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Thursday, September 14, 2006

A Good Shoe is Hard to Find

We leave for Italy two weeks from today, and for the first time I'm feeling a little nervous. I'm not afraid of the flying, the terrorists, the language barrier (grazie, Pimsleur!), the inter-city train travel, or even the luggage lugging.

I'm afraid of the walking.

When I say I have bad feet, most people think I'm just being a whiner. In part, I am. But I inherited the feet-that-kill from my mother, who inherited them from her mother.

On a normal day, walking a little way from a parking lot into the grocery store or dashing back to the art department at work, I'm okay.

But fifteen minutes into a step routine at the gym, my arches ache so badly I start scanning the room for a sharp object to put myself out of my misery. It's the same with any sustained movement - a stretching, cramping sensation in the arch that feels like it could escalate to tearing at any moment.

Besides that, if I stand up for too long, the dull-then-not-so-dull unbearable ache begins throughout my foot.

I make it through with willpower more than anything. When I went to New York City a couple of years ago, I forced myself to keep up the pace with my two male co-workers even as we traipsed all over Manhattan, looking for some specific deli one of them remembered. I looked longingly at the dozens of delis we passed as we looped up and down the streets near Times Square, but I didn't say a word. I also gamely went along on the walk to Central Park and back. I don't even know how far that is - probably not very - but it felt like a million miles.

Believe it or not, wearing a shoe with a heel helps the arch pain, which is one reason (besides the fact that I love them!) that I wear heels 90 percent of the time. I can just walk better in them.

But the heels don't work for real, sustained walking like what we'll do in Italy, especially not on cobblestone streets. For one thing, most heels don't have much cushion in the sole. For another, my foot often ends up sliding down with each step, rubbing a blister on the ball of my foot over time.

It doesn't help that I have hard-to-fit feet. They are wider-than-normal across the ball and narrower-than-normal at the heel, so any kind of closed-back shoe flips up and down endlessly, rubbing a blister in just a few minutes that won't fully heal for weeks.

The last thing I want marring my trip to Italy is 10 different kinds of blisters. In NYC I "solved the problem" - aka, made it so I could at least walk rather than hobble - by buying a thick, squishy pair of pink socks.

I've also tried every kind of insert known to man, including the stick-on, back-of-the heel kind, but they don't work either.

So ever since we decided once and for all we'd be going to Italy - where I've heard estimates of walking 5 miles a day - I've been searching for the perfect shoes. I read up on the TripAdvisor forums about the most comfortable kinds of shoes, about the weather in Italy when we'll be there, about how many pairs to take.

I considered my trip to the trade show last month a practice run-through for Italy and packed as lightly as possible. I took three pair of shoes, one on my feet and two in the suitcase. It turned out to be the perfect number. That way I could rotate through them and not wear on the same blisters two days in a row. Besides, even a high heel feels comfortable when it's a change from the shoe you wore all day.

For Italy, I want to take two pairs of walking shoes and one pair of dressier shoes. But even my walking shoes can't be just your run-of-the-mill sneaker. I hate the way I look in sneakers - too stumpy and frumpy - and I wear them strictly for working out (when they're still not even that comfortable). Plus, I don't plan to take any jeans.

I found several candidates for comfort shoes: Born, Merrell, Dansko, Sketchers, Clarks. My mother made me try on her Merrell clogs, and yes, they were comfortable.

But they also suffered from a problem so many comfortable shoes have: hideousness.

Yeah, this is probably why I get so little sympathy when I complain about my foot problems. I want it all - cute AND comfortable. Is that really so much to ask?

I ended up buying dark purple Merrell mary janes and red Born mary janes for ridiculously cheap prices on eBay. And I love them, I really do.

But ... the Borns are a little too big. They have the heel-flippage problem even with the inserts, and the top of the left shoe digs into my foot a little. Just a trip to the mall gave me blisters, so what would a trek all over Florence do? I shudder to think. They'd probably be okay with socks, but I had my heart set on black tights with red mary janes.

I haven't test-run the purple Merrells yet, but just trying them on I can feel some heel-digging.

Meanwhile, I wasn't willing to place all my chips in the eBay basket, so I ordered a pair of Merrell Plaza Mocs (a black suede leather loafer with a sneakerish sole) for $90 from Shoes.com. Yeah, they're too small.


Surely my perfect pair of shoes exists out there somewhere! But the fact is, Italy is only two weeks away. I'm running out of time.

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amanda said...

Have you looked at Zappos? They have a great shipping and return policy and you can get a lot of helpful information about fit from them. Good luck! Oh, and it sounds like you have plantar facitis (not spelled correctly) and you may want to talk to a foot specalist about custom insoles or exercies to improve the problem.

