I can’t remember ever running without a niggle, or outright pain. A recent appointment seems to have fixed this running pain. This is what I did...
I have always run with some sort of pain or niggle. Whether it’s an injury that’s brewing or abating, or whether it is a niggle that my head tells me could potentially be a run-destroying injury, there’s always a spot of running pain. A feeling in my ankle, a twinge in my knee, a worrying pull in my calf.
And I know I’m not alone! That fear of something going pop is rife amongst us runners, isn’t it? Once you’ve got a few years in the bank enjoying this running lark, we just know that around the corner (or over the hill) there lies the unexpected.
So the thing with me is that I’ve been on a bit of a journey. Yes, the ‘j’ word. This year, I’ve tried a number of things to figure out why I’m susceptible to injury, particularly down my right hand side.
I upped my strength work, I started regular trips to the physio, I listened to every expert I could, most of whom said I was neutral (one of which said I wasn’t – WRONG) and they couldn’t really see anything wrong. And yet, predictably, my calf pinged over the summer putting my London dreams to bed. So far, so boring. We’ve all had that right? But then, out of the blue, I was invited to visit PODO – was I interested in a pair of custom orthotics?
I was a tiny bit conflicted, I must admit. Mostly because I’ve read enough now to know that *some* people out there believe that barefoot running is the way forward. That we should feel connected to the ground. That modern running shoes are taking us further away from this connection, padding our footstrike and causing untold problems up the chain. But. I also don’t enjoy barefoot running, and love my cushioned running shoes. And I have some suspicions about my high arches.
So I think, you know what? Let’s go. See what he says.
Can I run without pain?
‘He’ is Christophe Champs, a podiatrist, and he is truly lovely. And what’s more, after an hour and 30 minutes, I consider him basically angelic. He examines my horrible uncared-for feet, and looks at them on a special platform which shows my arch. But also, pertinently, asks me lots of questions about my running and what I do mostly during the day (sit around, making a magazine and drinking coffee, since you’re asking). He diagnoses my dodgy lower back just from looking at me standing weird.
And then after that he takes an impression of my feet – “as if it’s two different patients”. Within minutes he’s discovered what I think is the crux of the problem – something that literally no-one has ever told me before. One of my legs is slightly shorter than the other, and my feet have accommodated this imbalance in all sorts of weird ways. He nods sagely whenever I tell him about niggles and injuries, as it if would all be expected because of my lack of symmetry.
He creates two beautiful orthotics for me, right in front of my eyes. Orthotics I can wear in my normal shoes (a hefty pair of DMs) and also my running shoes. These will support my arch, but also allow the three arches of the foot (did you know there were three?) to move better within my shoes. Christophe explains that with continuous wear in both daytime shoes and running shoes, I can expect them to last 18 months to 2 years.
How can we choose better running shoes?
He pulls a face at the running shoes I’ve bought with me for him to inspect (I shan’t tell you which brand) because they don’t offer enough support through the heel. I’m interested in his thoughts about running shoes. How do we make sure we’re buying the right ones? What do we need to be mindful of? “All shoes are so different. But there is too much marketing around,” he says. “Runners need to remember one thing: training shoes are heavier, while racing shoes are lighter. Build up your mileage with the heavier shoes, but don’t train on the lighter ones. And make sure you lace them properly!”
Christophe suggests checking out the lacing patterns you can find on his site: first of all use ‘runner’s lacing’ – ie, use the back eyelets that usually go unlaced to ensure the collar hugs your heel more closely. Also, check the laces in the first place: he advises using laces with little to no elasticity in them so that the shoes can’t shift or expand as you flex against them.
I’m interested to find out what he thinks of barefoot running – so many runners absolutely love it. “It’s super trendy!” he laughs. “But it’s all about how it looks, not how it feels. The reason I was so busy after Covid was because people hadn’t been wearing shoes so much. Shoes should protect and support you; they should keep you pain free. Barefoot running can be very dangerous if you don’t implement it slowly.”
So how will these brand new orthotics benefit me? What can I expect? “From today you will feel more upright,” explains Christophe. He says that my lower back niggly pain – a hang-on from a slipped disc some years ago – will most likely ease within the next week or so. “Three weeks after you’ve been wearing your orthotics regularly, the tendons will reposition, there should be no pain and there will be a clear improvement. Sometimes it’s immediate. Pain is there because you’re using parts of your body too much, due to misalignment, posture and balance.”
Seriously? No pain in three weeks? Is this some sort of miracle cure? He laughs: “Don’t overthink it! I like runners to work with these orthotics, but also to get the advice of a physio and a running coach to work on technique. And perhaps also an osteopath to work on the muscles and plains of the body. This is just one piece of the puzzle.” He pauses. “But yes, it’s a game changer.”
My running with orthotics
So then I pop off into the sunset with my new orthotics. Are they a game changer? What do they feel like?
They feel incredible. Even in my docs, I’m used to having two inner soles as they’re a half size too big, so I’ve got these really squishy inner soles that I previously loved. Replaced with stiffer feeling orthotics, I didn’t think I’d enjoy the experience, but the way Christophe’s orthotics hug the underside of my feet and support my arch is just a wonderful feeling.
I’m cautious about running in them, so take a while to get going in them. First a few 30 minute runs, but not every run. Building up to my long run at the weekend. It’s been three weeks since my appointment, and these orthotics are now permanently in my running shoes – I did 10 miles in them on Sunday.
The transformation is little short of incredible. I realise I sound like an ad, but this hasn’t been paid for, and I mean every word: I am SO used to feeling little twinges around my knees and calves, and that has all gone. Whoosh. Just like that. It’s actually a bit weird, because I’m so used to concentrating on mild pain on every run, it’s made me have to search out other things to think about while I run – I have to concentrate on my audiobook and my breathing, and my route and my pace. Just like normal runners.
And wearing them in normal shoes while I hop out on the school run or round the shops feels incredible too. My back pain has entirely disappeared: pain that I’ve had for three years now. For that to just go by adjusting the way my feet sit within shoes feels on the one hand like witchcraft, but on the other hand like something so obvious I palm-slap my forehead that I’ve not done this before.
Look after yourself
Seriously. Are you suffering from tiddly little niggles and annoying injuries that seem to always affect the same bit of your body? You really need to think about orthotics. For me, they’ve been little short of miraculous.
Want to avoid injuries? Do these very simple exercises every day.
I tested a full-length pair of orthotics, costing £369. This includes consultation, biomechanics and gait analysis, the pair of orthotics, and future check-ups.
A short-length pair of orthotics are £329 (these fit in any shoes, and are ideal for dressy shoes) and this includes consultation, biomechanics and gait analysis, the pair of orthotics, and future check-ups.
Find out more about PODO and Christophe’s brilliant orthotics.