Podiatry and Phidippides

I ran three miles yesterday to complete a 13 mile week.  The training schedule I’m on has me increasing mileage over three week periods, then every fourth week I get to relax.  Week eight was lucky 13 as far as mileage goes.  As I’ve been talking about I have been having issues with the beginnings of shin splints and some really tight calves.  Scott Browning the trainer I consulted when I began this journey asked me to send him a note if I ever had any concerns or questions.  On Thursday, when I returned from the mornings run I was getting really worried about my issues.  The coming weeks have me increasing my mileage to levels I’ve never run and I could see that I was literally running toward a wall and needed some advice.

I explained to Scott my concerns and my thought that I am overpronating and he suggested some over the counter shoe inserts but more importantly he said I should contact a podiatrist or sports therapist.  I’m not a big fan of doctors but realized Scott was right so I did a Google search and found Neil H. Hecht, D.P.M His site is well laid out and very informative but more importantly his office is close.  His receptionist said they’d had a cancellation and could get me in on Friday (the next day) or I’d have to wait two weeks.  Sometimes timing is everything so I jumped at the offer and found myself in Dr. Hecht’s office the next morning.

Every so often, if you’re lucky, you meet a person who really loves what they do.  Their enthusiasm is infectious and their expertise in their field nearly unquestionable.  In my opinion, Dr. Hecht is one of those people.  He walked into the exam room and after 5 minutes of general questions said, “You’re a healthy guy.  I see people who have lost toes, have debilitating diabetic joints or have had their feet mangled in an accident.  You want to run a marathon.  A noble idea but if you don’t make it, you’ll run another day.”  I thought, hmm, in a way he’s right but the goal is NY ’09 not 2010 or some year down the road.  He could see the wheels turning in my head.  He said, “I can see two things just in looking at your feet.  One, you have a bunion developing on your right foot.” Despair ran across my face. “And two,” he continued,  “if its just about your feet, there’s no reason you can’t run this year.”  Relief swelled in my throat and he said, “Come back and see me about the bunion in 20 to 25 years.  If I’m still in practice I’ll help you out with that.”

All of this was great news, told with a sense of dry humor, a lost art to a lot of physicians, but I still did not have answers to what I was looking for.  What about my calf and the shin splints?  Dr. Hecht said, “I could take you in the back, fit you for a pair of prescription orthotics and runaway with $400.00 of your hard earned money.”  Smiling, he continued,  “Or tell you to visit Phidippides the running store and buy a pair of $40.00 inserts.  I think for today you should go to Phidippides.”

The Mercedes car push.  Dr. Hecht says this is WRONG!
The Mercedes car push. Dr. Hecht says this is WRONG!

Dr. Hecht also showed me a calf stretch and said that this is the only calf stretch I should do.  We walked out into the hall and he demonstrated, “My nurses are really sick of me doing this but, stand about a foot or so away from the wall (you’ll have to find the distance for your calves) with both feet together and lean into the wall.  Hold that position for one minute and do that twice a day.  Make sure you stay there for a minute.”  I must’ve had a quizicle expression on my face because he continued, “Forget about the Mercedes car push stretch, that’s what I call it,  you see everyone else doing (see photo).  It’s dangerous.  You could pull your Achilles tendon and then have real problems.  Your trainer, your friend and the magazines will tell you different but trust me, this is all you need to do for your calves.”  Using a chart on the wall he also showed me how, at a certain point, the calf bone hits the ankle bone (he used the latin names) and if pushed I could create real problems for myself.  I shrugged and said I would incorporate the extra minute into my routine.

He said, “Okay.  I think I can kick you out of here.”  I said, “What was the name of the running store? Fidipleds, Fedliples? Fed…?”  He wrote it down and pointed southwest, “Phidippides, it’s on Ventura.  Have a good marathon and I’ll see you in 25 years.”  I thanked him and was off to the running store.

