Saturday, September 20, 2014

9/20/14: 1782.4 to 1792.1 miles: Anatomy of the Heel

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The road is one of those that has a grain elevator about every 10 miles. At one time, the railroad used to run by these grain elevators. Usually there are old towns along the route with an interesting history. This is no exception. 

Athens Caledonia Games
Every other year, the Caledonian Games are played in Athena, Or. They are traditional Scottish games. It looks like it would be a fun place to visit during the games. 

Waning Crescent
One of the reasons I enjoy walking at night is it keeps me in touch with the cycles of the moon which marks the passing of the days, months and years.

Each month, the new moon rises in the same spot the sun rises. The new moon marks the beginning of the month for the Jewish calender. This Thursday, the new moon rising will mark Rosh Hashanah - The Jewish New Year.

Anatomy of the Heel
As I started walking more miles, I became interested in the anatomy of the foot and then I became interested in how shoes are engineered to protect the foot and to increase its efficiency. I've learned the best shoes are optimized for a specific task. In this blog, I'm interested in walking long distances, so I'll point out the features of a good walking shoe. 

While walking a few days ago, my Coach and I were discussing the characteristics of the heels of different footwear. (My Coach is the person I talk to when I talk to myself.)

One of us asked the question, "What happens when a basketball is dropped?" The obvious answer is, "It bounces."

Is that good for the heel? 

In one sense it is, because it returns the energy of the step to the foot. In another sense it isn't because it doesn't absorb impact. A heel that is too bouncy will cause heel pain.
And What about a deflated basketball?

It thunks.

Is that good for the heel?

In one sense it is because it absorbs energy. If it is too 'thunky' the heel absorbs too much energy and it feels like walking on sand. 

What is the proper balance between bounce and thunk? We discussed that for hours and decided on two criteria.
  • The impact must not cause injury.
  • It must be comfortable for long distances.
The second criteria is important to me because I'm interested in walking long distances. 

We decided each foot strike was like striking a hammer on a strong man bell. If it rang the bell, the heel was too bouncy. If the slide only went up a short way, it was too thunky. Ideally, the slide would stop at the point just short of that which would cause pain in the long term.

So, how to find perfection? It turns out, there is a group of footwear that has been thoroughly tested for different conditions. Not only in the laboratory, but in the field. That group of footwear is the military combat boot.

These days, even combat boots are designed for different purposes. There are boots for rucksack marches and boots for garrison duty (desk jobs.) 

The heels on combat boots are almost universally too hard. They will quickly cause shin splints if used for extended running. They will cause pain in the heels for the new walker. Notice I said the new walker. They are perfect for the person who has walked many miles. 

This leads into the concept of adjusting the bounce.

Walking on carpet will feel soft regardless of the type of shoes worn. Soft midsoles are like walking on carpet. The midsoles on running shoes are comparatively soft because they need to absorb more impact. Even if a person were to use a hard insert, it would still be like walking on carpet. Walking on carpet steals energy from the walker.

Shoes with hard heels are completely adjustable.

The first adjustment is a thick pair of Merino wool socks. These are the best for wicking perspiration away from the feet. They are generally not abrasive, so they help prevent blisters. They can be replaced with thinner or thicker socks to adjust the fit of the boots.

As a person walks more miles, they may find thinner socks work better.

The inserts that come with a combat boot are probably the best choice. They are designed to match the characteristics of the boot.

Many new running shoes come with cheap inserts with the expectation a person will spend another $40 on inserts. 

I'll leave the subject of inserts for another post. Personally, I'm not one to experiment with inserts as they are all good enough for me.

From my experience, the muscles and tissue in the heels will adapt to shoes that feel a little hard at first. This is only true if the walker avoids walking into injury. This is like growing internal inserts for the shoes.

This will only happen if the walker consistently walks enough miles to trigger the adaptation. If a walker stops walking, the adaptation may disappear in a few weeks. 

There is no way to adapt to a midsole that is too soft as the heel can only lose so much tissue.

So, what kind of shoes are best for road walkers?
Modern combat boots are the only footwear designed and tested to be efficient walkers that do not produce injury. Whatever shoe a person chooses should have a solid heel that bounces instead of thunks. It will take time for the person to adapt their stride to bouncers and it will take time for the tissue on the bottom of the heel to adapt to bouncers.

For those who don't walk many miles, softer heels may be a better choice.

As a budding politician, I've taken both sides. In the end, people have to decide what is best for them.

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