We that are true lovers run into strange capers

You  have to wonder about  shoes, don’t you? I only notice mine when I trip or realize that I’ve stepped in something -and even then, it’s not the shoe I notice. Other than that, I think we live our lives from the ankles up. Let’s face it, shoes are just foot sheaths. Sock drawers.

If memory serves, I first started wearing them as a small child when I discovered things below my knees that would allow me to move handsfree over gravel -I still don’t know how dogs run on that stuff without shoes.

Anyway, my mother insisted I armour-up whenever I went outside, but she never made a fuss about them. She never bought me coloured shoes, or anything. In fact, for years I thought they all came pre-scuffed. They just weren’t noteworthy -none of the second-hand stuff in Winnipeg was fashionable in those days, I guess. I wasn’t either.

So most of my early perambulatory life was a study in chafe and broken shoelaces. Then, somewhere in my teens, I discovered running -mostly as a defence strategy at first, but increasingly, as entertainment. I was too shy to date, so at least it got me out of the house.

I imagine that there are as many reasons why people run, as there are bullies; as many reasons as there are buses to catch, or cars to avoid while crossing the street. Some of us run to avoid, and some to arrive. Me? I run for the sheer pleasure of feeling exhausted -it’s the journey, not the destination. The doing, not the done (I have always been fond of gerunds) of ongoing things, whether or not goal-oriented.

But, in spite of admitting the vacuousness of the activity over the years, one might be forgiven for assuming I would have learned to adopt the most commensurate costumery for its safe continuation: wearing appropriate footwear, in other words. And yet, after all this time, I still don’t know what that entails.

Unlike my mother, I tried bright colours, under the impression that the better I could see my feet, the better I could guide them on rough and irregular trails. That was a mistake -it distracted me. Then I tried expensive running shoes -you know, the ones with those fancy names like Terrex, Zoom Pegasus, or my favourite name, Ghost 11 knit -whatever that means. And yet, apart from the naïve belief that you get what you pay for, I was no better off. I still tripped, my feet still got sore, and I couldn’t keep the colours bright after even a couple of runs.

Eventually, I gave up and settled on black, comfortable, light-weight, wide shoes -wide, because I could slip one of those comfy thick Dr. Scholl’s cushion pads on top of the old sole so I could keep wearing them long after their best-before date. My friends thought that was not only cheating, it was dangerous, and I could end up with flat feet -or was it bunions?- unless I sought professional help at a running store. So I stopped telling them, that I got most of my advice from the stock lady filing shoe boxes at the local Walmart. She at least pointed out which ones were on sale that day so I had more time to try them on before I got distracted by other bargains in rival aisles -slippers, for instance. I have a thing about soft cushy slippers, although you can’t run very well in them and they’re really dangerous on stairs.

And yet, despite my determination to rely on instinct for running shoes, I have to admit to certain atavistic concerns about the wear and tear on my feet from the non-accredited brands I had been wont to purchase from the bargain tables. It was therefore with considerable relief that I discovered myself exculpated in an article in BBC Future by Claudia Hammond: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20131002-do-running-shoes-prevent-injury

‘Over the last four decades manufacturers have been designing ever-more sophisticated shoes, which they claim can help those with less-effective natural shock absorption due to over-pronation (or, less commonly, under-pronation). The premise is special trainers that cushion the feet and raise the heels of pronators realigns the foot, keeping it more stable and reducing the impact of each step.’

What? Could I have been over-pronating all these years? I read on with gritted teeth while breathing in short little gasps like I do on the trail. Apparently there was a meta-analysis recently reported from Singapore that ‘found that those who under- or over-pronated were 23% more likely to suffer foot, ankle, knee and thigh injuries.’ Was that actually why I was tripping? I thought it was just that I wasn’t paying enough attention.

Then, Hammond pointed out that ‘researchers define and measure over-pronation in different ways.’ And that, ‘Somewhere between 37% and 56% of recreational runners hurt themselves during the course of a year, mostly due not to falling or tripping up but rather the repetitive nature of running.’ Oh yes, and ‘When it comes to the question of whether customised footwear prevents injuries, the evidence is so sparse that some consider it to be a myth… Surprisingly, even the evidence that running on hard surfaces led to more injuries was weak.’ That’s what I think, too: no roots or boulders on pavement, eh? And apart from loose storm drains, there’s nothing much under the leaves and stuff to trip on. Of course that was a few years ago, and pavement, just like me, has probably aged in the intervening time.

However a 2018 study was reported from Denmark involving 927 participants, ranging in age from 18 to 65. ‘Each person was assessed for their degree of pronation and then given the same lightweight running shoes without extra cushioning or raised heels. In effect, some were randomly assigned to what many shops and experts would consider to be the wrong kind of shoe.

‘For a year the participants ran for as little, or as far as they wanted to each week, chalking up 203,000 miles between them.’ -that’s considerably more than I run- ‘A quarter were injured, but whether or not they had normal foot posture, or they under- or over-pronated made no difference.’ Neither did the type of shoes -so there!

No, I’m afraid I’m yet to be convinced that the evidence tells us that expensive is good -or better. My mother was probably right all along: go for comfort, and if it’s on sale on a big table, buy it, no matter what it looks like. Scuffs don’t make you trip -it’s the roots…

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