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Comment: How sole searching led to a running renaissance
I have horrible feet. There, it’s said, and we can move on together. Better to confront the fact right at the start, then work through the issues. It’s hard to imagine the concept of truly beautiful feet, but mine are at the other end of the scale.
It’s a pain. It’s not that they’re ugly, but just wrongly proportioned. They’re far too big for my body – size 12 if you’re wondering – and they’re narrow, with fallen arches and one foot is half a size bigger than the other. A man in a shoe shop once said that I could be a great mystery shopper, because it’s almost impossible to find shoes that actually fit me.
My wife, by contrast, has lovely, normal feet. She can walk into a shop, see a that she likes and be confident they’ll have a pair, and they’ll probably fit. With me, shoe shopping is a miserable experience of dashed hopes. I see the one I want and ask for it in size 12 only to be greeted with a pained look on the face of the shop assistant.
Two minutes later he comes back to tell me he’s had a good look round and, no, they don’t have them in 12. But they do have these ones – whereupon he produces something that looks like a pair of smart clown shoes. For some reason, size 12 shoes often seem to look like they’re actually about size 19 – some optical trick means big shoes look even more massive than they already are.
I once went through an entire shopping centre to be told nobody had any shoes that fitted me, except for a pair of basketball boots. I am nobody’s idea of a basketball player, but perhaps I am someone’s idea of a foot-freak.
And what’s really troubling is I think they’re still growing. Here I am, in my fifth decade, and I’m sure my flippers are getting bigger.
But come on. I can’t be the only bloke with big feet. We’re getting taller all the time, and surely taller people will need better stability, and there’s only one way to do that – grow bigger plates. Mark my words – in 100 years time, us size 12 folk will be running the world.
Even when I find a pair, they fall off. Long, narrow feet tend to slip out of modern shoes, which are designed for wider soles. That’s why I’ve still got a pair of brogues I bought 20 years ago – when I find a pair of shoes that fit, I’ll do anything to keep them going.
This past month, though, after the family holiday to France, I had to say farewell to my trainers. They fell apart after a long and dedicated existence, and so it was the search began for their successors. This always used to mean a trip to a shop called Up and Running in Watford, gloriously staffed by people who actually go running and would video you to see what sort of trainer suits best, but it’s gone now. I suspect they suffered from the sort of people who would leech their insight and then buy the shoes off Amazon instead.
So I ended up in a shop in the Arndale Centre in Manchester. I’m here doing some work and the shop had exactly the same combination of treadmill and video machine, and did just as good a job of selling me a pair of trainers. Twenty minutes all up, and they fitted. And you know what happened next? I went running in them. For years, I’ve had running shoes but used them for just about everything except running. Strolling about, playing football with my son, a game of tennis and just hanging about. Not so much running shoes, more day-to-day life shoes.
But these seemed so new that it seemed mean not to take them for a jog, like buying a car and seeing what it can do on the M1. And now, to my astonishment, I’ve taken up running again.
I used to run for the school a quarter of a century ago, but since then fitness has been more about football or running around after children. The occasional nice long walk. But over the past few days, I’ve started pounding the streets doing two, three and even four mile runs. For some of you, that’s barely enough to get the dust out of your mouth, but for most of us that’s a pretty tall order.
It’s not so much that I’ve all of a sudden decided I love the act of running, because I haven’t. But I do like the things that happen while you’re running. You get to think without having a computer screen in front of you. You get to see slices of life, little vistas you otherwise miss. And I get to listen to podcasts of Desert Island Discs, which seems to be exactly the right length for me to do a decent-length jog.
You need to listen to something while you’re running. Being alone with your thoughts is great for a while, but then comes the bit when your body starts saying “couldn’t we just sit down for a bit, or have a coffee, or go back?” and that’s where you need to tune into something else.
Some people seem to have “power songs” to give them energy. I’m at the age where I’ll rely on Desert Island Discs.
And guess what. The Moor Park 10k is in a couple of weeks. That’s six and a bit miles, which is further than I’ve gone since this renaissance started, and I should probably give myself more time for my body to acclimatise back to running.
But it’s tempting, isn’t it, having an organised run taking place just down the road, where I could give these new trainers a chance to strut their size 12 stuff?
I used to call the event the Moor Park Fun Run. But right now, this isn’t about having fun.
It’s about facing a challenge, and taking it on. The consensus seems to be that if I could finish it in under an hour, I could be pretty happy, so that’s going to be the plan. Wish me well. I’m going to need it.
The Moor Park 10k and fun runs will be held on Sunday, September 29 at Merchant Taylors’ School in Sandy Lane, Moor Park. For details visit www.moorpark10k.org.uk.
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