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Baby Steps

At age 15 months, I learned how to walk. Forty-one years later, I’m finally learning how to do it correctly. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

Anyone who knows me much knows I have a funny walk. It can best be described as duck-like, as my feet splay to the sides giving me a distinctive waddling gait. This gait goes away in heels, but is quite pronounced in flats or bare feet.

It’s never occurred to me that I could or should try to change my walk, silly looking as it is. What’s changed my mind is my running injury and pilates. Holly, my pilates instructor, has been working on muscles complimentary to running for a while now. It’s pretty common for runners to have underdeveloped  adductor (inner thigh) muscles and tight hamstrings, psoas, and IT bands, and that is certainly the case with me.

As time went on, though, it became clear that there was more to it than that. I didn’t just have some imbalances or weakness; I had a hard time keeping my legs straight during many exercises. What’s more, my weird gait doesn’t allow my foot to flex in a normal way; my foot slaps down like a plank and then lifts back the same way.

This all matters, because if left uncorrected it can lead to lower back and calf pain and not-so-great balance. And, in fact, I’ve already got two out of those three. Holly sent me back to the running store for a gait and shoe analysis. Andy at Fleet Feet filmed me walking in bare feet, then played back the video forwards and backwards at a super-slow rate. It was Zapruder-esque.

The verdict was that I needed a mild stability shoe with arch supporting orthotics to correct my gait. It’s the strangest feeling in the world. With each step, I can feel my foot trying to land in its usual way, only to be redirected by the shoe. It’s like my foot and my shoe are playing tug-of-war, and I’m suddenly conscious of something I haven’t thought about for 41 years.

It’s not exactly unpleasant, but it doesn’t feel great, either. Then again, two runs with my new shoes have resulted in considerably less calf pain, and my lower back feels much looser, too. From now on, my pilates sessions are going to be intensely focused on leg positioning and balance. It’s ridiculously hard, but more than worth it in the long run. Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

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