There is no getting around it – I have gross feet.
I don’t mean that my feet are gross in that vague way that most feet are gross – because seriously, even the cleanest feet are very gross – but in very specific ways. I have had a pedicurist refuse to work on my feet. She took one look at my second toenail, all black and purple and puffy, and said, “Maybe we can slot you in for a haircut instead?” My dermatologist, during my annual skin check, ran his fingers along the tops of my toes and said, “You’ve got a lot of callouses here…are you a runner?”
The grossness first made itself known when I started training for my first half-marathon. Suddenly I noticed blisters forming on the inside of my foot, and that blisters formed on top of those blisters, which then formed on top of those blisters, sort of like a Russian nesting doll, except with skin and pus. (Which I guess is not at all like a Russian nesting doll, but anyway.) As my mileage increased, more callouses formed on the outside of my feet and beneath the balls of my feet. No amount of apricot scrub or fancy foot-soak salts could cut through the coral reef of dead skin that had formed around my feet.
And of course, I have lost toenails. Three of them, to be exact. It’s always a slightly alarming then when you realize you can lift up a nail and see the virgin skin beneath – always makes me think of those horrifying nail-fungus commercials, where the animated fungi lift up the disgusting toenail like a grotesque trap door. That ad makes me want to puke every time I see it, so you can imagine how I feel when I see my feet re-enacting the commercial. I’ve become really good at pulling on my big girl panties and trimming them back without whimpering (too much).
I like to say my feet are my Dorian Gray situation – my feet get uglier as the rest of me gets fitter. My calves look amazing; my feet, not so much.
Yet I would never, ever get rid of my callouses, nor would I go out of my way to avoid losing more toenails. The callouses – as ugly and rough as they are – protect my feet from further blistering, which is essential when I’m trying to push my mileage up into the 25+ mile per week range. The lost toenails…well, I wear appropriately sized shoes and good socks, but there are some things you can’t avoid when you run marathon distances, and lost toenails are one of those things.
Would I trade having run a marathon if it meant getting my toenail back? Fuck no!
Those lost toenails and all of my callouses are my badges of honor, the proof that I have put in the miles and the sweat equity necessary to call myself a runner. They are physical evidence of psychological toughness. You look at my feet and you know you are talking to a lady who straps on a pair of running shoes and hits the road several times a week. You may be able to buy the gear of a runner, but you can’t buy the feet.
I feel this way about the callouses on my hands, which I’ve developed over the course of five years of weight training, and I used to feel this way about the bruises that bloomed like Impressionist paintings on my knees and thighs when I’d dive and roll for digs as a high school volleyball player.
I’m sure most athletes feel this way. Basketball players have court burns, skateboarders have road rash, roller derby players get all bruised up. Even my best friend Brandi, who pole-dances, has bruises on her thighs and feet. Our willingness to get hurt in pursuit of our chosen sport belies a deeper truth, which is that we are tough and we play hard and we’ll do it at the cost of our superficial femininity.
Ladies aren’t supposed to have rough feet and hands, and they aren’t supposed to have scabbed knees and bruised elbows. We are supposed to keep ourselves soft and blemish-free, to keep ourselves pleasing to the eyes of others. But we athletic ladies say, I’m not some flower to decorate your world. We say, screw your desire to look at something pretty. We are going to do what makes us feel good and what makes us feel alive.
We may not look pretty, but damn if we aren’t awesome.