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How to Defeat Toe Pain While Running

Posted Apr 21 2013 1:33pm

The Flower City Half Marathon is one week from today.  Like most runners right now, I’m feeling pretty nostalgic about the sport of running in light of what’s happened in Boston over the past week here.  I’ve had this post in the works for a while, but my running woes and sore toes suddenly felt insignificant on April 15, 2013.

With that said, running can be a healthy way to deal with tragedy or stress –> and sore toes can keep you from running!  This post is for anyone who has struggled with sore toes so you can get out there and keep running.  This is where my riveting sore toes tale begins, to give you some ideas of what to try when toe pain strikes – or better yet, beat it to the punch.

(sounds like a best seller already)

As my weekend long runs have grown longer over the past 5 weeks of half marathon training (9, 10, 9, 10 and 11 miles respectively) my toes were starting to go numb around the 7 or 8 mile mark, eventually leading to pain for last 2 – 3 miles of those runs.  Toe pain can be related to improper form, but in my experience, numb toes and/or sore toes usually has to do with my sneakers .  Toe pain typically means that your shoes are too small or are tied too tightly.

To back up for a moment, I bought a new pair of running sneakers in the fall of last year, shortly after my return to running from my hiatus during pregnancy #3.  I went with my usual  Asics Gel Nimbus , version 14.  I came to find that I didn’t love this pair as much as I’ve loved my Asics Gel Nimbus’s (Nimbi?) of the past.  I like Asics because they usually have a nice, wide toe box – but this version didn’t seem quite as wide as usual.  They were fine in general, but not as comfortable as I’d come to expect based on my experience from running in my previous pairs of the same model.

Having run 3, 4, 5 and 6 miles in these sneakers all fall and winter without any significant toe issues, I wondered if my toe pain might resolve itself as my feet become more accustomed to running longer distances again.  But after my third sore-toed long run, I was thoroughly annoyed that this issue wasn’t going away.  Something had to give, and so I concluded that it was probably time for a new pair of shoes.  Given that your  feet can grow a little bit with each pregnancy , I wondered if I might now need to go up another half size.  My Nimbus 14′s were only one half size up, as I’ve always done in the past – but maybe a full size up would help.

It’s recommended to go “one half to a full size up” from your regular shoe size for running sneakers.  You want to give your feet plenty of room to spread out thanks to the impact of your body weight on your feet while running.  Buying running shoes a half size up can save you from blisters and black toe nails if your feet are squashing into the front of your shoe.  If you’re having issues with your feet that you can’t figure out, I highly suggest a shoe fitting and stride evaluation at your local running store.  It’s almost always free and the proper shoe can make a big difference in the way you feel while running.

So with all this in mind, I bought a new pair of sneakers a few weeks ago.   Asics Gel Kayano 18 , a full size up instead of a half size, to be sure my toes had PLENTY of room to do their thing.

Gel Kayano 18

The Kayano’s are the next model up from the Nimbus.  They are admittedly the most expensive pair of running shoes I have ever owned.  I would not usually spend so much on a pair of sneakers, but this time around I had birthday money to spend, plus two store coupons that saved me a good chunk of change as well.  It’s good to know that  the most expensive shoe isn’t necessarily the best shoe , but these felt really, really good when I tried them on, so I went for it.

And while the proper size is important, proper fit is important too.  Figuring out how to adjust your laces can help you get that proper fit.  Thanks to the advice of many runners – from the running shoe store employees to running friends and family to the Good People of Internet, this is my approach to adjusting my laces to keep sore toes at bay.

Really Loose Laces

Starting with the laces closest to the toes, pull the laces waaaay out so you have a lot of slack at the toes.

With the laces still very loose, stick your feet in.

Stick Feet In

Row by row, pull the laces so you remove most of the slack, but not all of it.  You’ll want to leave a little extra shoe lace for your shoe settle in around your foot as you run.

Not Tight

With your laces relatively loose over the top of the foot, you’ll need to secure your shoes at the ankle to keep your foot from sliding around in the shoe, which has the potential to lead to blisters or chaffing.  This is where “lace locking” comes into play.

Shoe Lace Locks

Using the two lace holes at the top of your shoe, create a loop that will be your “lock” to help hold your shoes in place around your ankle.

Shoe Lace Tracking

Thread the opposite end of your lace through your lock -

Laces Through Loops

and then tighten comfortably, but still without OVER tightening.

Now Tighten

Finally, tie as usual.  (I’m going to go ahead and skip the pictures with arrows for this step.)

Tie As Usual

Assuming that you’re in the right size shoe, steps 1 and 2 should get you really close to being perfectly comfortable in your sneakers on a run.  Even with a bigger shoe, loose laces and plenty of room up front, I still had a little toe numbness during the first few runs in with these shoes!

If you notice toe numbness during your run (numb toes is what precedes sore toes), don’t be afraid to stop mid run to re-loosen, re-adjust and re-tie your sneakers until you find the sweet spot for your feet inside your shoes.  Eventually, your laces should settle into the perfect place and you’ll be in and out of your shoes without having to give it so much thought.

There are other approaches to lacing based on where you’re feeling pain.   This video  had some great, easy to follow techniques that you might find helpful to try.

If you suspect that something is off with your form, you could seek the help of a running coach, or you could read about running form to get some ideas on how to improve and what to practice.   Chi Running  by Danny Dreyer is one of my favorite books on running form.   Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is an incredible, inspiring read about overcoming pain and injury by learning proper form through barefoot running.  (Born to Run is a great read for runners and non-runners alike, really!)

I hope this might help if you’re dealing with toe issues like I was.  Have you dealt with sore toes in the past?  Do you have any tips to share on what’s worked (or what hasn’t worked) for you?

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