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.