“The human foot is a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art.” Leonardo da Vinci
Our feet are really quite amazing. The foot consists of 33 bones, 26 joints and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons. If you live to the age of 80 and average 7,500 steps a day, those engineering marvels can take you the equivalent of about five times around the Earth, right on the equator. That’s a lot of walking or pounding if you are a runner.
Our feet propel us. Our feet have the absolute power to make walking, hiking and running comfortable — or miserable. So why don’t we take better care of them?
We (especially guys) don’t pay much attention to our feet unless there is something wrong with them. At least I didn’t for many years. I remember the time Kathie asked me if I put lotion on my feet.
“Are you kidding me? Why would I do that?”
“Because they look so dry. You need to do something about that,” she replied
Over the years I’ve had a handful of foot injuries. I had Plantar fasciitis once, a common runner’s problem, solved with rest, anti-inflammatory and stretching. A few other minor foot issues that brought me to a podiatrist were a painful ingrown toenail and toenail fungus. The podiatrist was very informative about foot care. I learned about careful toenail trimming and washing and drying my feet properly (even between the toes). My worst foot injury didn’t seem like it was my foot at all. It was a torn Achilles tendon in the 1990s.
The Achilles tendon is the main tendon of the foot. It runs from the calf muscle to the heel. When I injured it, I thought I’d been struck by some type of object. I fell down and looked around to see what hit me. Nothing had hit me, but the tendon had torn on its own. I had surgery and didn’t run again for months.
As a runner I should have known to take better care of my feet but all Runners World magazine ever seems to focus on regarding feet is what new shoes to buy.
I recently took up trail running and started on the nearby Mountain to Sea Trail. The trail is moderate to difficult for hikers at most of the access points in Haywood. For runners that means it’s a technical trail. Being a novice, I ignored the advice to buy trail running shoes. I have lots of old running shoes lying around so I assumed they would do just fine. I took the first run slow and easy, just feeling it out. It was fun and a different running experience. There were roots and rocks, changes in elevation, switchbacks, beautiful sounds of rushing streams and deep forest green hues.
During my next run, I was starting to admire the forest while climbing a hill. Then my running shoe clipped a root and I had my first trail run fall. No big deal except my toe seemed to hurt a bit. The next day it was painful and throbbing. My feet had been bugging me a bit lately so I made an appointment to see a podiatrist.
He examined my toe and feet and gave me the good news/bad news. The good news was my injured toe was going to be fine. The bad news was my feet are getting old. As we age our feet lose the fat padding on the bottoms so it’s a good idea for runners and hikers to compensate. He set me up with nice inserts for my running shoes and hiking boots. Now I have a much better ride. I also read about trail running shoes; why they are important. Trail shoes have a protective toe box up front and the soles have lugs to grip better. Trails can be muddy and slick. I quickly got a pair. My toes are better protected now and I feel more stable on the trail.
Oh, and I do my best to put foot lotion on my feet once every few days or so. It’s not a requirement like flossing my teeth twice a day but it feels pretty good. I’ll give my wife credit for that.
(Patrick Johnson, RN, BSN, MPA is the former public health director in Haywood County, North Carolina. He worked in public health for 36 years in Florida and North Carolina. He retired from the U.S. Air Force Reserve Nurse Corps in 2013 as a Colonel after 27 years. Col Johnson is an Iraq war veteran and has run over 400 races from 5k to marathon. He’s been a vegetarian for 35 years. He’s also bounced back from a heart valve repair, a severe stroke, seizure disorder and still battles atrial fibrillation and retirement. He continues to run, hike, lift weights, stretch, meditate and tries to pay better attention to his feet.)
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