How (not) to take care of your feet

I posted on Facebook Tuesday night that I chose to have some elective surgery done on my feet. I also admitted that I performed the “procedure” myself. In my bathroom, with toenail clippers.

There have been lots of responses from friends (virtual and actual alike) that range from sympathetic, to worried, to mockery, to omg-running-is-bad-for-your-health. Everyone’s attention and curiosity about my feet is both amusing and heartwarming, as well as a bit embarrassing. But I guess that comes with being a social media addict.

Verdict: I am a genius. Let the following serve as a testament to why it’s a bad idea to allow panic to control your behavior.

For all the time I practice mindfulness and utilize impulse control for my job, when it comes to things that are running related, I fall apart.

Be warned that there will be some really gross content and a graphic photo as you scroll down. Feel free to not read this story, I am sharing because this is new territory for me and I want to know what other runners experience and what they do about it.

The good news is that this morning I regained to ability to spread my toes and they don’t seem swollen any more.


I have lost plenty of toenails, let me be clear that this is not my first rodeo.

I have never before had all but three toes be affected at once, however, and that freaks me out! I have also never had a toenail come off and then experience pain after. In the past it was always a relief.

Here’s what happened. Like most distance runners I have one toenail in particular that always seems to be discolored and misshapen to some degree. I  have just learned to monitor and mostly ignore it.

Just before the Boston marathon, though, that toe started to hurt after any run over 10 miles and after speed work sessions.

As you can see, shoe selection is not a problem as I have a pretty healthy collection (there is even a pair not pictured…the Adios 2):


So after Boston I started slowly chipping away at it. Literally. Because the thing was sticking up higher than my other nails by like a half centimeter. Which is a lot!

Things mostly maintained. Then I ran my best marathon to date last Sunday (read about it here). On Monday I noticed that several toes appeared a bit puffy and were tender to the touch.

And here’s where the action starts (gross alert); on Tuesday evening I was getting into bed and I jammed my toes (the foot with the aforementioned nasty overgrow/under construction toe).

It hurt like hell and when I looked down my toe had exploded. I swear there was a liter of really watered down blood on the floor and on my foot. (ok slight exaggeration there).

I hightailed it to the bathroom where I dumped peroxide over my toes and watched it sizzle. I did the same to some nail clippers and sat like a contortionist for god knows how long (long enough that my hip-flexors were pissed at the end of the whole ordeal).

I was in the zone, man. I couldn’t stop digging at my feet! I didn’t feel any pain until it was over. As I reflect on the experience I feel like I got a new insight into what it’s like for people who engage in SIB (self injurious behavior).

Eventually my dogs (who I had left stranded on the bed) started barking to get down and I looked at the two abused toes on my right foot. I was horrified and immediately pain set in.

I have only three toenails left that are fully intact, the rest display varying degrees of disintegration. Two are totally gone.

I drained under-nail blisters from  5 of the affected toes.

One of the toes (2nd toe…next to big toe) was certainly infected to some degree as it produced a lot of carnage…too gross to describe, and it sort of smelled.

I sat on my bed after pouring more peroxide on my feet and contemplated what to do next (which was to update my Facebook status of course). Then I took these pictures.

The “good” foot…still pretty gross:


The Zombie foot:


I am sorry to expose you all to this, but I need help.

Last night I stocked up on supplies I thought would help.


The Hello Kitty bandages are just to make me smile.

I attempted a soak in the Epsom Salt, but I only lasted about 90 seconds, it hurt all the way up my shins…which can’t be good.


After that I bandaged up for the night and things felt puffy and sore.

Fortunately I still have one pair of flats that are work appropriate with a roomy toebox that my dogs have not eaten, so I think I am mostly pulling off normalcy.

I am flying to Seatle in the morning for 5 days and my insurance plan doesn’t kick in until the first week of June (I think…I am not 100% certain…), so I am hoping to not need a podiatrist.

I have worked out for exactly 30 mintues since Sunday and I am starting to get pretty grumpy…need to run soon! Help!


8 responses to “How (not) to take care of your feet

  1. I have toenail issues. I posted about it in “toenails are for sissies” on the TTF blog if you are interested in more gross photos. I learned the hard way that I have to go get pedicures on a regular basis. It’s not really in the budget but I can’t afford for it not to be in the budget due to ingrown nail issues and then the toenail loss from running. UGH! I normally wait for the nail to come off. It’s less tender that way. Once the new nail starts growing under then it pushes the old/dead one up and its okay for it to come off.

    People always want to blame the shoes but I’ve tried different sizes, styles, etc. and it always happens, sometimes even after a half. Yay me. Yay YOU! 🙂

  2. I think anyone who runs more than casually is going to have nail issues. I am currently managing five out of ten healthy: one is halfway grown back in, one is about to come off, two are showing signs of stress and one is just permanently weird. Aside from the pain you are experiencing, which I think might have been caused by blistering from the hot conditions, I think you have to live with it. Keep them trimmed and filed, NEVER wear cotton socks, wool is best, and paint the skin where the nail should be if you wear sandals 🙂 consider it a rite of passage 🙂 and congrats again, no matter what your race was like, proof of effort is in that shiny gold medal!

    • Thanks Eliza,

      You’re so right! This does feel like a milestone of sorts. I got lots of good advice today, and am soaking my feet as we speak. I am headed to Seattle tomorrow and am going to stock on antibiotic ointment and am soaking my feet right now.

      I still plan to try to race a 5k on Sunday…which will be my first run since the marathon this past Sunday…I hate not running for this long!

  3. Dont know if it would help any… if you’ve got any swelling and/or pain in your foot, try rolling your foot on a frozen water bottle. It might help. lol @ the zombie foot line!

  4. Annabelle,
    I read your blog with amusement. As someone who had run 32 marathons; I have had my share of toe issues. I have to admit I never posted pictures! Keep them clean and bandaged (maybe some antibiotic ointment too) and I’m sure they will heal up fine. Your blog is proot that “yes runners are crazy.”


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