There are certain rights of passage that any runner will go through. Chief among them, which also include joys like nipple-chafing, race t-shirts that don’t fit anyone, and the warm glow when you suddenly realise that you’ve just run further than you first thought anyone in your condition would ever be able to, is the running Gait Analysis.
Many runners begin their new found hobby by dusting off the trainers found at the back of a cupboard, discarded since the previous health kick, and just start running. Others go to a discount sports outlet of their choosing and pick up something cheap and colourful. However, if a new runner talks to an old-hand, they’ll probably hear the words “gait analysis” and be pointed to a running-specific shop to move on a treadmill and then be provided with shoes that corrected the weird and wonderful things their feet were doing, and thereby making their running so much more pleasurable.
This was the route I took, indeed I still recall my parents taking me to the Sweatshop store at Bluewater shopping center, where I dutifully ran along on the treadmill. This was many moons ago now, and things have probably changed since then, but I am not sure by how much. Much of my personal reservation of this type of service stem from the fact that so often the camera is simply placed behind the runner and focuses on the knee downward. There are two buzzwords to focus on here.
Rotation of the medial bones in the midtarsal region of the foot inward and downward so that in walking the foot tends to come down on its inner margin
A corresponding movement of the foot and leg in which the foot rolls outward with an elevated arch
So basically, these services are most concerned with “how much does you foot move?” The most difficult thing with this as an idea is that although we can see the foot collapsing in a shoe, what is often ignored is what is actually going on inside the shoe, or indeed why it matters. Ultimately, what this gait analysis system was aiming for was a straight line through your ankle and minimal rolling around.
As a result I was given a shoe recommendation, and I ran without giving any thought as to the type (stability, neutral, cushioned) , or indeed my running style.
Now, many years later, with many, many, different shoes under my belt I became aware of the services on offer at Profeet for runners, adventurers, and skiers alike as my previous coach, Robbie Britton, is an ambassador for them, as are a few other people I know from the twittersphere, and international sports stars regularly visit too.
However, I had also managed to stumble upon a shoe model that just works for me! The New Balance Fresh Foam Zante just seem to fit my feet; I can run fast, I can run long, I can go to the track, or on a lunch run. I have never, ever, gotten a blister from these shoes (and I had spent a long time thinking that blisters were just a way of life for runners.) So with the perfect shoe, I had no need to fit anything extra to them.
That all changed once I started to struggle with my left foot, and whilst this may in part be due to long-term issues following knee surgery, I suspect a bigger part is played by the toe injury I sustained in moving house which I tried so hard to train on so that I could finish the marathon; in hindsight I probably could have taken the entire time off and then turned up on race day and just reset my time goals to simply enjoy myself. Anyway, however it was I came to find myself there, there is exactly where I found myself: On Fulham Road, on a cool, crisp, December afternoon, ready to see what the fancy new technology at Profeet could tell me about my running.
After filling in a quick couple of questions about my activity history and my sedentary desk life at work I met Emma who would be looking after me for the afternoon.
First up was the new bit of kit, supposedly the only one in the UK, which involves 3D mapping of the body in motion without the need for markers stuck to the body like you see on TV. Before I hopped on, Emma had a chat about my running history, discussed the knee surgery briefly, alerted her to the formation of a bunion, and I told her about my poorly toe. She felt my feet and wiggled them about in all kinds of directions to get a sense of how free (or otherwise, in the case of my left big toe) my foot joints were.
On the treadmill, barefoot first, we agreed upon a “steady” pace of about 13km/h (this was the most taxing part of the afternoon for me – trying to convert my pace per mile mindset, to a speed in kilometers goal.) So for thirty seconds or so I ran at this pace to warm up, and then Emma started the recording. Another 30 seconds or so, and I was done. I hopped off the treadmill, put my trainers back on, and then basically did the same thing again.
Then stuff got really interesting.
