23 February 2012

The Gift of Toe Socks

I wear Vibram Five Fingers almost all the time now during my daily life.  I rarely wear them when I run, although I do wear minimalist shoes when I run—Saucony Grid Type A4 and now A5, but if I must wear shoes when strength training, I wear Five Fingers.  (I prefer to strength train barefooted.)  I do this even though I am a larger endurance athlete—6’2.5” and anywhere between 175 and 187 pounds, depending on the time of year—and bowlegged.  Minimalist footwear is not only for the small and biomechanically gifted.

I live in The Netherlands, and not too many people here wear Five Fingers, although they are becoming more popular, as are minimalist shoes in general.  Many people will ask me about my shoes and many people, because it is winter, wonder if my feet get too cold in my toe shoes.  I usually lift up my pant leg when our conversation reaches this point and show my friendly examiner that I am wearing socks to help keep my feet warm.  People seem to be even more surprised by my toe socks than my toe shoes.  Interestingly, though, I wore toe socks long before I wore toe shoes.

About ten years ago, my sister-in-law bought my wife and I some toe socks as an amusing Christmas gift.  I didn’t know what to do with them when I first got them because I thought it would be annoying to have my toes separated as I ran, so the socks sat in my drawer for at least a year or two before I tried wearing them.

I can’t remember when I decided to try the toe socks on a run, but I do remember thinking they might be a great way to avoid blisters during long runs.  And I was right.  I never had a big problem with blisters before switching to toe socks, but to this day, after wearing toe socks during a run, my feet and toes have never blistered, not even after long runs.  I do not prep my feet in any way for any run.  I don’t use Vaseline or any other lubricant.  I only wear toe socks.  And, surprisingly, I discovered that having my toes separated never felt awkward.  Toe socks were not something that I had to get used to, and they even provided me with a second wonderful benefit.

I have Morton’s toe.  My second toe is longer than my big toe.  Often after a long run (before wearing toe socks), the toenail bed of my second toe(s) would be sore.  A couple of days after becoming sore, my toenail would turn black and blue, and, eventually, a new toenail would begin to grow in under and shove out the old dead nail that had been sacrificed to black toenail.  I only got black toenail on my second toes.  For the longest time, I thought this was a result of shoes that are not cut for people with feet like mine, and I came to the conclusion that, especially when running lots of downhill, I would just have to deal with getting black toenail every now and then.  Certainly, that was not too much of a sacrifice to make to running.  If black toenail ever became too unbearable, I could always follow Marshall Ulrich’s lead and just have my toenails surgically removed.

After switching to toe socks, though, I noticed that I never got black toenail.  Furthermore, I noticed that when I wore regular socks with my regular shoes on a long walk or hike, I would sometimes feel a bit of the bruising pain that I would feel before my toenails would turn black.  This made me realize that my black toenail was not a result of my toe hitting the top or front of my running shoe.  The pressure my socks put on my second toes was causing my black toenail.  What a revelation this was, and socks as a contributor to black toenail is not something you’ll read about anywhere but here.

If you have problems with blistering or black toenails, I suggest you give toe socks a try.  I wear Injinji toe socks, and for the last five or six years I have not had a hint of black toenails or blisters.  What was merely a fun gift at Christmas turned out to be something wonderfully advantageous to my running.  I should make sure my sister-in-law knows how grateful I am for her gift.

1 comment:

  1. Quite interesting. I have some of the Vibram shoes as well but with my send toe they're too small.