The first time I wondered if I was possibly doing something wrong was when, while watching TV, I absently reached down to the second toe on my right foot and realized that my entire toenail had detached itself and was hanging on by the thinnest of cuticles, like a dingy white flag. I pulled it off painlessly and marveled at the rugged, thick non-toenail layer of skin that had developed underneath. In the background, two members of the cast of Jersey Shore were fighting. The human body is truly a disgusting miracle.

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It was mid-summer 2010, and I’d been running regularly for about six months. I’d done everything right: that spring, I’d gone to a specialty running store to have my gait analyzed, tried on about eight different pairs of shoes before settling on the one that fit my running style, my budget, and my foot. I listened to a salesperson in a polo shirt that fit tightly around his biceps tell me that I want my shoes to be half a size “too big,” so my feet don’t hit the front of the shoe as I run. They looked and felt like flippers on my tentative feet. “You don’t want to lose a toenail,” he’d said, winking suggestively. (It was a nauseating but sexual moment. Perhaps among the more confusing of my life, like watching Tom Hardy pick up a glistening dog turd with his hands.)

Little did I know that the dead wafer of toenail sitting there in the palm of my hand would only be the first of many strange running-related maladies I’d suffer over the next five years. The following aren’t “injuries” in that they didn’t prevent me from continuing to run like, say, plantar fasciitis or a pulled hamstring. If that ever happened to me, I’d most certainly stop running and possibly go see a doctor, like anyone who gets injured should. The following are, instead, bodily side effects that nobody told me to expect; that nobody told me I was even capable of.

Toes

My first missing toenail was never the same again; to this day, the second toenail on my right foot is four times as thick as a normal toenail and is the main non-Sarah Nir reason I no longer get professional pedicures. But that wasn’t the only toenail to go: in 2012, I lost both pinkie nails, and now they’re basically claws. In my imagination, if I let them grow long enough you might hear them tapping as I run across linoleum. Two more went this year. Like an estranged family member you always found annoying anyway, I don’t miss them.

Feet

In 2013, I made the stupid mistake of buying a pair of shoes that were not Asics GT-2000’s and for three stubborn weeks was getting blisters on the arches of my feet before I caved and bought another pair of my old reliables. But even without blisters, my feet are rough and disgusting.

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The strangest thing that’s happened to me, foot-wise, is that over the past two months I’ve noticed that they seem to be growing. Curious and almost distraught, I did a little internet self-diagnosis and found that lots of runners feel as though their feet are growing. This person is worried their feet may continue growing... forever.

The internet’s consensus seems to be that as people age, their arches fall and their feet elongate and widen, especially with the added stress of running. But large swaths of the internet believe a lot of things that are dumb and fake, like the vaccine-autism link or that YouTube stars who film themselves “pranking” each other are compelling. I’m choosing to believe it’s all a hallucination.

Skin

I once saw man in a bright yellow tee shirt with two large bright red spots on the front cross a finish line a few minutes after I did. The spots were slowly expanding outward, like the That’s All, Folks! bumper at the end of Looney Tunes. As he bent over to place his hands on his knees and pant, I realized that the expanding bright red spots were his own nipple blood. The man stood up, placed his laced fingers behind his head, and grimaced in unimaginable pain and embarrassment. I think about that man a lot.

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Thanks to the miracle of the sports bra, I have never had to apply preventative Body Glide to my nipples or faced the horror that man faced. I’ve had other things to worry about.

The first time I ran 20 miles in one shot, I discovered that I had blisters where my behind-the-ears headphones had been touching my skin for the last three-plus hours. A week later, the dead blister skin peeled off and got caught in my hair without my realizing it. A coworker gingerly removed it. “Is that a moth?” he asked. “No,” I responded. “It’s my ear skin.”

Three years later, on the same distance, I didn’t realize I’d experienced chafing until I was in the shower post-run and caked on salt was running in rivulets down my torso and into the angry pink lines left by my sports bra. The human memory functionally erases the pain of childbirth and other trauma, but to this day, I remember exactly how it felt to have saltwater hit the raw skin over my ribcage.

Pee

The 2013 Chicago Marathon is, to this day, one of the best experiences of my life. I felt great for most of it. I finished in a group of people that had hung together for the last few miles, and we all hugged and congratulated each other at the end, right as the brain bath of endorphins was kicking in. Unlike my first marathon, where I sat down as soon as I could and found, several minutes later, that I could not stand up without first getting on all fours like a baby learning how to walk, I had no mobility problems except minor soreness.

Then I got back to my hotel. While my boyfriend and mom waited for me to shower and freshen up before heading out for tacos, I used the facilities and discovered, to my horror, that my urine was bright fucking red. I immediately dropped like a rock from my runner’s high. Was I dying? Did I need to go to the emergency room? I turned to my primary care physician Dr. Google.

Turns out, having blood in your urine after a long and potentially traumatic event like a marathon is just something that happens sometimes. To paraphrase an answer given by a Runner’s World advice column author, it’s not great, but it’s not the very worst, and as long as it goes away, you should be fine.

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I frowned at my Kool Aid-looking piss and flushed. If it happened again, I’d call a doctor or something. Maybe running that far is bad for you? a little voice in my brain whispered. I ignored it.


Illustration by Tara Jacoby

Contact the author at erin@jezebel.com.