Why do I run? My answer includes the usual suspects – fitness, health, stress relief, escape from the kids … and a somewhat less attractive reason – bunions. And as bunions afflict an estimated 1 million people in the UK, it’s a fair bet that there are thousands of runners enduring them as I am.
Surgery is an unpleasant and painful process – after the op two years ago to remove the bunion on my left foot, I vowed that I would leave the right one for as long as I could bear, and run as far and as fast as I could in the meantime.
Contrary to popular opinion, bunions are not the exclusive domain of older women, or caused by wearing stilettos, although they are more common in women and aren’t helped by narrow shoes. They are often hereditary – mine developed in my 20s, and my aunt and grandmother both had them. Nor are they akin to minor foot irritations such as verrucas or corns – a bunion is caused by the big toe tilting towards the other toes, forming a bony lump at the bottom of the big toe joint. My right foot is a very odd shape, with the bone on the inner edge pushing outwards and the big toe moving inwards, pushing the other toes towards the outer edge. The bunion means I am increasingly restricted in the type of shoes I can wear to avoid pain and blistering. It also affects the base of my foot, as the wonky smaller toes have to carry the brunt of my weight in the absence of a straight big toe. This has had a gradual knock-on effect on my right ankle, knee and hip, as over the years my body has adjusted its gait and posture to compensate.
My three-word mantra to anyone running with a bunion would be shoes, socks, yoga. Quite apart from the potential problems mentioned above, runners with bunions have a tendency to over-pronate, so it is essential to have your feet properly assessed and find a shoe that is both wide enough to accommodate the bunion and stable enough to support the instep. I was horrified when the saleswoman at my local running shop asked to look at my feet – they are not a pretty sight – but it meant she was instantly able to narrow my shoe choice down to two or three styles. I had been running in wide but unstable trainers up until then – thanks to her I discovered the Saucony Omni shoe, which has comfortably seen me through two half marathons and a clutch of 10ks in the past year, without my bunion sustaining a single blister.
I also find that my choice of sock really affects how much pressure the bunion can sustain – Groundhog socks are a delight to wear as they are anti-blister but also thin and very light. Perversely, the more cushioned the sock, the more uncomfortable I find it, perhaps because the edges of my feet are so sensitive to any added millimetres. Recently I started wearing Hilly twin skin socks. Although my feet seemed satisfied in them over six miles last weekend, time will tell whether they can stand the test of my bony nemesis.
An ankle injury that took me out for eight weeks made me realise that the bunion was affecting my posture and thus other joints. Yoga has been my saviour – not only do I find I run better anyway if yoga is part of the weekly routine, but it also enables me to focus on stretches which strengthen and re-align my ankle and knee. It doesn’t take away the ache, but it gives me the awareness when I run of how I am landing and whether my knee is correctly positioned over my ankle. It’s hard to describe the sensation, but yoga also makes me feel looser in the hips and has helped me run in a less rigid and more yielding way.
I hate my bunion, and so I run. I am even more determined to do so after finding out that I’m in the best company – Paula Radcliffe had hers removed in 2009 and went on to win the New York half marathon after recovery. In time, I will have it removed, knowing that this will mean virtually starting training from scratch. In the meantime, though, I run.
Any felllow bunion sufferers out there? How have you coped, and do you have any tips to share for the best exercises, or kit, to counteract their effect?
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