Ask the Coach: Numb toes while running

Q. To make a long story short, I've been running on and off all my life. Recently, my toes started going numb. I replaced my shoes because I learned that after giving birth to my last child, my feet were bigger and flatter. However, I still have a problem with my toes hurting, curling up and getting stiff. I think it's a tension thing. It also seems to happen only when I'm on the treadmill and after about four miles. What are your thoughts?

A: When you mention foot pain and tension, the first thing that comes to my mind is snow skiing when conditions are icy. When I ski in icy conditions, I find that my whole body gets tense -- most of all my feet. It seems I'm trying to hold onto the slope by gripping the bottom of my ski boots with my toes. Once I feel my toes and feet beginning to ache, I can usually recognize what's going on.

To remedy the situation, I focus on good form and I do a relaxation-check. I go from head to toe and very consciously remove the tension from my forehead, face, neck, shoulders, upper back, etc. If you believe your problem is tension related, you might try the conscious relaxation technique.

I'm not sure how long it's been since you had your child, but I'm assuming you gave yourself ample time to rebuild fitness and the core muscle strength to run at your current training volume and intensity. If not, you may need to back off on running volume or speed.

You don't mention what's going on with the treadmill speed and incline during these workouts. If the treadmill speed, and your feet, seem fine at the start of the workout, but then it gets pretty challenging (either because you increase the speed or the speed you began with is not sustainable after four miles) you might try slowing the treadmill down. You can use a combination of treadmill speed and heart rate to see if you're overextending yourself for any given treadmill speed.

If you don't use a heart rate monitor in training, notice the level of your breathing as the workout progresses. If you find your heart rate is high or breathing is very heavy and labored about the time your feet start to cramp, I suggest slowing the treadmill down.

Some people have more foot problems when running uphill and others have problems when the course is flat. Try to notice if the problem is influenced by keeping the treadmill incline the same or varying it some.

If these suggestions don't help, consider visiting a podiatrist that sees active athletes, including runners. After having your baby, your foot anatomy may require a different shoe than you're currently using, or perhaps orthotics.

Do you have a specific training or sport related question? Have world-renowned coach Gale Bernhardt answer it! Send your questions to askthecoach@active.com.

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Gale Bernhardt was the 2003 USA Triathlon Pan American Games and 2004 USA Triathlon Olympic Coach for both the men's and women's teams. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games.

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