Welcome to the first-ever edition of Gear Friday – my weekly dish on all the gadgets, gizmos, and gear that are currently rocking my world (and should be rocking yours, too).
In 2003, I played just over 100 softball games. I was on 5 league teams and a tournament team that played 1-2 times per month. It was heaven. It was the best softball year in history. It was amazing.
But about halfway into the season, the arch of my left foot started to ache. I went to a podiatrist who told me I had plantar-fascitis. He injected cortisone into the ball of my foot (OUCH!), ordered me some orthotics and then told me I’d likely have to just play through some pain.
Then at the beginning of the 2004 season I was standing in deep center field waiting for the opposing team’s clean-up hitter to spank one my way, when my foot suddenly felt very weird. I hit the dugout, took off my shoe, and discovered that I could no longer bend my left toe.
Houston, we have a problem.
I found a new doctor (the same one who works on the SF Giants and SF ballet) and started what would be a year’s worth of torture. My Flexus Hallucis Longus tendon had been slowly pulled apart (like stretching taffy) over the course of many aggressive, repeated “jumps” in center field. Basically every time a hit went up, I was doing a tiny bit more damage with my explosive attack.
An innovative and rare foot ultrasound at Stanford Medical Center revealed that it was not completely severed, just seriously compromised. Unfortunately, the tear was located near the ball of the foot which made it almost entirely inoperable because that area houses a huge artery, as well as a ton of extremely tiny and fragile bones and tendons. Surgery would have left me with a 4 inch scar on the bottom of my foot and there was no telling how, or if, that scar would heal well enough to allow me to run pain-free again.
When she told me that the worst-case scenario with surgery was death (hitting the artery) or amputation, I opted out.
This led to The Year of the Walking Cast which included 3x per week PT and absolutely NO activity that involved any kind of impact. I was resigned to swimming (I hate swimming!!) and, after some time, exercise bikes (people freaked out when they saw me riding the exercise bike with a walking cast).
I can’t tell you how many doctor’s appointments, MRIs, and X-rays I had that year. In the end, I was given a super-custom pair of orthotics (so custom we “wood-shopped” the custom treatment in my doctor’s hospital workshop together), and a sweet-ass carbon fiber plate that sits in my running shoe underneah the insert. The carbon-fiber plate is “springy” and mimics the purchase motion (toes gripping the ground) that propels a runner forward.
I still cannot bend my left toe, and I never will be able to. We were able to recover an amazing amount of strength and motion in my foot, however, and I can still run with the best of them.
What’s the point of this story (get to the gear, already!!)?
With so much foot trauma in my past, my feet are an absolute priority now. It took me a long time to figure out a shoe-sock combination that did not bunch under my toe after 4 or 5 miles and put my toe to sleep (or worse, start my foot aching again). When I finally found the socks that did the magic trick, I bought 20 of them in one shot. And they cost $10/pair.
That’s how much I love them.
Which leads me to today’s featured product:
The Product: Balega Sport Hidden Comfort Sock
- Superbly ventilated top panel
- Very low profile but with a wide lip on the back of the heel to prevent the sock from slipping down.
- Just enough cushion to provide a comfortable “ride” without bunching
- Super smooth feel – sock moves easily within the shoe, preventing painful and troubling binding.
Why I Love It: Minimal friction means my gimpy old foot stays cozy and my toes stay wide awake. Super low-profile doesn’t bulk up a shoe that is already bulked up with orthotics and carbon fiber. Low-profile also makes the calves look ripped and sexy and the legs long and lean – I’m not going to argue with that.
Drawbacks: Price and availability. They can be hard to find and are not cheap at about $10/pair. Good running stores usually carry them, but you should be sure to call ahead. I buy them online in quantity.