Two years ago, during my fall marathon training I was having issues with blackened toes. An affliction that most marathon runners are familiar with (whether we like it or not).
At one point, both of my big toes and a several others were looking pretty gnarly and in various stages of the loss and regeneration process, so I decided I might need go to get some shoes fitted and potentially get sized up for a pair of fitted insoles (since I've also suffered from Plantar fasciitis in the past).
I went to a small local shop famous famous for specializing in custom fit shoes. I arrived early on a weekend morning and went through the complete process. We discussed my running history and any issues or injuries I've had over the years. He measured both my feet by length and width, inspected my arch and the wear on my current pair of shoes.
We discussed the various options and I decided to take the plunge and let him fit me for a set of custom insoles and a new set of shoes that he liked for me.
After about an hour of sitting up on a platform raised halfway to the ceiling so he could work and breathing in the air made acrid by the smell of cork being heated to the point of flexibility, I was ready to try on my new shoes with the custom insoles.
He gave me a pair of shoes that were a half size larger than any shoe I've ever purchased before. Oddly this really bothered me.
I never wanted to wear a size 12 shoe. I thought, that sounds so much bigger and down-right embarrassing.
I don't know why I had such denial but it was such a strong feeling it took awhile for me to get over it.
I left the little store with my new set of custom footwear excited with the possibility that this might make me the runner I had always dreamed of being.
Not that I had any major issues with pain or injuries, but could the tweaks to my stride made by these magical inserts make me faster? Could I qualify for Boston?
Well, they didn't... Not even close! In fact it felt like I was running worse than ever.
After several runs of varying distances, trying to get comfortable in the new kicks, I determined that I wasn't a fan of the shoes themselves and the inserts felt hard and made my feet feel tired and achy.
I went back to my old ways and purchased another pair of road shoes from my favorite manufacturer, but this time a half size larger (Size 12).
I went on to run a descent marathon that fall and my toes have recovered (more or less) completely.
I'm reminded of those days because this morning I put on a pair of my old running shoes that I've retired from the roads to casual wear. These shoes are size 11.5 and they are uncomfortably tight.
I couldn't imagine wearing these for a run today. There's no wonder in my mind why I had black toe nails. But back then I would have said "But... I always wear an 11.5".
It's fascinating what you can become accustomed to and how much of a difference a half size can make.