If chronic aches last long enough, they can become part of your daily background. They can even worsen without you noticing, because you are living with them daily. Only when something relieves them do you realize exactly what you have been enduring.
Take, for example, my feet. I have been running for over eighty percent of my life. For much of that time, I did long, hard distances, averaging seventy-five to ninety miles a week. But although I always took care to wear running shoes with good support, like many young men, I was convinced that I’d never have to pay for all this wear and tear. I would magically continue the training regime I had followed most of my life, maybe slowing down a bit, but otherwise going on for decades much the same as I had in the past.
What I didn’t notice is that all that pounding on the pavement was gradually making my feet as broad and as awkward as a duck. I did notice that I could no longer wear Nike, but I put that down to a difference in manufacturers. I could wear Reebok and some Adidas models, and, not having any brand loyalty, that was good enough for me – especially since I disliked the rumors of Nike’s sweat-shop practices.
But the spreading of my feet was aggravated by an attack of what might be called sports gout. Heavy training in hot weather had left my body critically short of sodium, potassium, and trace minerals, causing the joints of my big toes to swell agonizingly. A few supplements took care of the gout, but not before the joint at the base of my left big toe had become permanently twisted sideways and semi-locked.
Between the normal spreading and this mild deformity, my shoe size gradually increased so I could rarely get a shoe with the necessary width. By last year, I needed a shoe three half-sizes larger than justified by the length of my foot. It didn’t help, either, that stores seemed increasingly inclined to carry only normal shoe widths.
To say the least, the result was uncomfortable. A foot moving inside a shoe gets little of whatever support the shoe around it offers. It is always strained and feeling sore, and more fallen arches and pinched tendons happen. But, as I said at the start, I didn’t especially notice, because the condition had crept up on me so slowly. So far as I thought of the problem at all, I imagined the constant discomfort was a consequence of growing older after a life-time of abusing my feet. What worried me, though, is that it was getting worse, so that I could hardly walk three miles before it felt like a bruise was breaking out all over both feet.
Then, last week, I noticed an ad for SAS Comfort Shoes‘ new store in the free local paper. I rarely notice ads in newspapers or online, but perhaps my growing worry made me notice this one. Not only did the store make its shoes in the United States, but it specialized in wide shoes and styles designed to fit well. Its models included a training shoe, so after my stint in the gym today, I hobbled out to the store. I didn’t expect much but I thought I had nothing to lose. If a store that claimed those sorts of wares couldn’t help me, I would have to consider custom-built shoes.
I explained my particular needs to the sales clerk, and tried on the trainer. Immediately, I felt my feet relaxing, and realized how sore they were from my normal workout. Walking the length of the store and back again, I also noticed that my foot was no longer sliding about. The shoes were actually supporting my feet. For the first in several years, I was wearing shoes that fit something like properly.
I had to try on a few different sizes and widths to find a perfect fit, but in ten minutes I’d found it. I quickly moved on to buy a pair of business casuals, which fitted differently, but were equally comfortable.
I wore the trainers on to the street, feeling so light on my feet that I thought I could dance – a big change from the way I’d dragged myself in. I settled for walking a little straighter and enjoying lighter spirits.
Unlike many running shoes I’ve bought in my life, this pair needed no breaking in. Four hours later, when I returned home from my other errands, my feet were still feeling relaxed.
It was a feeling that I’m sure I could get used to. In fact, as I write, I realize that I already have.
Eventually, I plan on returning to the store for other shoes. If the shoes are more expensive than those offered in most stores, I am willing to pay the difference for comfort.
However, the real moral is not just an unpaid endorsement of a business. For me, the moral is that stoicism has its limits as a virtue. In the future, I’ll try to remember that, just because I’m used to a discomfort doesn’t necessarily mean that I have to live with it.