The little one said a lot.
Anchoring a row of nine nicely manicured toenails across Kelly Thomasson's flip-flops was one that was not only unshellacked, but altogether missing.
The 28-year-old recreational runner from Pasadena had been wearing shoes that were too small, and the constant jamming of her feet into the tops of her sneakers took its toll - a common mistake that causes untold pain and, according to her and her husband, unsightly feet.
At stake were her regular workouts on the road and at the gym.
A friend and more experienced runner recommended she get some professional help, not from a doctor but an experienced retailer. So off she went to Charm City Run in Timonium to learn something about shoe size and shape.
"I go to the gym three or four times a week," Thomasson said. "I run maybe three miles. My feet hurt. ... I've worn Saucony in the past, but I strayed because other ones were on sale."
It's a story Josh Levinson, owner of the shop and a fellow runner, hears a lot. Runners, from the occasional to the regular, wear shoes that are cheap or a pleasing color or just plain not meant for them. And they don't fit.
He quickly took inventory of Thomasson's aches and pains. He measured her feet. He watched her walk and jog on a treadmill hooked up to a video monitor. She needed shoes that fit, he said.
Before she took a step, he'd determined her shoes were too small. Runners typically need shoes that are a half-size or larger than their regular shoes. Thomasson also had a wide toe area and small heel.
From the back, he brought a pair of Saucony because the brand is popular among women with that shape of foot. Thomasson looked at the pink shoes and said, "I'm not in love with the pink." But she was willing to give them a try for her toes' sake.
She tied them tight - so tight that Levinson said her feet could go numb. He told her to loosen them and give a gentle tap with her heel on the ground to position her feet snugly against the back.
Levinson then pressed his thumb down into the space between her big toe and the tip of the shoe.
"Feel that? You need that space in the front of your shoe," he said.
She took a quick trot on a treadmill, and he saw the next problem. She is a mild "over-pronator." Most people fall into this category, he said, which means they roll a bit too much inward on their feet.
A little pronating is normal. It's how the foot absorbs the shock of hitting the ground. Flat-footed people tend to really over-pronate and need "motion control," which is when the shoes have extra-dense cushioning along the heel and center of the shoe. That control can hurt people with high arches and normal pronation to under-pronation, who typically need even cushioning.
And then there was Thomasson, who rolled just enough to need some control.
Levinson disappeared into the back and came out with three more pairs of shoes - Asics, Brooks and another pair of Saucony. All had a bit of support and a bit more room in the front - and none was pink.
As much as Levinson didn't want fashion to be a factor, he was able to accommodate Thomasson's wishes. Major brands make different kinds of shoes for the different levels of support needed. The middle-of-the-road support shoes seemed to all come in pleasing shades of blue.
Now it was up to Thomasson to find the most comfortable pair.
She pulled on the Asics and hopped on the treadmill again. "They're OK. But I'm not sure they have enough support," she said.
Then the other pair of Saucony. "Better," she said. "The best so far."
Next came the Brooks. "Hmm. I think the other ones felt better."
Finally, he had her put on one Saucony shoe and one Brooks shoe and take another stroll through the store.
What does Thomasson's husband think? "I loathe running," said Adam Thomasson, an inline skater. "I feel a little out of place. But I'm here for support. And I like whatever is comfortable for her."
And what was most comfortable? The $100 Saucony Omni, in blue.
About a half-hour after she walked in, she returned her flip-flops to her feet and walked out with a box of shoes, a pair of synthetic, blister-resistant socks and a sense that the battle against her toes was over.
Some parting wisdom from Levinson: "Don't assume you're not a runner because it hurts when you run."
CHOOSING RUNNING SHOES
Buy quality, comfortable shoes. Do not pick a shoe based on its color or what your friends wear.
Consult an experienced retailer to have your gait analyzed and your foot measured. Shoes should be at least a half-size larger than your regular shoes.
Bring your old shoes with you to the store and be prepared to talk about your running history, any injuries or pain and your goals.
Choose a shoe that is durable enough for your training or running habits. Shoes should be replaced when the cushioning wears thin, preferably before you begin to have some discomfort.
