New Shoes, New Me

Okay, let's get one thing out of the way – I don't run! Haven't since I was at school, and don't intend to any day soon. Broke my left ankle in my mid-20s, had two ops on my right foot when I was 40, gave myself plantar fasciitis from over-zealous use of barefoot trainers at a Zumba class just last year, and subsequent pain in my knee from over-compensating. So, that's me, just turned 50 this year, having spent the last couple of years trying to get fitter, but also trying to improve all my aches and pains.

I go for a long walk with my 4-year old Labradoodle, Sam, every day; go to Zumba classes at least twice a week; have been going to weekly Pilates classes; and have become a complete convert to the use of foam rollers to look after and gently exercise my fascia, otherwise known as connective tissue, for which I attend monthly workshops. So, although I am fitter than I've been in a long time, I am not without my aches and pains, and am definitely not a fitness fanatic!

My very good friend, Kirsty, who is also my Pilates instructor and the one who introduced me to using foam rollers, recently made me aware of negative heel shoes, where the heel is set slightly lower than the toes, very different to 'conventional' shoes. These have been designed by a yoga instructor to mimic walking barefoot in sand, to improve posture and to reduce joint stress. However, the shoes are not easy to obtain, mostly being available from the States. There are a few online shoe companies in the UK which stock a limited number of styles, thank goodness, so I decided to order a couple of pairs to see what the fuss was all about.

After a few days, my new shoes duly arrived. Kirsty had warned me to break them in over a decent period of time, to allow my feet to get used to wearing, and walking in, such different shoes. However, after quarter of an hour of wearing one particular pair just round the house, the pain in my knee had almost gone, and the plantar fasciitis was also much improved. I took my time, getting used to wearing these wonderful shoes, until I could go for long walks in them, just round about the time I was finally persuaded by a couple of the core team from 5x50 to take part in the challenge.

Running and jogging were obviously out of the question, and I can't cycle – no sense of balance – though it is still a cause of amusement with my husband and son. They remember the last time I tried, on holiday in Holland, where for everyone else cycling is second nature, but yours truly constantly fell off her bike. So, what's a girl to do? It's just as well I love to walk! So I decided to commit to walking the extra 5k every day for 50 days in a row, and I knew that Sam would love an extra daily walk. I decided that I would use a variety of shoes and boots, from standard trainers and walking boots to a couple of pairs of negative heel shoes and a particular pair of trainers, which are supposed to burn up to 4 times as many calories as normal ones, and record the way different footwear has an effect on these daily walks.

Easy peasy, I thought, but, oh no, I was also challenged to do something else while walking. Kirsty is undertaking a course in body alignment, and had noticed that I, like most people, walk out of alignment, with my feet at '10 to 2', and I apparently have one hip higher than the other, so she challenged me to try to realign my feet over the course of the 50 days. Again, easy peasy, thinks I, but how wrong could I be.

Prior to the challenge commencing, I thought I should spend a bit of time practicing this new way of walking. The first few days of trying to walk in alignment resulted in me looking like some kind of demented extra from the Terminator films, or, worse, like I'd had an accident in my pants! Husband and son keeled over, laughing, every time they saw me, which was a tad off-putting, and resulted in me walking in areas where there would hopefully be few people around to see me. One advantage of living in a rural village!

Gradually, it started to become less robotic and more natural, so the challenge began in earnest. I have worn Nike trainers (other brands are available), adult women's walking boots, children's walking boots (did I happen to mention I have small feet for my height – 5' 6", size 4), Mary-Jane type negative heel shoes, loafer-type negative heel shoes, and Exer-walk trainers (the ones that supposedly burn more calories). I can walk fastest in the standard trainers, which was no surprise, but in all the 'standard' footwear I have had to concentrate on maintaining my feet in the correct, newly aligned position. Wearing the negative heel shoes, I find, is easier to maintain alignment, especially the Exer-walk trainers, as, to me, they feel like they have been designed to hold your feet in a better position. But it's the Mary-Jane style shoes that are my favourite – they are super comfy, allowing my toes to spread out, and I can go at a decent pace, which, when I'm being competitive with myself, is an attractive feature.

All of this realignment work has resulted in me using muscles I did not know I had! For the first couple of weeks, my glutes and, in particular, the muscles just under my butt, at the top of my thighs, and also those near my groin, were aching. Now though, those muscles ache less, and I have, so far, lost over an inch on each thigh, and my derriere has also got tighter and a little bit higher. My knee rarely aches, the plantar fasciitis is almost gone, my posture is improved, and it has also had a knock-on effect in how I stand, sit and carry out such exercises as squats, as I now try to do all of that, in fact as much as I can, with my feet in alignment.

When the 5x50 challenge is over, my new shoes, and my new awareness of my body and fitness, will not be relegated to the back of the wardrobe, as can so often happen. I have not given up wearing standard shoes, but wear negative heel shoes whenever appropriate. Realigning one's body can take a long time, years even, and I am prepared for the long haul, and look forward to what Kirsty has in store for me next. So my involvement in the 5x50 Challenge has led to a more lasting commitment. Thank you 5x50, thank you, Kirsty! Here's to the future, here's to better health!
I really must thank Kirsty Hall, Improve with Pilates (Stirling) for inspiring me! And also thanks to Kelly, Mark and Tracey from 5x50 – it's been a joy taking part in this year's challenge, thank you for your encouragement!

About 5x50

5x50 Challenge started with a vision to make people who are inactive become more active. Challengers become part of something that inspires, motivates, encourages you to live a healthier lifestyle. 5x50 Challenges are open to all. Individuals or groups regardless of age, health condition/ disability or fitness level can take part.

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