Now his foot is on the mend, and Tuntivate posted a photo on Instagram of the skin growing back over his raw toes and sole (scroll over on the Instagram post at your own risk).
“If anyone has seen the rest of my toe pls let me know,” he wrote.
We talked to the Ivy League champion on the phone to hear how he fought his way to the finish line. Questions and answers have been edited for length and clarity.
So take me through the race. How did your shoe come off?
It was the 3,000 meters. The first lap went fine. I think about 300 meters in, the back of my shoe got clipped, and it came halfway off. I kind of jogged around uncomfortably for another 100 or 200 meters to try to pull it on without stopping. At around 400 or 500 meters, I just let it come off, and I tried to calm down, relax and not think about it as long as I could. My coach came up with a race plan for me and my teammate to sit back until about 1,800 meters and then try to advance. Obviously when my shoe came off, I thought, ‘Well, we can try to stick to that, but it’s going to be hard.’ My teammate came up on my shoulder and gave me some space. It just gave me the opportunity to calm down a little bit. The race plan went kind of how we anticipated aside from that mishap in the beginning.
Do runners plan for this scenario? Like, has some coach in your running career ever gone over what to do if your shoe comes off?
It’s not something that ever comes up, but the general consensus from a coach would be just stay relaxed, don’t get too flustered, because if that happens, you won’t be able to keep up anyway. There was never really any planning for this on my part.
Did you ever think about stopping, putting your shoe on and then trying to run to catch up?
In hindsight, that might have been the correct thing to do, but in the moment, I thought if I stopped the moment might get away from me. I had tied my shoes so tight that it might have taken me a while to get my shoe back on.
Okay, so you’ve lost your shoe. You’re still running. How are you feeling?
Immediately, I was like, okay it doesn’t feel too bad. I knew my foot would be a little torn up, but I thought I could make it a little more than halfway without it bothering me. I’ve never actually done any significant running barefoot, aside from playing soccer or some drills in high school, but I’ve never had experience trying to run that distance or that fast without shoes on.
I probably noticed it about 2,000 meters in. I felt the skin start to peel away, and then it clumped up underneath my foot, and it felt like running on a pebble. The final lap was probably the hardest. It was a tough sprint to the finish, and the curves on the indoor track are so tight, I felt my foot slipping. I really zoned out pretty hard during that middle section between my shoe coming off and when it started to get painful.
My last hundred meters was really a blur. I don’t remember much aside from a little bit of pain in my foot, and I saw my coach with 50 meters to go waving me on. I was happy to be done with it in the end.
Happy to be done? You won the race!
Once I had a lap to go, I knew I had enough in the tank and enough mental fortitude to finish it. I was confident if I sprinted that last lap, I knew I could get through the pain. I knew it wouldn’t get excruciatingly worse at any point. So at 200 meters to go, I came up on the shoulder of my teammate who was leading at that point and just did the bare minimum to stay ahead.
What happened next?
Immediately after the race, I was standing on the track, and our athletic trainer came over and lifted me up like I was a little child and carried me over to the training table and started cleaning me up.
It definitely hurt more when the adrenaline wore off and I was trying to walk around on the foot. And I was really bummed because I thought the 5,000 meters the next day was out of the question. The trainer had me on crutches for the rest of the night.
What made you think you could race again the next morning?
The following morning I came down to the track to get it cleaned again, and like an hour and a half before the race, I went back to see the trainer, got it redressed and rebandaged so I could maybe give it a shot to race on the 5K.
The trainer gave me a lot of freedom in my own choice. As long as I was comfortable running, he was pretty sure it couldn’t get worse. About a mile into my warm up, I got used it to it. I sat down with my coach just before the race, and he set up a plan with my teammate to help me get through the beginning section to get me comfortable in the race.
How did you make your move to the front of the pack this time?
With about 1K to go, I was getting more confident as the race went on. My foot wasn’t bothering me that much. I felt okay. I was really happy to finish the race and score another 10 points for the team. I waited until the last possible second with like 200 meters to take the lead.
What were your teammates’ reactions to your wins?
They were very supportive. Hopefully it was motivating. I think they just built off the energy of all the races that were happening.
How is recovery going? Are you back to running yet?
I’ve taken the past few days off. I think I could probably be running, but I want to make sure I can do it without complication. I think it’s healing pretty fast. A little uncomfortable to walk still, but I’m pretty confident that it’s not going to linger or be an ongoing problem for me.
You’re sure you’re okay? It looks pretty grisly.
It used to hurt worse but probably wasn’t as gruesome-looking just because Saturday and Sunday, I didn’t get a good look at it, but there was still a layer of dead skin hanging on and the wound was a little more bloody. In terms of skin coming back, the bottom of my foot is doing well. The trainer said the toes are still a little raw, but they don’t bother me as much walking around, so that’s not as pressing of an issue.
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