What Would Another Mother Runner Do: NYC Marathon on a Broken Toe?


Would you run 26.2 on a toe like this?
Would you run 26.2 on a toe like this?

In this on-going series, a mother runner lays out a true-life tale--whether it's dislocating her hip during a marathon; forgetting to pack a sports bra for a lunchtime run; or debating running a half-marathon while preggers--then we chime in about what we'd do if we were in her running shoes before asking you what you'd do. Here are all the WWAMRD we've previously run, if you want to catch up on the series. Today's entry tells the tale of Rebecca Lee. 

In March, I signed up for the New York City Marathon on a charity entry; I decided to fundraise for Team Hole in the Wall, a cause very dear to my heart. This was my fifth marathon and the only goal I admitted out loud was staying injury free through my training.


That said, secretly I was focusing on a sub-4:00 PR.

My training went fine and throughout the summer and fall I felt that I was staying on track. Two weeks from NYC, I ran the Denver Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon in 1:55, while holding back and feeling like I was in good shape for the marathon. Aside from some foot pain that started the week before the race, I remained injury free and healthy.

The weather forecast for race day was grim. I was in my hotel room the night before watching reports of 40 mile/hour winds and a high of 30 degrees at the start. The biggest decision the morning of was what to wear: Do I stick with capris, as planned, or wear long tights?

Snazzy ice bucket, except when it lands on a naked digit.
Snazzy ice bucket, except when it lands on a naked digit.

The next morning, while debating the wardrobe change and getting ready to ice my foot one last time before heading out, I dropped the hotel room’s heavy metal ice bucket. It landed on my naked foot.

I knew instantly my toe was broken. I could barely walk but I somehow managed to shut down all the thoughts swirling around my brain, the pain, the doubts, the anger (metal ice bucket? really?). I told myself over and over what I have heard Dimity say many, many times: "don’t think, just go."

I hobbled (literally) to the subway and pushed away all thoughts of “what the @&%^ am I going to do now?” The subway ride to Battery Park was a blur: All I remember were foreign accents and tucking my foot as far under the seat as possible; my new biggest fear was it being stepped on. After navigating the crowds through the South Ferry station and up to the boat, I found a seat and only then really allowed myself to process the pain.

Give me your poor, your tired, your runners with broken toes...
Give me your poor, your tired, your runners with broken toes...

Once the ferry departed, I had to really focus to stop the tears from flowing: This was my New York experience!  There goes the Statue of Liberty—and oh my gosh how can this be happening? Had it not been for the kindness of two strangers, I am not sure what I would have done. Instead of crying, they made me laugh and we decided my New York City Marathon was going to be one to remember.  

Help at the med tent before the starting line. Would you run?
Help at the med tent before the starting line. Would you run?

With not too much time left to think about anything, I found my way to the medical tent on Staten Island, where two nurses pulled off my sock and we had a moment of silence. My toe was purple and there was nothing I could do about it.  They taped it, wished me luck, and told me where to catch the bus to the finish.

What would you do?

Dimity says: I'd keep not thinking, and just going. Rebecca was trained, so the rest of her body was ready to go. That said, in the back of my head, I'd think to myself, "If my toe gets too unbearable, I just need to make it to Manhattan, then I can find a subway and head to my hotel." And when it got really tough along the way, I'd pray to the Toe Gods. 

Sarah says: To be honest: I'm not sure I would have even left my hotel room. I might have just curled into a ball and cried my eyes out right then and here, never even making it as far as the subway or ferry, let alone the starting line. Unlike Dimity, I've never broken a toe, so I'm not sure how to gauge how much pain Rebecca was in or how much it would have hampered her stride. Given the toe + the craptastic weather, there's a good chance I would have scrapped the whole shebang.


What Rebecca did: If it was any other race I might have bailed but this was New York. I decided to suck it up and dig deep for 26.2.  And that is what I did!  I had another (happy) cry after I crossed the finish line.

What would you, another mother runner, do?

Proud and twirly, toe notwithstanding.
Proud and twirly, toe notwithstanding.

And if you’ve got a running-related moment you’d like some clarity—and community impact—on, via WWAMRD, feel free to email us at runmother [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks! 

18 responses to “What Would Another Mother Runner Do: NYC Marathon on a Broken Toe?

  1. Matt! I am finally replying…
    I am feeling mostly fine but am “aware” of my toe in a way I never was before. It still provides little jolts when I run, or if I wear heels, which I haven’t done much of since November 2! But that said, no regrets.

  2. I am in awe! I broke my middle toe (slammed it barefoot, full force into a heavy piece of furniture in Sept) and couldn’t even stand on it for 3 days. 11+ weeks later, I am still “aware” of it. Because it was NYC (I ran it in 2013), I think I would have pushed and done it, but any other race and no way. I give you credit. I hope you didn’t damage it any more? I had a 1/2 two weeks after I broke mine and my doctor warned me up and down not to do it (I didn’t).

  3. And that is why you deserved the New York crystal apple. A reminder of the marathon you will never forget. Congrats to you sweetie.

  4. I would have ran it also! I ran my first 1/2 with a broken toe and honestly by the 10th mile the rest of my body hurt as much as my toe! 🙂 Way to tough it out. That is one Marathon you won’t forget, plus you are definitely a BAMR to go 26.2 with a broken toe!

  5. My first thoughts were “how crushing” and “heart (toe) breaking”- but really how frustrating that must have been. Congratulations on persevering and having a great marathon. Well done! I’m not sure what I would have done but I can definitely imagine just going ahead. After months of training you are so mentally and physically ready to do it that the alternative is just not an option. I’m so glad your decision was the right one for you!

  6. That is so BA that she ran that race! Wow! I am not sure what I would have done, I’ve never had a broken toe so I have no idea what it feels like. Congrats on finishing, that is amazing!

  7. I would probably have done exactly what she did! A couple of summers ago I was diagnosed with a stress fracture in my foot, but because my TRI season wasn’t quite over, I did a Splash and Dash and one more Sprint Triathlon before succumbing to the boot. Way to go, BAMR!!

  8. Rebecca, I hope you have a badass shirt, because you deserve one. WOW and amazing and awesome and all of that. Congrats!!

  9. Just. Wow. I’d love to say I’d do the same thing, but a part of me thinks I’d curl up in a ball, cry, ice it, and beg to defer. She is truly one BAMR.

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