4:45 PM  
jen said...

I have similar fit issues, and most every shoe cuts my ankles. the solution? Danskos. the clogs are great if a little clunky--the heel is not supposed to touch your heel, so it does flip a little bit, but they're the best if you're on your feet all day.

And their non-clog shoes are fabulous and cute.

Oh my god, I second zappos. LOVE them. Free shipping--both ways--and they ship extremely quickly and are great with returns. I usually end up ordering about 6 pairs, and keeping the best of them and returning the rest.

4:58 PM  
Chris said...

Love zappos also.

Also I second the Dansko clogs. They are realy comfortable, perhaps not as cute as you would like, but if your feet don't hurt you can always change into yur cute shoes for dinner and night out?

I also really like my NAOT sandals. I have walked everywhere with them.

6:26 PM  
Jennifer said...

I buy most of my shoes from Sierratradingpost.com

And have you tried Earth Shoes? I have bad feet too--flat feet, really--and they've really helped.

8:09 PM  
Greg said...

I can’t believe I’m commenting on woman’s shoes, but…..when I was a into hiking and backpacking in a big, big way I swore by using moleskin. It is the backpackers best friend for blisters. Read more about it here: http://www.thebackpacker.com/beginners/moleskin.php

Search out any mountaineering or backpacking stores for it. If you have REI out there, they carry it.

8:30 PM  
SmilingJudy said...

I have no experience with using moleskin, but you should be able to find it with the other Dr. Scholls stuff at your local drugstore.

And I just have to say, 'Thank You' for not throwing on a pair of sneakers like the rest of America. I also hate them (always have) and only wear them for working out or dangerous house projects. Even with semi-dangerous projects, I'm usually wearing sandles or just socks. Yeah, and that's how I ended up with a big hole in my foot when I was doing siding recently. Anyway..... no-more-stumpy-legged-shoes! Unite! And have fun on the trip, BTW.

9:45 PM  
Christine said...

Have you tried arch support inserts? If so, how are they?

7:36 AM  
John said...

Have you considered having some shoes custom made? My wife has freakishly narrow feet, and one of her favorite pair of shoes are custom, handmade moccasins made out of moose leather (much thicker than cow leather).

It's been a while since I was over in Italy, but there wasn't a shortage of taxis. The only place we took one was in Naples, and it went fine. Most of the drivers know some English. Remember, some things are priceless.

8:49 AM  
John said...

Oops. I forgot to mention, the custom moccasins only cost $100. Considering what most shoes cost, that isn't too bad, is it?

8:51 AM  
Anonymous said...

I have the same feet as you--wide ball, narrow heel and arches that leave a >1/2"imprint when I make a footprint. I wear tennis shoes all day (I'm at home and I like the support) but when I go out, I have inserts the podiatrist ordered that make all the difference in the world. I can slip them into about any shoe and they don't show or add too much bulk. Arch support is everything.

9:24 AM  
amanda said...

Oh, and I second (or third) the moleskin thing. Just buy a pack and throw it in your bag (it's very small). If it works great when I'm hiking in my too small boots with a 30 lb pack on my back, you'll probably find it useful!

3:53 PM  
Marty52 said...

Have you seen a podiatrist? I have horrendous feet (thanks Mom) also and wear custom made inserts that make all the difference in the world. If your feet hurt that badly you really need to seek professional help. Just my 2cents!!

9:51 AM  
Kristin said...

Wow, thanks! I've tried all kinds of different arch support inserts, and none help. If anything, they provide extra edges to rub blisters! My mom (who has the same foot problems) got those custom inserts from a doctor, but they didn't help much either.

I think arch support is the reason higher heels feel better on my feet. Most flats have zero arch support.

I've heard about moleskins but don't know what they are. Must go investigate. I did buy some "blister block" thingies from drugstore.com. Band-aids, etc. just get rubbed right off by the shoe.

I really hate clogs, but I may have to get some anyway. I wore the purple Merrell mary janes this weekend, and I think they might be okay. So that's one pair down.

Shoes.com has the free returns thing same as Zappos. I wanted to try Zappos, but they didn't carry Merrell shoes so I went with shoes.com instead.

Only 10 days left! EEeeeeeee!

1:41 PM  
Anonymous said...

I know it's too late for Italy (you lucky girl!) but maybe you need a new podiatrist? Have fun and rent a Vespa like Rick Steves.

12:06 PM  
Trissa said...

I've had surgery on both of my feet for hereditary bunions, so I can relate to the foot pain. Once I tried wearing a pair of Dansko's I almost never took them off. They have cute sandals and their clogs come in a wide variety of designs. They are definitely worth the investment! Have a great trip!

9:41 PM  

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