My flat feet have caused me countless problems. Minimalist footwear might provide a solution
I took up running in 2009, after returning from a friend’s stag week in Portugal and deciding that I had both drunk and eaten too much. It was time to re-build my figure.
My first runs were shambolic. Like an asthmatic with smoke damaged lungs I wheezed my way round the roads near where I lived. Slowly but surely my stamina improved, and today I run once a week, every Sunday afternoon, always 6.2 miles. Along with the occasional spot of cycling and weight/fitness sessions three times a week, plus healthy eating, I do enough exercise for me to sustain a trim physique.
However, over time, whilst the distance running has certainly gotten easier, it hasn’t gotten any more enjoyable: I utterly loath it. At school I was always a good sprinter – at the age of 15 I could run the 100m in 12 flat – but anything above 200m was always a struggle for me. This is down to one physical characteristic; I have flat feet.
I’m not just talking regular flat feet; these are the very flattest of flat feet. Stability wise they’re excellent; when hiking and climbing they give me great balance on jagged rocks and outcrops, but for cushioning my foot falls they are totally not fit for purpose. I use orthotics where I can, but still after every Sunday run my knees, back and ankles all moan at me.
Disembarking from the tram in Nottingham a few weeks ago I walked past a man who was wearing a pair of Vibram FiveFingers, footwear built to be as minimalist as possible, essentially just a bit of semi-rigid cushioning round the bottom of the foot to stop the surface of the ground from damaging your sole. Seeing this set me off, and within a fortnight I had ordered a pair.
I had first considered buying a pair of Vibrams about 18 months ago, but the whim passed and I continued using my bog standard running shoes. Seeing this guy walking along in a pair just happened to pique my interest once more, and before my mind changed I had sized my feet (according to the Vibram sizing guide) and ordered a pair from the Italian Vibram reseller website (it was cheaper to get a pair shipped from Italy than to order a pair from the UK site; £110 including delivery from the UK website, £85 from Italy, go figure).
They arrived this past week, and today was my first run in them. From doing my research I knew I needed to take it easy on my first venture out, a piece of advice I mostly ignored. I did a 3.9 mile run, and from the look of my feet I probably should have done a little less for my first time. I have blisters on both Achilles and the fleshy the sides of my insteps, which was worn down to the bloody under layer of skin by the time I’d completed my truncated distance.
What have I learned here? Well next time I need to place a few carefully positioned blister plasters around my feet, otherwise these sore spots will only get worse. Plus I have to make sure I don’t Velcro up the Vibrams quite as tight as I did today. However despite my current discomfort I am actually rather pleased with the intended outcome; not even a tiny bit of knee, ankle or back pain, just some natural calf stiffness. I’m actually rather chuffed. We’ll see what the next run brings.