Fine-tuning the feet: a visit to the pedorthist

Today I had an appointment with a pedorthist (foot doctor) and physiotherapist. I’ve worn orthotics since my stress fractures in 2008, and they’ve been looking pretty beat up lately – not surprising when you think about all the miles they’ve been through in the past six years! Since I haven’t had any problems with my feet since, and I already wear a stability shoe, I was curious to ask the doctor if I actually still needed orthotics, and if I did, should I get new ones?

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The short answer: if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. Gillian doesn’t like to over-prescribe orthotics, but with the amount of running I do, she thinks it’s a good idea to keep using them. The more time we spend on our feet running, the more likely it is our form will suffer and that’s when orthotics kick in to make sure you’re not over-pronating or over-supinating (basically, so your foot doesn’t roll too much inwards or outwards to compensate).

A 5K may be a good distance to experiment running without the orthotics, but she thinks for longer distances, it’s best to keep them in. There’s also something to be said for not messing with what works – my orthotics have kept my feet happy for six years, after all!

They also don’t need to be replaced, just relined (part of the top lining is starting to peel away in places). If I wanted to, we could recast my foot and get new orthotics made, but again, Gillian thought I should stick with what is working for me. Recasting would create a slightly different orthotic and even a small difference could have a negative impact on my running. Anyway, we worked out that I’m going to drop off my orthotics in her mailbox (in addition to being a fabulous pedorthist, she’s also my parents’ neighbour!) after my ultra next month. Since I’ll be taking a good break from running right after the ultra, she’ll be able to take her time to reline the orthotics and there won’t be any rush to get them back to me. She doesn’t want to do anything with them now before the race just in case – we both know well that the saying “nothing new on race day!” also applies to the few weeks leading up to it!

In addition to orthotics talk, Gillian recorded me running and played it back in slow-mo so she could analyse my gait. This was both interesting and kind of embarrassing haha! It turns out my parents were spot-on when they told me I tend to do a “whip kick” with my right leg when I run. I DEFINITELY do and in slow-mo it’s even more noticeable. Also, since this was just an easy run down the sidewalk, it’s not like I’m only falling into this pattern at the tail end of a marathon when I’m exhausted and not paying attention to form. I’m telling myself that every great runner has a unique little tic they do when running, so I’m just following in Paula Radcliffe’s footsteps…haha, right.

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Right leg about to whip around any moment now…

Apparently I DO have a really nice form though (she said I always make running look effortless when she sees me running past her house but I had to remind her that a) her house is right at the beginning of my run and b) it’s downhill so I really better be making it look effortless when I’m :30 seconds into my run and going down a hill to boot!) but there are some little niggles that could use finetuning so they don’t turn into bigger problems down the road. I need to concentrate on eradicating that weird whip kick motion – the best way to do this, according to Gillian, is to be diligent about track sessions where the focus is on intervals and that “sprinter’s form”, where the legs drive up parallel to the ground with each stride. Pretend like a string is pulling your knee up, she told me. This will keep my knee in alignment with my hips and not buckling inwards.

Another thing to focus on is running form drills – As and Bs, as well as strides running with your arms over your head so you’re really forced to concentrate on leading with your hips. Good running means pushing forwards with your pelvic area rather than sitting back a bit, which is what your body naturally wants to do. Another way to work on this is to strengthen your glutes and core. What I really came away with today is just how connected everything in the body is – if you have a weakness in your hips, it may reveal itself in your knees, or problems with your feet will eventually manifest themselves in your upper legs.

Gillian also gave me some rehab exercises to do as often as possible – single leg squats (in front of a mirror so you can make sure your knee is in alignment and straight over your foot), balancing on one foot and making sure the big toe of the foot on the ground is straight (this is SO hard!!), calf raises (again, making sure your toes are pointing out straight and your knees are in alignment with toes and heels) and reverse lunges with a forward knee drive.

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See how my toes point in? Not good. I need to strengthen the

muscle along the inside of my foot so I can pull my big toes out straight (does that make sense?)

OK, I think that was just about everything she told me today. I’m excited to fine-tune my running form and work on correcting those little tics so they don’t become a bigger problem. I want to stress that Gillian said EVERY runner has their own unique running form, and there’s not necessarily a “perfect” way to run, so don’t freak out if you too have a unique tic. I may never be able to fully get rid of the goofy whip kick, and that’s OK, but working to dial it down as much as possible will make me a more efficient runner and be less likely to lead to injury.

Anyone else notice a random little tic you do while running – have you been able to correct it? Any other orthotic-users out there?

 

 

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