My Big Toe

So I had a little bit of a scare today. Ultimately, I’m going to be OK, and I’m still going to run the New York City Marathon, but there were a couple of hours where I wasn’t 100% sure.

First, let’s go back to yesterday.

I had a 6 mile run scheduled for Friday morning. As I was going along, I noticed that my left big toe started hurting. I’ve never experienced that before. I didn’t remember stubbing my toe recently, and certainly not during the run. Also, I don’t land on my big toe. I typically land on the outside of my heel, which is about as far as you can get from my big toe. I was still able to complete the run, though. (I’ll fill in a few details in my weekly wrap-up tomorrow.)

Once I was finished, the pain stopped completely. After I took off my shoes and socks, I took a look at it, and saw no swelling or discoloration. My left big toe looked pretty much the same as my right big toe, which hadn’t hurt at all. Like I normally do on Friday, I worked from home, so I didn’t walk around quite as much as usual, or spend much time standing, but I didn’t notice any toe pain. Honestly, I kind of forgot about it.

This morning, I was scheduled to run 20 miles. For the first five miles, everything was fine. After that, my toe started hurting again. Even after a walk break, it still hurt. It wasn’t so bad that I wanted to stop, but it was uncomfortable. Occasionally, there would be stretches where the pain would increase a little, but then it would go back down. It never went away completely, though.

As I was running, I was worried about making it worse by continuing to run. I was also worried that I might subconsciously start changing my stride to account for the pain, and that might cause other problems.

I got to 10 miles, stopped for water, and decided to keep going a little longer to see what happened. As I approached the 12 mile mark, I knew I needed to stop. I was just over a mile from where I parked, so I could turn around and still get the half marathon distance of 13.1. Turning around was really tough, because I felt like I was giving up, but I knew it was the right thing to do. I ended up going a little past where I should have turned around, which just added to the distance of the Walk of Shame at the end, between where I stopped running and where my car was parked. I did end up with my fastest mile at the end, because I figured if this was a serious injury, this could be the last mile I run for a while, so I’d better make it count. (I did notice the pain got a little worse when I sped up.)

Anyway, I got home and took a look at my foot. This time, I noticed a red mark just below my big toe, on top of the joint. Interesting. There was no other swelling or discoloration, and nothing else was different than my right big toe.

Normally, if I had an injury on Saturday, I’d rest for the weekend and maybe see how I felt on Monday. With New York City 3 weeks and 1 day away, I needed to get this looked at as soon as possible. If I couldn’t run the marathon, I wanted to know right away. If it was something that could be treated, I wanted to try to get it done before the race. So after getting cleaned up and eating breakfast, I went over to OrthoCarolina Urgent Care.

The X-rays didn’t show any broken bones, but they did show early signs of arthritis in the joint below my big toe. For reference, here’s a picture of someone else’s left foot.


The second joint from the top on my big toe is the one with the problem. (I can’t speak for the rest of this person’s foot, but based on what the doctor said, it looks to me like that joint is healthy in this x-ray.) In my foot, the corners of the upper bone of that joint are sharp, not rounded like the one in the picture. Basically, the joint became inflamed due to all the mileage I had been putting in.

The good news is that I can still run. The doctor recommended that I reduce my mileage, which isn’t a problem, because it’s about time for me to start tapering anyway. He also said I should ice the joint for about 10 minutes a day, and gave me a prescription for some high-powered anti-inflammatory drugs. (That means I’ll probably have to stay away from beer. It’s a bummer, but for the New York City Marathon, I’m willing to make that sacrifice.)

Also, running won’t actually make the inflammation worse. It mostly comes down to how much pain can I tolerate. (Answer: It depends. For a training run, not much. For New York City, whatever it takes to cross the finish line.) Granted, like I briefly mentioned earlier, I do worry about the pain causing me to change my stride, and that could lead to other problems. We’ll see how it goes.

The most important thing, though, is that I can keep running, and I can still run the New York City Marathon.