The following is a guest post by my awesome running partner, Willa. She’s got toe issues and it’s fascinating.
It was Saturday, October 16th, the day of our final long training run before the Mankato Half Marathon. Excruciating pain forced me to utter words that no runner wants to say, especially one week before your first half marathon, “You go ahead without me; I have to stop.” My toes were throbbing intensely. They felt like they were going to burst, or fall off, or both. I liken the experience to being outside in the extreme cold and then going into a warming house—you know that tight oh-my-toes-are-on fire hurt. I managed to feebly run/walk the remaining 4 miles of our slated 12 mile run and then proceeded to get lost on my way back to Jen’s, tacking on another rough mile to my already lovely run.
This wasn’t my first toe-throbbing experience. In fact, I had been running through numbness and pain for a few months by this point. I knew it was getting worse, but I was baffled as to what was causing the problem and, moreover, how to fix it. It was embarrassing to tell people that my toes hurt.
Somewhat early on, I bought new shoes, thinking that my Mizuno Wave Riders had seen better days. Maybe they weren’t wide enough for my feet. My toes did feel like they were curling under during runs but the toe box was plenty wide and long. Maybe the shoes had just lost their magic. Unfortunately, my symptoms were unchanged even in my new kicks.
Next, I went the high fashion route, sporting compression socks, hoping that it would improve the circulation in my feet. This was also to no avail. It was elevated feet, ice city for me, with no resolution in sight.
Only a few days stood between me and the Mankato Half Marathon that we had been so diligently training for, and I was in a panic. I called Jen and she wisely convinced me to run the race in the Saucony shoes that I had been using and to load-up on ibuprofen. Post race, I was to make an appointment with Wendi at Gear West for a Gait Analysis. You might already know from Jen’s post that I ran a great, steady race, hitting my goal on the nose. Nonetheless, the pain remained.
The holidays have come and gone, and training for our spring half marathon is looming. I presumed that after a few months of light to no running that the pain would have subsided, if not disappeared altogether. Regrettably, the opposite is true. It used to flare-up around 4 or 5 miles, now it is 2 or 3 miles. It was high time that I made my way to Gear West to meet Wendi. Both Jen and Brette had met with Wendi for a Gait Analysis and highly recommend her, calling her the “shoe whisperer.”
My visit with Wendi at Gear West is likely one of the most important experiences in my running career. Within a few minutes of conversation, she confirmed my suspicions that I have Morton’s Neuroma (a thickening of nerve tissue between the toes). All of the causes and symptoms are present:
- A second toe that is longer than the first
- Tingling, burning, or numbness
- A feeling that something is inside the ball of the foot, like a bunched-up sock
- Heavy calluses on the bottom and side of the foot
- The start of hammer toes (gross and painful)
My simplified explanation: my second toe is longer than my first toe and I have a relatively high arch. Essentially, when I walk, or run, I push-off of my second and third toes instead of my big toe. My body thinks, “Oh no, there is a drop off there—nothing to push-off of, no more big toe.” This has led to extreme pressure on the nerves between my toes and on the tendon in the arch of my foot. Not good. It has resulted in extreme pain in my toes as well as a twist in my overall body alignment.
After much observation, numerous exercises and jogging up and down a hallway, Wendi got me into the proper inserts and shoes. She instructed me to wear the shoes all of the time and advised that the next few months are going to be uncomfortable. I am basically teaching my body how to walk and run all over again.
I no longer feel like a crazy woman talking about obscure toe pain. Wendi not only knew of the condition, but had been recovering from it too. There are numerous running stores in the Twin Cities area; most of them are well-staffed with avid runners who know the ins-and-outs of running shoe design, but they don’t all come with physical therapy backgrounds. Wendi introduced me to an entirely new and comprehensive way to look at running shoe fit and the importance of inserts.
Most running books and magazines will tell you that running is a convenient sport that does not require a lot of technical gear (I might argue with that point as I think the technical gear makes a tremendous difference and provides huge motivation to hit the pavement). They do all say to invest in a properly fitted pair of shoes. It seems so obvious and fundamental to a healthy and successful running career—buy shoes (and inserts) that are right for your feet and body alignment. Yet, my visit with Wendi has caused me to wonder how many people are running in the wrong shoes, exacerbating problems and perhaps leading to irrevocable conditions?
Now, I am on the road to recovery. Wendi is optimistic that I will be able to resolve my pain without surgery or cortisone injections. Per her explicit instructions, I am going to wear my new shoes as much as possible. She even joked about wearing them to bed. My feet definitely felt different within a few hours of wear. I am an instant believer.
Obviously, I will run in them too. Last night was my first run in my new shoes. I am incredibly happy to report that I ran 3 miles without any pain or numbness in my toes or the balls of my feet. My big toes and arches are a little sore, but in a good way. It is akin to the soreness you might feel after lifting weights for the first time. Now that is a funny thought—my big toe doing dumbbell curls.
If anything, I’ve learned the importance of knowing and listening to my body (and, furthermore, my feet). It also helps to have athletic friends who recommend great resources. Have you had a similar experience? I’d love to hear about it.
*If you are experiencing pain you should visit your doctor. I am not making any recommendations but rather relaying my experience and decisions.