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The laces on my right shoe skip a hole, crisscross my foot in a longer X than the laces on the left. This is because my right foot has a higher instep, pushed bone against the lacing, strained against too snug a fit. I found this out when I came home with strange new running shoes, a size and a half bigger than my everydays. To allow my feet room to swell, the salesman explained, and to prevent my toenails from turning black and falling off. That one I knew, since my dad lost the toenail of his big toe when he hiked in shoes without enough room. So, I went to the guru shoe guy my coach recommended. He videotaped my feet walking on a treadmill (Ready for my close up, Dr. Scholl) and pronounced me an “overpronator.”

When he played back the reel that I had avoided watching while I walked (I didn’t want to influence the outcome), I felt sorry for my feet, moving forward but clearly collapsing into themselves as the ankles gave way to the arches, sagging like lost souls (no pun intended) before heaving themselves up to move again. The guru salesman fit my size 8 ½ feet into size 10 running shoes – white with blue trim – and added a green pair of extra supportive insoles called, hopefully enough, Super Feet.

If you’ve ever watched a boy in his first suit, trying to adjust a freewheeling body into the button and tie constraints of nice society, that was my feet, suddenly large and shy and completely unfamiliar in this new, and larger, athletic incarnation. I walked around the house without a gait, with only legs that ended in shoes – strange shoes, which had replaced my feet; size 10 blocks of performance material. And the right side pressed against the bone of what used to be my feet in a way that the left side did not.

I called my coach.

“Take off your shoes and your socks,” he said. “Inspect your feet. If any spot is red, skip that lacing. Your feet are not identical, you know.”

I did as he said. I went upstairs, sat on my bed and, like a small time magician – Voila! – produced two live feet out of the boxes they had vanished into. Tenderly, I took each one in my hand. They were pale, uncertain of the sunlight, unused to such constraint after months of running barefoot around the house. Foot by foot, I looked for signs of pressure, and there they were: two pink marks on the top of my right foot. I located the culprit hole and re-laced the shoe around it. Coach was right; the pressure was gone.

What a trick! To go into two identical size 10 boxes and come out two unique entities! Not feet, not pain, but a right foot, a left foot, with different structure, different needs. What else, I wondered, was I about to learn about my body?

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In 2005, I stunned myself by signing up to walk the San Diego Rock ‘n Roll Marathon on behalf of the American Stroke Association. This post is one of a series of reflections and Training Tales from that time. The whole series begins here.

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