjoining the inside of my shin. I was sent out to buy “appropriate” shoes.

They don’t have quite as many pink flashes as my vanity would like. (Largely because to get the width, I had to get mens shoes, so the demand for pink isn’t as high in this market sector).

If I do those things and wear the right shoes, I might not get injured.

So the moral of this story? Don’t listen to all the hype! Listen to your body.

Because isn’t it how running shoe advertising works – it promises us all our own Cinderella story? If we can just squeeze our feet into their latest product, we will be transformed from a back of the pack plodder to glory-grabbing tape ducker. Run faster, easier, injury-free forever. (Still no prince, though).

The answer is possibly not. It brought my running to a complete halt.

It’s important to understand your own biomechanics and get shoes that work for, not against you.

And that way, you might be able to keep running happy ever after.

Shoes that fit


*author of Born to Run

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