Gear: New shoes... again...
Okay, so we all know I've been struggling with my feet. Arguably, the hikers most important body part... [this post is pretty long... if you just want the advice you can scroll to the bottom] Blisters, Tendonitis, Plantar Fasciitis, bruising, and cramping: [forewarning, gross photos follow]
I left in Altra Timps, got to Neel Gap and had blisters all over one foot, plantar fasciitis in both feet, and aches ankles. I asked the folks at Mountain Crossings for help. They attempted to put me in a Gore-Tex boot (which should have been my first red flag...). I told them that wasn't what I was looking for. So instead they showed me the Oboz Luna (the shoe that Dragon also got there). I felt ok about it. I used to hike exclusively in the Merrill Siren which had changed drastically recently and pushed me to change. The Luna seemed pretty similar. It was stable, had a low drop, it was comfortable, although a bit snug in the toe box and a mildly higher arch than I wanted. I told my fitter about these problems and he said they were normal and the shoes should stretch.
The next morning we were preparing to leave Neel Gap. I had a funny feeling, my shoes felt too small. I brought them back and asked to exchange them for a bigger size and have someone look at them. A different employee helped me this time. He had me stomp around in them and he gave me a half size larger. I was unsure about it, but I was told they were experts and they routinely outfit hikers. I was NOT, however, told that there are no returns on shoes no matter what condition they are in.
I left with a pair of size 8 Oboz Lunas:
The first day they felt alright. More stable than my trail runners, but more tight, too. I have a pretty high threshold for foot pain tolerance. There is very little pain that will make me stop hiking. The first day was sunny most of the day and I did 11 miles. I had a little bit of blistering from wet socks the previous two days. I thought the blisters I was feeling were from the wet socks the day before. The next few days as I hiked in the rain my blisters got worse. Despite my purchase and wearing of liner socks...
By the time we got to Hiawassee my right foot was bleeding in two places from blisters, I had two infected blisters, and my left foot was aching from plantar fasciitis. My calves were swollen and very sore. The ice bath I took helped, for sure, but the blisters continued to fester. My hiking partner, Whisperer, observed that they were far worse than they were at Neel Gap.
The day we left Hiawassee something changed. I felt like my heel cup of my left shoe was bruising me. It was digging into the back of my ankle. But the right one still felt fine (aside from blisters). That little annoyance went from a slight bruise (in a place where there are no blood vessels to bruise...) to a stabbing, stretching, bruisey pain. When we left at Deep Gap (a small 'emergency' you will read about in my next progress post) it was bad. I had to stop every mile to adjust my shoe. By the time we were at the fire road (4 miles into our day) I was stopping 3-5 times per mile.
That day we got a room at the Budget Inn in Franklin and headed straight for the local outfitter, Outdoor 76, without even stopping for a shower. Why? Because 76 is known for their shoe guru, Rob. I walked in and told someone about my problem, he said, "hang out for a bit, Rob will be back soon." I wondered, "who is Rob?"
Well 15 minutes later Rob came around to the shoe department asking about my heel problems. He kind of speaks in metaphors so it was a long conversation. But the gist was, worst case scenario: I may have a torn Achilles (highly unlikely) and best case scenario: I have Tendonitis. He told me to 'be my own manager' because, unlike a professional athletes, I don't have a manager. He measured my feet and said, "Come back on Monday. But, I'll tell you right now you're shoes are too small." That was Friday morning.
With tears in my eyes I left the store to meet my tramily at the local brewery. With help from Michelin, who had left due to a knee injury (soon to make appearances again in progress posts, though!). He talked me down from tears and told me I already knew what the right decision was. The right decision was to take a few zeros (days that you don't hike at all) and heal before it gets worse.
I stayed at the Budget Inn while Whisperer left to make up some miles we missed. Depressed and indoors during a sunny day I got a text from Michelin who wasn't supposed to arrive until that evening: "Are you decent?" I replied, "of course, why?" Not a moment later I heard a knock on my motel room door and there he was! He brightened my zeros and we explored Franklin (more on that in the next progress post...).
So Monday finally arrived. With a shuttle scheduled for 1pm back to the trail, Michelin, Whisperer (who just returned), and I went back to Outdoor 76 to talk to Rob. He measured my feet again and talked me through my injury and actual shoe size.
He fitted me for a pair of La Sportivas and they felt like a glove. I learned a lot about shoes and my feet so here it is, the info I gleaned from Rob's advice.
The advice from Rob:
The #1 rule, don't take shoe advice from anyone else (unless they are a trained professional). Everyone's feet are different! What feels comfortable or works for someone else might not work for you.
Everyone, but women especially, should get their measurements done by someone who knows about feet. Women especially because they typically wear shoes that are too small for them. Women are consistently wearing shoes anywhere from a half a metric size to 4 full metric sizes too small. Partially because of subconsciously absorbed beauty standards and partially because they have simply never felt any other size.
Inserts should not be the one answer. If an orthotic insert works to supplement the comfort and support of your shoe that is great! But taking a shoe that didn't really work and putting an orthotic in it is essentially using a bandaid and is not necessarily solving the real problem with the shoe and your foot.
The socks you wear should not matter. Injinji toe socks being used as a sock liner has become very popular. While they do prevent blisters by separating the toes, they also take up quite a bit of room in the shoe. If the shoe fits properly, Rob says, you shouldn't be getting blisters at all, regardless of sock liners. You should be able to wear whatever socks are comfortable to you without worrying about blisters.
Volume vs. Size: Look at metric sizing more closely than American sizing. The metric size is the UK size. It is more accurate because it is the actual measurement of the shoe rather than the approximate US size. For example: a size 9 shoe can be anything from a 40-41.5. That's a slight difference seemingly, but can make all the difference to your feet. The volume inside the shoe varies by style and manufacturer. Often when people feel like a shoe is 'too narrow' for them it actually just doesn't have enough volume.
Toes don't matter. When Rob measures your foot he looks at width, arch height at varying knee bends, where the ball of your foot falls at varying knee bends, and heel shape. Note how he does not measure toes. He says if you x-ray your foot your bone structure is always the same and your foot is that size even if you cut off your toes. He also notes (like I said above) that your toes shouldn't cause any toe blistering even if they re inherently overlapping or extra long or what have you. A proper sized shoe will fit any toe that that sized foot is attached to.
Anyway, I HIGHLY recommend Outdoor 76 in Franklin, NC and their shoe fittings. They may have a small selection but it is the right selection, and everything they sell is recommended by their expert staff. Go in and ask for Rob. Thru-hikers get a 10% discount and a free synthetic bandana too (no purchase necessary). And no offense to Mountain Crossings, don't get shoes there...