I’ve always bought my shoes at Foot Locker or The Sports Chalet and occasionally at Big 5 Sporting Goods and wondered what this running store must be like.  I had to call 411 on my cell to get the address and soon was pulling into the parking lot of a mini-mall just past Hayvenhurst Blvd. in Encino.  The store front sits in the middle of the single story mall and the sign above the door reads, Phidippides The Running Store in black letters on a yellowing white background.  The aluminum framed doors were both open and a quick glance inside revealed a store full of people.  I parked and went to join the crowd.

Inside, there were at least three clerks, one of them in running shorts and t-shirt, assisting the customers.  I was there for about 30 seconds when I was asked if I could be helped.  Teh salesman’s name was George Serrano and he asked, “What can I do for you?”  I explained my shin condition and he said he knew exactly what I needed and disappeared into the shelves lining one wall of the place.  As George was looking for my shoe inserts I had a chance to look around.  The store is pretty small for a retail space in Los Angeles but perfect for this kind of specialty shop.  Phidippides is about running and running only.  A paradise of shoes, nutrition gels, water carriers, socks and all things that make runners better at their sport.  The man in the shorts was helping a woman with a pair of new shoes and encouraged her to exit the store and give them a try.  I thought, that doesn’t happen at Sports Chalet.

George came back with two pair of SuperFeet Premium Insoles.  One pair was blue the other green and he encouraged me to try them out.  I told him I didn’t have my running shoes and being a salesman he suggested I try them in a pair of high support Asics.  I told him I wore a 10 1/2 and off he went to the shelves again.  The woman was back with the man in the shorts now.  They were discussing the shoes she’d just experimented in and she wasn’t convinced she had the right pair.  Producing another box from under his seat the man in the shorts said she should try the pair in the box he was holding.

George returned with two boxes himself and asked me to have a seat.  He then sat in front of me to fit me into the shoe.  He pulled the factory insole and put the blue insert into the shoe, then asked for my left foot.  He slipped it on and asked me to stand up.  “10 1/2, hmm, I think you need an 11,” his thumb pushing into my big toe, “Your right there.”  I said I’d been running in a 10 1/2 for 9 months.  He pointed to the man in the shorts and he came over.  He was wearing a pair of Asics and George pressed his thumb into his shoe revealing that his toe was not up against the front of his shoe.  I said, “Okay lets try it.”  From the 2nd box George pulled the size 11s, inserted the blue insoles and put them on my feet.  We then went out to the parking lot where I too got to test the shoes. The woman, being hosted by the man in shorts, was smiling now in her 2nd pair.  I could immediately tell, I had an issue.  The blue inserts were too high in the arch. If I ran in those I’d be in the hospital.

George, who stood in the doorway invited me back in to sit down.  He switched the insoles for the green version and put the shoes back on my feet.  I was really liking this service.  Out to the parking lot again and I said, “This is better but I can tell my arches are going to be in pain if I go with this.”  George smiled and said, “I think we need to try another shoe.”  Back inside he swapped the Asics I was wearing for another pair and reinserted the green insoles.  The asphalt of the parking lot welcomed my feet in their new shoes in what I think was a sigh of relief.  “Oh, now he can run properly across me.”  My feet had never had that much support before.  To use a cliche, it was like running on air.  SOLD!  I’d gone to buy insoles but ended up with a new pair of shoes in the correct size, the green insoles and a couple of pairs of seamless socks but now had a new hope for the up coming mileage. I was really at the brink at the beginning of the day.  Again, timing is everything.

Today, I ran 7 miles to start week 9.  This will be a 22 mile week followed by a 24 then a 26.  I have my Hammer Nutrition gels, the Heed energy drink powder and now a pair of shoes and insoles specially fitted for my feet.  I finished the run doing 11-12 minute miles and felt awesome the whole way.  This afternoon, I have no signs of shin splints and the calf stretch seems to have solved my tight calf issues.  I’m now looking forward the next three weeks with optimism instead of dread.  NY here I come!


tom lowe photo, llc

tacoma, wa 98406



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