Look for a pair that has the right level of support. Flat-footed people typically need more dense cushioning on the inside half of the shoe to keep them from over-pronating, or rolling inward.
If you are training and will have to replace your shoes before your long-distance race, consider buying two pairs and alternating them.
Buy good-quality socks made from synthetic materials that help resist blisters.
[Source: Charm City Run, Sun staff]
Catonsville Fall into Fitness 5K
When: Sept. 29, registration at 7 a.m., start time at 8 a.m.
Where: Matthew's 1600, 1600 Frederick Road, Catonsville
Fees: Adults $25, race day $30; 12 and younger $12, race day $15
Other information: Parking available at Catonsville Presbyterian Church (1400 Frederick Road) and St. Mark Parish Community (30 Melvin Ave.). Shuttle service will run to and from St. Mark's. After-party at Matthew's 1600.
12th Annual Notre Dame Prep Annual Blazer Dash 5K
When: Sept. 30, registration at 7:45 a.m., start time at 9 a.m.
Where: Notre Dame Prep, 815 Hampton Lane in Towson
Fees: Family fees for up to two adults and three children $60, race day $75; students $20
Other information: Event Web site: notredameprep.com. Awards for top finishers.
Great Strides Against Prostate Cancer 5K Race & 1 Mile Fun Run/Walk
When: Sept. 30 at 8 a.m.
Where: St. Joseph Medical Center, 7601 Osler Drive, Towson
Fees: Adults $20, $25 race day
Other information: Awards for top finishers.
Zack's 5K Race Against Childhood Cancer
When: Sept. 30 at 9 a.m.
Where: Comcast Center, University of Maryland, College Park
Fees: Adults $20 before Wednesday, $25 late fee.
Other information: Also includes a one-mile walk/run. Registration closes Wednesday. Awards for top finishers.
Friends of Villa Maria Walk/Run for Kid's Sake
When: Oct. 6 at 8 a.m.
Where: Oregon Ridge Park, 13401 Beaver Dam Road, Cockeysville
Fees: Adults $25, $30 race day.
Other information: Call Carol Shear at 410-252-4700, ext. 133 or e-mail email@example.com.
Susie's Cause 5K Run/Family Walk
When: Oct. 7, registration at 7:30 a.m., race at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Power Plant Live in the Inner Harbor
Fees: Adults $25, $30 race day
Other information: T-shirts for participants and awards for top finishers. Post-race breakfast. Call 410-727-LIVE or go to powerplantlive.com.
When: Oct. 13, 8 a.m. for marathon and relay, 8:30 a.m. for 5K, 9:20 a.m. for fun run, 9:45 a.m. for half-marathon
Where: M&T; Stadium in Baltimore
Fees: marathon $90, relay $220 for team, half-marathon $75, 5K $40, fun run $10
Other information: Free parking, Awards for top finishers. Events including health expo and carbo-loading dinner. Half-marathon has sold out. No race-day registration.
Mosaic's First Annual 5K Recovery Run and 1 Mile Fun Run
When: Oct. 20, registration at 7 a.m., race at 8:30 a.m.
Where: Towson University campus, University Union, Towson
Fees: Adults $20, $25 race day
Other information: Awards for top finishers.
Walk From Obesity
When: Oct. 20, registration at 8 a.m., race at 9 a.m.
Where: Camden Yards Sports Complex in Baltimore
Fees: Adults $25
Other information: Event Web site: walkfromobesity.com
[Sources: active.com, charmcityrun.com]
HOW TO PICK A RUNNING SHOE
When wet, they make a solid print because the whole foot touches the ground. Shoe descriptions typically say "motion control" because there is denser cushioning in the heel and center to keep so-called over- pronators from excessively rolling inward.
When wet, they make a print that looks like a regular-sized foot. Most people fall in this category, where they pronate a small amount to help absorb the shock of running. Look for a shoe that offers some "stability," or some extra cushioning, to stop mild over-pronation.
When wet, only the outsides of the feet and not the arches make a print on the ground. Look for shoes that are "neutral" because they are cushioned uniformly. Avoid shoes that offer "stability" or "motion control."
Source: Charm City Run; Sun research