The data that the system can throw out is mesmerising as it analyses the forces I place on the ground at different points in my body, how much I move up and down with each step, my step rate, my ‘shank angle’ (whatever that is), etcetera, etcetera. What you might be able to notice though, particularly in the barefoot video as it is slightly remedied by shoes, is that my torso is leaning backwards; I am practically attempting to sit down with every step I take. Having seen the videos from Frankfurt Marathon in 2015, I was aware this might be the case, especially when tired, but I was shocked to see how much it was happening, and indeed how much it was affecting so many of the other factors that go into efficient running.
After a long time analysing the many fields of data taken from this information Emma moved on to show me an additional video she had taken, much like the gait analysis of yesteryear, which looked dead-on from the back of the treadmill at how my feet were moving. It was interesting to see that my left foot tracked very smoothly until almost the last second as it came off the ground and all the muscles around the hips just kind of give up and swing the ball of my foot out to the side to plonk it back in front of me again. Even more scary though, was the amount of collapsing that my right ankle seemed to be doing. Emma was keen though not to do too much work on this because it clearly wasn’t currently causing me any issues, and that “fixing” or fiddling with a problem that maybe wasn’t a problem could cause more harm than good.
The final part of the analysis section was back in barefeet running a short distance which included a pressure plate to track how my foot was functioning as I ran. Cue more shocked gasps.
I think there are a few obvious highlights there. It looks like my left foot pretty much slaps down on the ball and then bounces back up, if anything, the big toe seems to get in the way in this process and doesn’t act in any way like a lever. Additionally, the toes have been consigned to playing a role of shoe-filler on the left hand side – they appear to do absolutely nothing – probably because I am subconsciously trying to save the poorly toe. Also of note are the squiggly lines that show how weight tracks through the foot. The important thing is that on both feet the line tracks backwards on landing before heading forwards again, as would be expected, except, it seems to stutter and stall briefly rocking back onto my heels again before ultimately shifting off in the direction of my run. Mind boggling to think that my feet could do so much in such a short period of time.
At this point Emma and I sat down for a chat. She had provided print outs of what we had seen, and gave me a list of exercises to perform which will ultimately fix a large number of the problems I had witnessed. Contrary to some comments I subsequently received on twitter, I was not pressured into purchasing any additional add-ons to the service and I felt free to leave with all this information in hand (or on email).
Except, I am aware that benefits can be offered by the use of insoles – my wife would barely be able to perform daily tasks without her podiatrist-created offerings in her shoes. So I threw caution to the wind and decided to give the thumbs up to a set of custom crafted insoles, fitted to my shoe of choice.
The process is a simple one really – stand on a bed of silicon and sink into it allowing weight to settle in the right places. In my case, get that bit wrong with one foot so repeat the process. Emma then placed heated insoles into the molds before I stood on them again. At this point she left me for five minutes whilst the insoles cooled. From here Emma took them, with my shoes, to the workshop in the back whist I availed myself of free coffee and water and looked around the shop. When she came back, Emma had re-laced my shoes to remove some of the pressure I was getting over my arch and had some newly created insoles situated for me to try. I could feel the pressure where they had been built up a little too much under my big toe, so away they went for a little more jiggery-pokery. This time, I tried them on, laced up the shoes, and felt fantastic. The support was like nothing I had ever encountered before.
As the folks at Profeet say, these insoles aren’t designed to correct the problems with my foot – instead they should simply encourage better engagement with the floor and, in collaboration with the recommended stretches and strengthening exercises, work in tandem to create faster and more comfortable running.
Disclaimer: I feel like I need to make it clear exactly what got paid for in the process of this blog post. I chose to undertake the top level of analysis and measuring that Profeet offer – the 3D Pro Assessment. On top off that, after discussion, I also chose to purchase custom molded insoles. For the assessment I had cashed in some of my points on Running Heroes (you should really think about joining if you haven’t already) which rewarded me with 50% off of the price of this service.