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Pigeon toed: a minimalist mistake

Chucks. When I was a young child the doctor decreed I wear corrective shoes because I toed in: I was pigeon toed. Big clunky corrective clodhoppers, stylish as a cross. I was already an object of ridicule for being fat and smart. Shoes that made me look vaguely developmentally disabled were just the crowning touch. Of course I wanted what all the other kids were wearing: chucks. This left me with a keen interest in shoes. In Kenya the other kids wore modish black ankle boots with pointy toes and elastic gores. I put my foot down and got a pair. Hallelujah, I was no longer the dork in clunky shoes. Back Stateside in the seventies my fashion idols were hippies (eyeroll), so I started wearing Earth Shoes. All along I would have been better off in chucks, which were as close to sensible shoes as you could get back then.

Minimalist bullshit. Fast forward a few decades. One night at tango I saw a guy whose dancing I admired wearing Merrell minimalist running shoes. My cool shoe alarm went off. I got a pair like he had. I started wearing minimalist shoes for both dancing and walking. My feet complained, forcing me to back off the minimalist bullshit. I was back to normal shoes with cushioning and a heel. The wisdom in my body had prevailed.

Carkeek. Then along came covid. Walking replaced dancing as my main source of exercise. I was in terrible shape. Dancing had not been keeping me aerobically fit. I got winded walking up molehills in Crown Hill. My love Leela made sure I found that out so I'd be forced to get back in shape. It was all in the timing. I started a walking program, gradually increasing my mileage until I was walking twelve to fifteen miles a day, with plenty of hills. Carkeek Park became my favorite destination. For several months I walked in and around Carkeek every day. It became my refuge and classroom, the place I felt most at home. I knew I had to leave the house where I'd been living in Crown Hill soon. That alienated me from the house that had been my home since 2008. I felt out of place there. I was no longer welcome, merely tolerated. The woods in Carkeek were lovely and welcoming. I began paying attention to the geology surrounding me. I quickly realized that what they called the South Ridge in Carkeek was not a ridge at all. It was the south rim of Pipers Canyon. Pipers Creek had carved the canyon out of glacial till and flour. I began studying local paleogeology online, and found myself deeply moved by the image of Seattle under ice a mile deep. That led to my study of human history and a steadily growing understanding of what it really does mean to be human. Plus Carkeek has plenty of nice steep trails for me to work out on; it also became my gym. I'd been a dedicated trail runner in Boulder, and a little of that resurfaced.

Burritos. The walking program was going really well when the minimalist bug came back to bite me in the ass. I shopped for minimalist walking shoes, and Leela steered me to the ultimate: water shoes. A pair weighs a pound or less. Soles so thin I could roll them up like a burrito. These are selling points? But self delusion easily dismisses mere common sense. This is a religion, and the gospel of shoe minimalism raves you can feel the earth under your feet. And it's true. One thing I learned the hard way is hard as asphalt is underfoot, concrete is much harder. There are a lot of concrete streets in Crown Hill and I came to dread them all in my woefully inadequate burrito shoes.

Heel strike. I was fixated on the water shoes. After all, Leela had given them to me, right? So I had to learn a whole new way of walking. I did fine on Carkeek trails, but on asphalt and concrete? Ouch. It was a mile from where I was living to Carkeek Park, and longer to my favorite secret entrances. And then back home after the park segment, all on hard surfaces. My poor unprotected feet. I learned how to replace my heel strike with a roll, but it still hurt. So I dove into an in-depth analysis of my gait. I applied everything I'd learned in tango about walking. I reviewed what I'd learned in tai chi decades ago. I developed detailed technique for walking uphill, downhill, and flat-track, but especially downhill. Meanwhile my poor feet were a mess: stone bruises, painful calluses, blisters on sometimes as many as eight toes, blackening toenails.

Buttah. I wish I could say I had an aha! moment but there were several. It took two or three days. But it finally got through. Leela had given me enough rope, a favorite teaching strategy of hers. My feet. Need. Protection. There's a reason shoes have cushioning, and a raised heel: to protect the foot. My feet are old, and what I could (unwisely) get away with before don't cut it no more. The upside was I had relearned how to walk, and I kept all that, only now in sensible shoes. Now my walk is smooth like buttah. I glide along anywhere uphill and down, at peace with the hard ground. Swing it, Uncle Mark.

Ramping down. Giving my feet the love and protection they deserve, I started walking in shoes I already had: sturdy waterproof hiking boots with lugged Vibram soles. Heavenly. In a twist of fate my hiking boots were Merrells, the same brand that led me down the garden path to minimalism. Twelve to fifteen miles per day was great for ramping up, but more than I needed ongoing. Before I moved to my new home, and for a little while after, I did intense stair workouts using the principle of fartlek. That gave me a great workout with lower mileage. Now I dance instead, just walking for practical matters. It's been a wonderful transition.

PS: I'm still pigeon toed.