Back on track ... with some newfound support
I wasn't specifically looking for pity when I blogged about my ill-fated and compressed training regime for last month's Storm the Bastille 5K and its subsequent physical toll on my knees, legs and feet.
Actually, I expected some good-natured ridicule from the readers of OnMilwaukee.com. Instead, I got tons of good advice, including one very generous offer too intriguing to pass up.
Kyle Roberts, a certified pedorthist who owns Footworks Orthotics, reached out to me after he read about my woes, offering to make me a pair of custom orthotics. I'm not the kind of guy to turn down a $350 gift from a stranger -- but I told him what I tell anyone who offers our staff free stuff: I'll try your product, but I'm not guaranteeing I'll recommend it.
Roberts didn't seem to worry, and in the end, he didn't have to. A few weeks after inserting the orthotics in my new running shoes, my knee pain is completely gone. My calves hurt only when I approach my maximum distance, and my pace and recovery time have shortened dramatically.
I can't give Roberts all the credit -- it's possible that I'm just getting in better shape -- but after four, 3.5-mile runs last week, and a 5.1-mile trek on Saturday, I'm still pain-free. And I think I know why.
My original problem occurred for two reasons: I ran too far too soon, and I had the wrong equipment for my body mechanics. Despite my original prognosis from the running shoe store, Roberts studied my gait and declared that I don't especially underpronate, but I do have rather high arches. So, I was wise to buy a neutral, cushioned running shoe like the Asics GEL-Cumulus 11-- but given the shape of my feet, I needed something else.
That something else proved to be Roberts' orthotics. A week after he molded my feet into a squishy foam box, I picked up the "foot beds." As expected, the initial sensation was intense, a little hard to describe, really. I could only wear the orthotics for a few hours each day, as it felt a little like my feet were being tickled or massaged, and the sensation was certainly too intense to run upon.
"Your foot and body are getting used to them," says Roberts. "Most people aren't used to having full arch support. It can be painful at times for some people, but sometimes people are good to go on the first day."
Roberts predicted that within a week it would seem foreign to run without them, and he was right: I found myself wishing the orthotics fit all my shoes (because they're somewhat bulky, they only fit certain shoe styles).
"People are very often skeptical when they get introduced to orthotics," says Roberts. "But getting the right support and better alignment is critical for people -- especially runners who are pounding three to four times their body weight per step, and there are thousands of steps per mile."
The pain didn't go away instantly, but it quickly became more manageable. It makes sense, really. Roberts is working with collegiate and even Olympic athletes, as well as older adults with much more serious foot problems than mine. Fortunately, my pain was caught very early -- within just a few weeks -- so it was easy to correct.
Going into it, I wasn't really skeptical, but it did cross my mind that I could just go out and buy a $10 shoe insert at Walgreen's. Roberts, however, says there's a big difference.
"There are a lot places you can go, but there are only a few people who do this full-time as orthotics specialists," says Roberts.
Roberts admits that even a great pair of orthotics can't compensate for low-quality shoes, and he recommends a list of running shoes on his surprisingly comprehensive Web site. "Orthotics can only do so much; they're not a stand-alone device. A patient will do the best in a great shoe coupled with great orthotics."
Roberts, himself, is a serious runner and has competed in marathons, and he wears his own product every day. He won't say that everyone needs to have custom-made orthotics, and acknowledges that there are arguments for and against. "But I think it would help just about anyone," says Roberts, "but if cost wasn't an issue, I don't see why everyone wouldn't have them."
Roberts makes a good point. At $300-$350, his product isn't cheap -- though after the initial mold, extra inserts cost less. But like splurging on a good mattress, can you put a price on feeling pain-free?
Having hobbled around for a month after some self-inflicted damage, I know that I can't, and when my orthotics wear out in three to five years, I'll buy another pair. I might even spring for a thinner pair designed for dressier shoes, since I now understand that lots of pain starts at the feet and works its way up.
Do Roberts' orthotics really work? For me, yes, and he suggests a test to prove it to his new clients.
Says Roberts, "I tell people to wear them for three weeks and then take them out and see if they can tell. You'll feel what they're doing -- you'll feel your knees start to hurt."
I'll keep them in and will keep running. Roberts' orthotics haven't solved all my fitness challenges, but they've certainly helped. I won't go so far as to say that running has become fun, but when it stopped hurting, it definitely became more agreeable.
As I pass each milestone, I learn more and more. With these orthotics, I know I can make it to the next race, and hopefully beyond.
Kyle Roberts fitted me with orthotics a year ago. The guy is a genius, and the improvement it made in athletics and just overall day to day comfort is staggering. It was a big difference. Made me a better basketball player because I wasn't breaking down with my flat feet. Roberts knows what he's doing, I couldn't give a more positive endorsement of his work and expertise.
Ah, the orthotics scam. How can foam be so expensive?
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