Running Toe

After a fine Italian dinner and a Salty Pimp from Big Gay Ice Cream, I returned home last night, sterilized a safety pin and jabbed it under the middle toe of my left foot, unleashing a little flood of toe juice. Blood and water. Nothing to barf over.

It seems I’ve a bit of a case of runner’s toe. Unlike most other runners who write about it, I’m not going to post a photo of my gnarly feet. The fact is, the two toes so afflicted don’t look that bad. Other runners’ toenails turn dark black and fall off. My turned a light shade of purple.

I’m mildly annoyed by all of this as it’s my own damn fault. Bounce around the web and some people seem to be mystified by why this happens in the first place. I’ve even seen some lengthy explanation about the blood-pressure differential in your toes as your feet swing back and forth while running. I’ve run off and on since high school decades ago. Mostly off. But I have hobbled one NYC marathon, run another NYC marathon, and run three half marathons. I’ve never had this happen to me before.

What happened? I let my toenails get too damn long. They weren’t at a stage at which they needed a good painting. They weren’t starting to curl. They were just longer than a dude’s toenails should be. And I went for a 14-mile run in newish shoes.

The mild pain started the next day. And it’s taken a couple weeks to get some discoloration that I could really notice. The left toe’s purple patch was closer to the edge and the bubble moved close enough last night that I could pop it.

The right toe, however? It’s too far down to get at it with a safety pin under the nail. Thankfully it doesn’t hurt because I’m not a big fan of the other option.

What’s the other option?

Back when I was a kid–13 or so I think–a window slammed down on my fingers. The pain was immediate, like having your eight hammers come down on eight fingers. Naturally I tried to stick them all in my mouth at once. Then I noticed the blood coming from one or two. Ran to the faucet thinking water would help. And while two were bleeding, the rest weren’t, but the nails were immediately turning black–or so it seemed. What happened was blood was pooling underneath with no escape. On top of this, we didn’t know if my fingers were actually broken.

So my stepdad got me in the car and drove me to the hospital. Instead of waiting in line for the emergency room, we first found my mom, who’s a nurse. I’d held up pretty well until that point. Hell if I was gonna be a little punk and cry over some smashed fingers! But when I saw my mom, I cried like a little girl. Hell, I’m getting teary eyed just thinking about being in the elevator and trying to hide my face while I cried because I was scared and also, yeah, HOLY SHIT IT HURT LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER!

And the hurt wasn’t coming from broken bones. That was established after we wasted half an hour going through X-rays. The pain was coming from the cuts under the nails and from the pressure of all that blood building up. Something had to be done. So after some of the finest medical minds of our times gathered and conferred, a few modern-day marvels of technology were produced: a paper clip and a lighter.

The paper clip was heated up over the lighter and I watched in horror as they burned little holes through my nails. In my mind I was bracing for the searing sting of fire while possibly thinking that I really was living in an ass-backwards place. But! The relief came almost immediately as the blood bubble out through the clean little holes. And I can’t imagine them drilling through would have been any quicker. Certainly it wouldn’t have been as painless.

And looking around the web for runner’s toe relief, you’ll never guess what a suggested remedy is. The old hot paper clip through the nail. But I think I’ll leave well enough alone for now.

4 thoughts on “Running Toe

  1. I have done the paperclip/lighter thing. Now I just wait for them to fall off. I returned from Big Sur soon to be minus two nails, just in time for sandal season. Alas.

  2. My grandfather once used the power drill on my nasty nail while I watched in horror. He told me that it would fall off if we didn’t drain it, or something. I have no idea if it’s true or not, but this was the guy who, after getting the barbed hook of the Rapala in his thumb, pushed it all the way through and clipped off the barb. I know that’s what you’re supposed to do, but I was 10–I didn’t think anybody would actually do it. Anyway, the point is, after that, I pretty much listened to anything he said.

    I can still hear the whine of that drill and smell the burning nail. When I sleep.

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