Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Book Review That Never Gets to the Book Review

This is a book review. Really. Problem is, I seem to have such a lengthy preamble below that I don’t get to the book. I'll review it in the next post. Promise

Let me make something clear from the outset: I’m not a runner kind of guy.

Oh, I’ve tried over the years. It goes something like this. 1) Make up my mind to take up running. 2) Run a few times. 3) Develop persistent pain, usually in knee. 4) Take time off until knee stops hurting. 5) Run again, this time injuring knee within minutes. 6) Repeat perhaps five cycles of 4) and 5). 7) See sports medicine doctor, who prescribes orthotics and increasingly boat-sized running shoes. 8) Re-injure self anyway. 9) See doctor again, who says, “You know, some people just aren’t built for running.” 10) Quit for a long time.

Now, it’s a bit odd to me that I can walk forever, or even rack up 20-mile days wearing a full backpack, and suffer nary an ache or pain. Start up even a slow jog, however, and every step is a danger to my knees. And ankles. And those around me, upon whom I might topple.

When a doctor tells me some people aren’t built for running, I’m inclined to accept the analysis. When I was young, my legs were all out of whack; I was born so pigeon-toed and knock-kneed that they used to make me wear these painful leg braces at night that twisted my feet outwards so that my toes pointed to the wall. To this day I have spectacular turnout, but that really only useful if you’re a ballet dancer.

On top of this, I have what one doctor described as “Irish knees,” which sounds like a build-up to a joke, but isn’t. In this condition, the thighbone is more-or-less above the shinbone, as ought to be the case, but the knee is offset inward. As the doctor pointed out, this makes for quite a handsomely shaped leg (especially in women), with a flow and shape to it; but, alas, it leaves something to be desired in a mechanical sense.

As if all that weren’t enough, I have what is commonly called Morton’s foot, though as far as I can discover Morton didn’t have it himself. My toes are uncommonly long—finger-feet, some people call them—and the longest by far is not my big toe, but my, if you will, index toe. That’s Morton’s foot, sometimes called Morton’s toe.

My foot, unretouched. And to answer the inevitable question, yes, as a matter of fact, I can peel bananas with my feet.

Once again, some people think there is an aesthetic advantage, though looking at the picture above might seem like a good counterargument. Morton’s foot is also known as Greek foot or Classical foot. Greek statues usually have Morton’s foot—as opposed to the big-toe-biggest foot which the Greeks labeled Egyptian foot. And later artists seem to have agreed with the Greeks; paintings of people frolicking in glades and gardens form the 18th and 19th centuries generally show people with Morton’s foot.

No matter what the art schools say about it, though, Morton’s foot is unbalanced. If someone like me tries to stand on the balls of their feet, they instead find themselves balancing on the protruding bone behind their longest toe. People with Egyptian feet can rise up onto the balls of their feet and the base of all of their toes will touch the floor firmly. Do this with a good case of Morton’s foot, and you will teeter side-to-side; you can be on the ball of the Morton’s toe and the ball of the big toe, or on the ball of the Morton’s toe and the ball of the three little toes, but there is no way you will be balanced on all five at once.

The ball of the Morton’s toe is also the part that strikes the ground first, and that’s apparently not a good thing. One wonders how Phedippedes, who ran the first marathon, managed it; I mean, if anybody was going to have Greek foot or Classical foot, a Classical Greek seems like a primary candidate. Maybe the Morton’s foot is why he died when he arrived in Athens after running from Marathon. (n.b. In the preceding days he had run from Athens to Sparta and back to Athens—a distance of 206 miles, so it’s rather doubtful that the puny 26 miles from Marathon to Athens actually killed him, Greek feet or not.)

(Before I go any further, let me come clean about something. I'm a Pisces. That sign rules the feet, or perhaps the other way round.)

As far as I know, there’s no Greeks or Irish in my family tree, so the Irish knees and Greek feet seem a bit suspicious to me. Perhaps my mother had an affair with, perhaps, Aidan O’Pappadopolous? Or maybe from the waist down I’m one of those pan-EU projects, and I just haven’t yet discovered that my shins are from Denmark (“We call these Danish Modern shins”), the underside of my foot is from London (“We call this condition Marble Arch”), and my thighbones are from one of those former Eastern Bloc countries.

