Two years after the accident I had another surgery (#20 or so) to have my achilles tendon stretched to allow my ankle to have better range of motion. After three months recovering in a cast and on crutches, I returned to physical therapy where I had already spent about a year.
I asked my physical therapist if I would always walk with a limp. She measured my legs to check their length. They were the same, so she said that while I lost some tendons and muscle on my leg, the tendons I did have could compensate for the ones I lost, so walking without a limp was up to me.
Which was good news because that meant it was in my control,
and bad news because that meant it was in my control.
With no idea if it would work or how long it would take, I began forcing myself to step straight with every step I took. Somedays it was easy to remember it, other days it wasn’t. And somedays when
I was grumpy it seemed like it wasn’t helping, I would get annoyed and decide I don’t care, I’ll just walk with a damn limp.
It took about two years before I could walk limpfree without the mantra step straight, step straight running through my mind. Today I rarely walk with a limp, except ever now and than when I really tired.
Having done the work to walk without a limp benefited me a lot when I returned to running four years after the accident. But as I started increasing the distances I did, I kept getting an annoying blister on the ball of my right foot. I tried new shoes and new socks, but whenever I did over 4 or 5 miles, the blister reappeared.
Around that time I took a Chi walking/running workshop and I learned that not pointing both feet straight forward can cause a lot of foot, knee and hip issues. As we move forward our bodies point straight forward, so if a foot is heading right or left, the ankle, knee and hip are torqued with each step causing all kinds of issues.
I wondered if my blister could be due to that. So the next weekend I went out for a run, Jerry joined me on the bike and became my coach. (which may or may not be good for a marriage, but that’s another story) My left foot/leg is the one with the most injuries and thanks to the focus I had put on stepping straight with that foot, I was pointing it straight forward.
But Jerry noticed that when I stepped down with my right foot, it was not pointing straight, instead it was pointing at about 1 o’clock, like the woman’s left steps are in the picture. That wasn’t far from being straight, so I doubted if that little bit was causing any issues, but I decided to revive the step straight mantra for my right foot.
When I first stepped straight with my right foot, it felt like I was walking pigeon-toed, so I didn’t bring it in quite as far. But then Jerry would say, “In farther, in farther”.
“But I feel like I’m walking pigeon-toed.” I explained.
“But you aren’t, I promise.”
So we’d go a few more minutes, me running, him biking slowly.
Then I’d hear the voice from the back again, “In farther, in farther.”
“But I feel like I’m walking pigeon-toed.”
“But you aren’t.”
The man is a saint and with time I learned what stepping straight was with that foot, even if it felt odd. I tried to remember to do it whether walking around my house, shopping or on a run. The first time I did a few miles my right calf was sore in places it wasn’t before, because I was using my muscles differently.
On my first 5+ mile run after the Chi class, I was with friends, so I probably forgot to focus on stepping straight about half the time, but yet I didn’t get a blister. I was shocked… could this really work?
Yes it did! I’ve not had another blister, even when doing 5 half-marathons and a full marathon. If making that small adjustment to my step helped how I landed enough to prevent a blister, imagine how much that helped my knee and hip to be aligned right with each step I take. I wasn’t feeling any pain from them yet, but it’s something that could have showed up a few years down the road. (pun intended)
So grab a spouse, friend or child the next time you walk and/or run… and find out if you step straight. If you do, great! If not, focus on doing so with each step you take. I’m not going to tell you it will be easy, because it’s not. The hardest time to remember it will be when you are tired, but trust me, you can do it.
Recently I’ve been taking classes at Corp Fitness with Chris Kaag and I’ve been learning a whole new level of focusing mentally no matter how tired my body is. Whether it’s the beginning or the end of the class, Chris has us count and shout out the reps of the exercises we are doing. At first, I thought I couldn’t
chew gum and walk do it. When I focused on the exercise, I’d forget to count, or if I focused on counting, I stopped doing the exercise. But when I forced myself to focus, to my surprise, I found I could do both!
This is what you are aiming for.
Our bodies naturally go back to the default
they’ve been used to the longest,
so you will forget many times,
but don’t give up, keep trying!
This is important for everyone when walking in everyday life… and the more steps you take, the more important it is. So if you are doing any walks or runs, like joining me at the YES I CAN 5k or for the Runner’s World Half, work on stepping straight and you could avoid potential injuries at the event and/or years down the road.
The bad news is that it’s in your control.
The good news is that it’s in your control…
So do what you can, with what you have,
Because you can!