The Past Is Another Country, They Have Morton’s Foot There

It seems so long ago, it could be another country. It’s not that long ago; it was only Tuesday. It was another country. I’m now sitting on the 24th floor of the Hyatt in Chicago and I very deliberately have my back to the window. It wouldn’t be completely fair to say that I have a fear of heights but only because you would miss an ideal opportunity to say that I am completely petrified of them. The only reason I don’t have the curtains closed is that the room is quite dark enough as it is. We’re not even close to the top of this tower and there is another one, even taller just across the road. The room faces north west and never sees direct sunlight. It’s a vampire’s wet dream. My poor, old laptop needs to be charged more frequently than a fat bloke in a marathon so I can’t take it out and use the WiFi downstairs yet. (28% battery, and climbing!) Here I sit, shivering with the combination of over-powerful air-conditioning and abject terror just to write you a blog post. I should have been a war correspondent. It would have been easier on the nerves.

So, after all that pre-amble…

I went to see Helen Hall on Tuesday so she could help me address the inadequacies of my Morton’s foot. She has a completely brilliant shop in Amersham where she stocks minimal shoes for efficient running and bike frames and where I would spend stupid, stupid amounts of money on shiny things for triathlons were I to forget that I need to pay for sensible things like food and my mortgage. My Dearly Beloved would probably complain – with some justification – were I to bring home a carbon-fibre time trial bike frame when all I went out for was some coaching, assessment and a roll of kinesio tape.

I was sensible enough to turn up dressed and equipped to run. Helen popped me on her treadmill having first checked that I was happy on them. I’m not, not really. I hate them but this was the easiest way for her to assess what was going on with my feet. She had me walk at a very steady pace and watched my feet intently. It was quite strange to have someone pay such close attention to me but that was what I was there for. I forgot the weirdness after a couple of minutes and just go on with the business of walking barefoot on a treadmill without falling off.

Helen began cutting strips of kinesio tape which she placed on the ball of each foot, one layer at a time. She would have me walk at the same steady pace after each strip went on until she was happy with what she saw. She wouldn’t immediately tell me what she was looking for because she didn’t want me to change what I was doing consciously. Instead, she wanted my feet and brain to work together without my conscious self getting in the way. She was happy when we reached six layers of tape on each foot. She said that at that point my little toe touched the ground for the first time. That was enough.

She had me step off the treadmill and walk across the floor of the shop. I did and I was struck by a sudden giddiness. It wasn’t because I’d been on the treadmill for the best part of 25 minutes at this point. Rather it was was because my body position had changed just enough for my balance organs in my ears to pick it up. The feeling only lasted a few moments but it was enough for me to remark on it. Helen then asked if I noticed any other changes. I did. My toes – especially the big toes – were touching the ground on each step now. I hadn’t noticed them do that before, even when I had been walking around in bare feet.

What the six little strips of tape do is very subtly change the way my foot works. Helen says that my foot now has the chance to be a foot: that is to allow the complex of muscles, tendons, ligaments and bones to act as shock absorbers and an energy recovery system. They will feed some of the energy they take in on each stride into the next one, if I allow them to work.

Having established that each foot now had the chance to work properly, Helen had me pay attention to my posture. I have to confess that I am a lazy, slouchy excuse for a man. I have read somewhere a Chinese saying that sitting is better than standing, but lying down is bes of all. I would prefer to slump, round-shouldered and hump-backed even over lying down. That is not good enough for Helen. She had me standing up more straightly and walking with my head up, my shoulders back a little and with my weight more on my heels on each step. I should imagine a plumbline down through my body and keep it as straight as possible. I said that I felt about an inch and a half taller just because of paying more attention to my posture as I walked.

She then had me run on the treadmill in the Hattori shoes I brought with me. She gave me even more to think about. She said I should allow my feet to become less rigid by imagining the shoes giving the soles of my feet a massage on every step. She had me exaggerate various parts of my gait to check if I could see any difference in how each move felt to me. I had to allow the angle between the top of my foot and my shin to decrease, or to flick up my heels. Each time she asked me to do something differently, she checked whether I felt a difference. Most of the time I did, but occasionally I could feel no difference at all.

She gave me what an actor would call “notes.” My ankles are very rigid, apparently and my right foot doesn’t pronate at all. My ankles are only hinges and my feet are stiff little levers. It means that my calves end up doing an awful lot of work getting my feet and ankles to move instead of just acting as postural control mechanisms. My bum and thighs do much less work than they should in powering my motion.

It seems that every time I speak to Helen, I have my head completely filled with new things to think about. That is brilliant in some ways but I need to break down what she says into manageable chunks. I am a runner of very little brain so I like to have just one or at most two things to do at once. My body has spent the last forty six years learning to move the way it does and I’m trying to change some of what it likes doing in eight weeks. Well, six and a bit now. I’m off to do The Drill in Grant Park followed by a speed session if the weather ever cools down enough.

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