Speaking of feet

Written on Mar 3rd, 2018 by , Category Marlene Farrell Blog, Training

By Marlene Farrell

To run well and run far requires applying my body, making it work for me to achieve a goal. I try to take care of the tools that help me train and race. As mileage increases, my quads, hamstrings and calves might yelp in pain, so I foam roll to unwind kinks and prop my legs on pillows during a post-workout nap.

I condition my respiratory system — the highly coordinated heart, lungs and arterial network that pumps blood and fuels muscles with oxygen. After a hard workout, I lean over in the universal breath recovery pose, which helps the diaphragm and abs move air more forcefully and lowers heart rate.

I read about training techniques in books and online, and swap tips with running friends to sharpen my mental edge. Then on race day, I can push despite mutinous whispers from muscles and joints.

I try to eat an athletically responsible diet, one rich in colorful, whole foods, maximizing complex carbs, good fats and lean proteins. I’m not perfect, but the idea of chocolate and wine help me finish a tough session.

Recently, I’ve pondered the unsung heroes of my running journey — my feet.

What I know: They come along on runs.

Each and every time.

Sure, I give them new shoes after the asphalt has eaten its share of the rubber off the old shoes.

I scrub them in the shower.

I change socks regularly.

Maybe I need to pay more attention.

Perhaps my limited success, and, more precisely, the longevity of my running and racing career (27 years with one speed bump caused by a broken ankle), is owed to my feet.

We should all sing the praises of our feet. Photographs and videos of elite athletes catch them in action, their muscles taut with exertion. The camera never pans to their feet, which are encased in overpriced name brands, masked in colorful stripes and logos.

What if a photographer made a study of famous feet? Could we recognize a strong foot when we saw it? A tough performer? An endurance machine? A foot that survives so many tons of shock and pounding it would make a boxer whimper (over 40,000 strikes in one marathon alone)? A foot that endures sweltering heat in summer and numbing cold in winter?

What distinguishes such a foot?

My runner’s feet certainly have a “look” to them, and it makes my daughter laugh: the square-shaped toes and the heels with their extra bumps. That’s the way they are made.

The rest of the strangeness derives from the wear and tear of lots of running. The calluses have grown so thick that my big toes are like stones. With a heavy-duty file I sand the stonework away, but then it grows back with renewed energy.

My toenails make me think twice about sandals. They’re warped and bent. I cut them down to reduce their visibility, so they look like miniature seashells stuck to my toes; sometimes shaded purple like scabs. To trim my thick big toenails requires two hands and a position of extreme leverage.

All the same, I’m proud of my feet, and their rugged and careworn appearance results from their tireless loyalty. They’re working dogs, not show dogs.

I don’t know what the feet of Dibaba, Bolt or Gebreselassie look like, but I imagine they sport rough edges too, along with skin pulled tight over 26 bones and hundreds of muscles, tendons and ligaments.

All human feet have that exquisite subcutaneous machinery in common. These machines at the ends of our legs allow us to travel far and do amazing things. Everyone has suffered a stubbed toe, a bruised heel, a bad blister. If foot pain happens to me, I ignore it and carry on, knowing my feet never get a day off. Only when plantar fasciitis strikes, do I have to make a Plan B.

By writing these words, I hope to think of my feet more often. At the end of the day, when I remember to rub my arches, stretch my toes and twist my feet gently, I’m paying attention to a detail that just so happens to be the foundation of one of the loves of my life, running.

Marlene Farrell is a writer, long-distance runner and coach. She lives in Leavenworth.

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