In any case, I’m now running again, and this time running injury-free (knock wood). I’m still not anyone you might mistake for fast, and the Olympic Committee hasn’t taken an interest in my prospects, but at least it’s another exercise option open to me. And I owe it to a remarkable book. No, it’s not the Bible, and it’s not an instructional manual, and it’s not from the self-help section. But I’ll explain what it is, and why I beleive it is brilliantly put together, in the next post.

I once took a computer graphics class, and in one of the assignments we had to do a series of self-portraits. Naturally I did at least one of my foot.

Well, okay, the real article isn't quite that stretched-out and melty. And isn't that green and scaly, either.

At least not most days.


Matt Curran said...

After all that and no book title! I'll be waiting with great anticipation for the next post.

Nice foot by the way, David. I went out with a girl who had webbed feet. She used to say the most attractive part of the body were the feet. Not sure why she was attracted to me though - my feet are hideous.

C. N. Nevets said...

Wow, I have every single one of those leg conditions. lol

Plus most of the meniscus cartilage pad on my right knee has been obliterated. Running, beyond sprint and escaping bears, is not an option!

Frances Garrood said...

David, what are you doing taking photos of your feet, when there's serious wrting to be done? Ts ts. (Quite nice feet, though, I have to say).

Jake Jesson said...

Secret's out. Clearly you're one of David Icke's reptilians, David(!).

Waiting in suspense for part 2...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Matt--

The girl with webbed feet used to say that the most attractive part of the body was the feet?


Hers were webbed. How did they rate on the attractiveness scale? (C'mon, tell the truth. Your wife doesn't read the comment trail on this blog.)

David Isaak said...

Ahoy, Mr Nevets--

My right knee was toast for some time. But, as the next post will show, there is still help for us afflicted with the whole host of curses laid upon Job...

David Isaak said...

Hi, Frances--

Photos? Just one measly photo. Well, okay, three. And the time to load them onto the computer and reduce them from 2400 kb to 40 kb. And lighten this one from way too dark to visible.

Come to think of it, you're right. What the heck am I doing?

Even if I'm not working, I mean, taking pictures of my feet?

That ain't healthy.

David Isaak said...

Hi, Jake--

Well, okay. I guess the scales might suggest a reptilian heritage.

But it's only one one side of the family. And a while back. In New Orleans terms, I'm an octoreptiliaroon.

Alis said...

Yikes, I have Morgan's foot and I never knew. Well, frankly Morgan can have it back - I've never been able to stand on tip-toes without falling over but at least I can run...although, come to think of it, I did have those knee problems... Looking forward v. much to the next post.

steves said...

I heard there's the same amount of exercise in walking a distance as running it; just takes longer.

Running on hard surfaces impacts too much stress on structural joints (take it from my Capricorn knees!).

Swimming would seem a more effective, if boring, means of exertion. Probably helps if you can travel astrally while involved, like dolphins.

Alis said...

Dolphins travel astrally? How does anyone know this?

David Isaak said...

Hi, Alis--

I'm not sure how anyone knows that dolphins travel astrally. I can only presume that people traveling astrally bump into dolphins all the time.

My mother dropped me an e-mail pointing out that in ancient Rome people with Morton's foot were said to have "noble" (as opposed to "plebian") feet. Her own feet, however, are plebian.

David Isaak said...

Hi, steves--

I've heard the idea that it takes as much energy to walk a mile as to run a mile. Unfortunately, it isn't true.

Some people fall back on their vague concept of physics and argue that the same amount of work is being done in both cases, which is approximately (but not exactly) true. But how much work is accomplished and how much energy is expended are two very different things. Running is generally far more inefficient than walking in energy terms.

Running uses more energy than walking per mile for the same reasons that driving 90 mph uses more gasoline per mile than driving 55 mph.

There are exceptions to the rule that running uses more nergy than walking. The crossover point is 12 minute miles (5 mph), which is faster than most people can actually walk (although top racewalkers manage 9 minute miles or better).

If you walk faster than 5 mph, your body movements become so peculiar and inefficient that your energy consumption shoots way up. At that point, it's easier and more efficient to run.

As to knee injuries--wait for the next post!