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Sole Enemies to Sole Mates: My Journey to Find the Best Walking Shoe

I have always been into sports. I have played many but mastered none, however, that does not deter me from trying new things.

How I found my walking shoes

How I found my walking shoes

Too old for football, not confident enough for the gym? Walking might be just for you. Don't make the painful mistakes I made. Shoe selection is key to a comfortable walk.

The Journey Begins

I started a long-distance walk (15 miles) in a pair of Nike Air Max shoes – probably not the best long-distance footwear I could have chosen, but it’s what I had. Things started off great. My little piggies were happy walking to market, and I was literally walking on air (I wrote that bit singing it like Aled Jones).

But after a while, things started to go wrong for me. My little piggies suddenly didn’t fancy the market anymore; in fact, they felt squashed, swollen and quickly transformed into what I would describe as ‘sausage toes’. I needed to sit down, but that little voice was whispering, “That’s what wimps do, let’s keep moving”. This would have been around seven miles in.

We kept on pushing, and then we hit Westminster bridge, which was busy-busy, and we couldn’t move. Not only does the bridge have anti-terrorist barriers, which funnel people together, but it also had hordes of people stopping to play games with street entertainers. I wanted to shout, “Stop enjoying yourselves on our day out, we’re on the clock!” But of course, I didn’t; we just kept pigeon-stepping as we went, and as we started to slow down, the pain started.

My little piggies suddenly didn’t fancy the market anymore; in fact they felt squashed, swollen and quickly transformed into what I would describe as ‘sausage toes’.

It was weird, as up to this point I felt fine, but now I had pain in the soles of my feet, my toes felt like they were going to split with swelling, blisters were forming on my soles and heels, and pain was starting to spread up to my knees. But I’m a stubborn sod, and so instead of jumping on the tube, we carried on. Nic did advise that we stop but no, no, no – I knew best. Nic was gliding along as she was wearing her walking trainers that she wore whilst doing the Moonwalk, and her fitness was still there too.

As we walked down the South Bank, nature called and so I hobbled off to the loo. After this, we carried on, and we eventually reached Tower Bridge. We were done, the walk was done, and all we had to do was get to Bierschenke in Liverpool Street for a nice stein of beer and a currywurst. That golden nectar made the whole thing worthwhile, but then I had to stand up to leave. I have been into sport my whole life; football, boxing, golf, taekwondo, hockey, track and field and much more, but I had never felt pain like I did the day I stood up to walk out of that pub. I genuinely didn’t know if I would make it home.

I did some research as to why I had felt this way, and one of the main things I discovered was “too much too soon”. Just because I was fit and healthy, it didn’t mean I was ‘walking fit’. We need to remember that fitness is not a ‘one size fits all’ thing. I’m not sure a marathon runner could just jump into the pool and swim 26 miles; different muscle groups are working, and a different mindset is required. The other, and main factor was my footwear.

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Walking into the shoe section was daunting; there were too many options.

Walking into the shoe section was daunting; there were too many options.

The Shopping Trip

I decided to visit Go Outdoors. I walked in, and I’m sure a spotlight was on me; I heard harps and angels singing as I walked in. This was it – I had found a place where I felt comfortable. I looked around and before I’d made it to the footwear section I was already thinking about re-mortgaging my house just to buy walking clothes and equipment. I mean, who doesn’t need a flint to make fires when they’re out ‘urban walking’?

I went to the shoe section and looked and looked and looked, and then decided I didn’t have a clue what I wanted or what the difference was between them all. I liked the look of the boots; they would make me feel manly and help me march on. I also liked the trail trainers; they looked comfortable and inviting. What I didn’t like, though was the shoes as they looked frumpy and, to my uninformed eye, looked like what old people wear (no offence anyone).

I saw a retail assistant and asked for their advice on what I would need. They had the cheek to ask me what I was doing - walking, hiking, trekking, rambling or fell running? I have heard of stories where a vulnerable old lady goes into a garage to have her car fixed and is overwhelmed by the questions being asked, and that was me right there with shoes. I stood and thought for a second and mustered up the best answer I could: “Just walking, mate”. He eventually coaxed out the more detailed answer, which was that I “will be doing the Thames Path challenge, as it happens”. He had done it and started pointing at the shoes. “Oh God, not the shoes,” I thought to myself. I tried to get him to say the boots were the best, I’m not tight, but I do like a bargain and thought I could get double-duty from them if I also wore them to the pub with jeans, but no, shoes is what he said. Merrell Moab 2, specifically (other brands are available, and in the interest of transparency, I have no affiliation with Merrell). I looked at them, and I must admit that I felt very underwhelmed. I’d never bought such an ugly pair of shoes.

Walking down the South Bank (more comfortably, now!)

Walking down the South Bank (more comfortably, now!)

Lesson Learned

For years I have heard my dad say, “it doesn’t matter what you look like as long as you are warm and comfortable.” At the time of shopping, I still had pain in the lower part of my foot. I put the shoes on, and the pain went; it was like a switch. I took them off, and the pain came straight back. I was sold. I bought the miracle shoe. Now a salesperson would not be doing their job if they didn’t sell you something extra to go with them, and I bought some anti-blister socks. Again, I felt a little lost at anti-blister socks. To me, socks are socks, the only difference being black, white or if you grew up in the 80s and wore illuminous green and pink. I found out that anti-blister socks are like a sock in a sock, and the two socks rub together, meaning the skin does not. I have since discovered not all walking socks work this way. I found my socks a little weird as I felt my shoe was slipping, but after a few walks, I got used to them.

New Shoes... But Did They Help?

I can only speak for myself, but I felt like the shoes had a higher arch that supported my feet, which is something I had no idea they’d been missing. As soon as I started walking in them, the pain that I’d had in my feet disappeared, and my feet felt supported in every way. I also felt things were more solid underfoot whilst walking on loose or soft ground.

Moral of the Story

As always, I’m not here to tell you what to do but to pass on my experiences as an amateur walker. I went too far too soon, and I was well unprepared. I should have listened to those who know best (Nic, in other words, but please don’t tell her I said that!) Walking in those shoes compared to my trainers was like going from sitting on a milk crate to a comfy, reclining chair - and all of a sudden, they were a long way from ugly.

Before that walk, I had never heard of Plantar Fasciitis, but I am convinced that was the start of the problems I had and still occasionally have with my feet now – more of that in later articles. Experts in reputable specialist shops are always there to help. So always do your research, ask plenty of questions and then make your own mind up.

And always remember what my dear old dad would say: “It doesn’t matter what you look like, as long as you’re warm and comfortable”.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Colin Frost

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