Yesterday I visited the little Runner’s Shop on Beckenham Road to buy a new pair of running shoes. I’d had my old ones, still pristine from never having been worn outside in the mud, specially selected and fitted for me a few months ago at SweatShop in Bluewater, when the super expert in the empty shop filmed me running on a treadmill and then, with his super-duper hot foam moulding machine, custom-manufactured an orthotic shoe insert that would correct my slight tendency to overpronate (that is tilt my feet inwards as I run or walk.) I left his shop more than £150 poorer but happy in the knowledge that I had the backing of science for my running prowess, and the perfect insert to the perfect shoe.
Or so I thought.
Recently, however, my shins and calves have started hurting after about 10 minutes on the treadmill. Normally I can run for 40 to 50 minutes, not fast or elegantly, but certainly without pain. Recently I’m finding it really hard going and my pace is much, much slower than it used to be. In the past this was a surefire indication that I needed to change my trainers and would usually happen after about 6 months of running 30Km per week outside. Well, I run much less than that now and always inside on a gym treadmill, and I’m becoming ever more disappointed with my runs. I thought at first that it might be because I hadn’t recovered from a long Moonwalk 2013 training walk or perhaps it was a peculiarity of the treadmill I was on but on Tuesday my legs started hurting 10 minutes into my run and I couldn’t continue. It took another 10 minutes of massage for my poor left shin to recover sufficiently to continue my exercise regime. Something was obviously very wrong so I went to see David Bennett at the Runners’ Shop because he had been so helpful when I was choosing my Moonwalk trainers.
Well, it turns out that I’ve been mis-sold my trainers and that the scientifically-calculated orthotic that they had so carefully machined for me was probably worse than useless. Carefully watching me walk up and down the length of his shop in my socks David, who has 20 years of experience fitting and selling running shoes, diagnosed severe overpronation and flat-footedness. Great. Something else wrong with me. Another reminder of ageing.
I cast my mind back to my childhood when I was allowed one pair of cheap crepe-soled school shoes every year and how the heel would end up eroded to a wedge shape by April. My overpronantion problem has been exacerbated over the years possibly by childbirth possibly as a sign that I am no longer as young as I was. Apparently, Sweatshop should have given me more supportive shoes, and the orthotic they made and fitted was probably making the problem worse and causing the pain. The shoes without the orthotic might be worth a try but as it stood they were worse than useless. And the Sweatshop operative had fitted a custom designed insert without removing the existing insole of the shoe, further negating any effect.
David then recommend three pairs of shoes all of which addressed my irksome combination of wide feet, fallen arches and resultant flat-footedness. If you were on Beckenham Road yesterday morning, you would have seen a small brown woman in an unlikely combination of Brora cashmere coatigan and trainers doing a quick jog around the block. I eventually settled on a pair of Asics Gel Evolution 6 shoes and I hope this will solve my shin splint problemm. David told me that someone else had been into his shop the previous week with a shoe recommendation and orthotic insert from SweatShop and exactly the same problem. Hm.I wonder how many others have been seduced by the apparent science into buying shoes that will ultimately cause them pain, and not just in their wallets.
So, the proof is in the pudding, as so many people so erroneously and irritatingly say. Today I managed a 49 minute run without any pain. The sensation was odd, however, as I felt that my feet were being forced to run on the outside but, when I checked on the mirror, my legs, feet and ankles were straight. I am hoping that these new shoes, especially designed for those with severe overpronation, will ease my problem in the longer term but I doubt if they can do anything about ageing.
The moral of the story is that it’s a good idea to be suspicious of pseudo-science and it’s better to trust the word of someone with years of experience who stands to lose out personally if their wrong advice means they lose customers. And that it’s good to support local businesses, of course. I certainly know where I’ll be heading for workout shoes in the future. Not Sweatshop.
All photos © Gita Beecroft 2013
***not a sponsored post***