I'm not a runner. Or at least I never thought I was. I was no stranger to the outdoors, I enjoyed a stroll through the woods, knew my wild eatable plants, my camping skills, but sports held no draw for me. I never saw the point of punishing my body for an artifical score.
In high school I dislocated a kneecap with the help of a school bully, and I never got better. Sure, the knee got stronger, and mostly functions like a normal knee today, but the pain migrated out of the knee and took up residency in the rest of my body, wandering about from part to part as it saw fit. The doctors called it Fibromyalgia, which basically means "we have no clue, but it looks like these other patients we have no clue about."
My fibromyalgia was kept "under control" with muscle relaxants and pain killers, but any sudden increase in activity would bring about a flare-up, and avoiding increases in activity led to decreases in activity and a long slow decline.
Sometime in college I realized that one of my major pains was related to my shoes. In an old pair of shoes my bad hip would ache more than in a new pair of shoes. There's a family hip condition that my pediatrician said we'd "keep an eye on", so I didn't think too much of it, and counted myself lucky to have such a mild form. I assumed the problem was related to the uneven shoe wear that results from the odd alignment of my hip. I started replacing my shoes every six months like a good little consumer. I continued to decline slowly.
I was training a dog as a mobility assistance dog, and considering that I might someday have to join the growing ranks of Fibromyalgia patients on disability.
Then one day the hip pain returned with a vengeance, while I was wearing 7 day old shoes. I looked at the soles, no wear pattern. I looked at the previous shoes, much less wear than it used to take before I replaced shoes. I found if I switched between two or three pairs of shoes in a constant rotation, I could get by, but the pain was getting pretty intense just sitting in my office chair at work for long periods. I would come home from work, take piles of painkillers and try to sleep it off.
Soon after, while trying to figure out what to do, came my sister's wedding. Mom was ill and there was no professional wedding coordinator, so I was on my feet doing the little things a bride shouldn't have to do for herself all day long. I was wearing dress flats, since I was never coordinated enough to wear heels, which had no arch support and made my feet hurt, but my hip was fine. Near the end of the day, I was trying to move the car and my feet started cramping.
My feet were cramping? Common wisdom is that there are no major muscles there, but 15 years of living with fibromyalgia related cramping made it very clear what the arch pain was. I had overworked muscles in my feet and they were curling up in rebellion. But my hip was fine. Suddenly things those crazy barefooters had said made sense. Barefooting might not just be a crazy fad, but rather a real solution to my problem.
After the wedding I shopped around for a pair of shoes that was flat, had no arch support, and didn't pinch my toes, to no avail. I had had moccasins from a prepunched kit in the past that didn't fit well at all. Then I did what I always do: make what you can't buy. My first pair of homemade shoes were "ruby slippers" made from a couple layers of some Christmas brocade, and suitable for indoor use only. My hip felt great when I took indoor walk breaks in them. I decided the experiment was worth continuing, and ordered some leather to make a proper pair of moccasins.
Life was not peaches and cream right after the moccasins were finished and I went full time in minimalist shoes. My heels hurt, my arches hurt, and I could barely shuffle through my desk job day. But my hip felt better. Sore feet actually get better when you can sit down, the misaligned hip previously had me in tears for good parts of the day. I considered this a good trade.
I was soon hobbling 0.25 miles a day, just down to the corner, to the fire hydrant and back, or down to the trail entrance and back. I had a lot of foot pain, but movement was my new antidote to hip pain, and I was going to keep it at bay no matter the cost. Then after about three months, it started getting better. Normal life didn't cause foot pain, 0.25 miles was an pleasant little stroll, and I slowly upped my distance. I joined a gym with an indoor track and a hot tub. (A magic combination.) On the track, I not only walked, but occasionally jogged a lap. Last month I managed 1.2 km, half running.
I have a long way to go, but so far I've been able to recover from every setback, and for the first time in 15 years I'm seeing an overall slow improvement instead of a slow decline. Maybe I'll never run a marathon or win a 5k, but I'm finding out what my real capabilities are, finding health in the process, and maybe even becoming a runner.
Denise Skidmore AKA Hobbler Turning Cobbler Myhealthexperiment.com