Running Dirty. Eating Clean. Loving Life.

Toenails are Overrated

If there was ever an argument against barefoot running, it would have to be “Have you ever looked at a runner’s feet?!?!?!”  They’re disgusting.  Blisters, calluses, blisters under calluses, and yes, a missing toenail or two.  Nastier still, runners brag about losing toenails.  It’s like a badge of honor.  I didn’t feel like a real runner until I lost my first toenail after the Monster Dash Half Marathon last fall.  How all my toenails survived 15+ years of running, a marathon, and a handful of halves at the point, I have no idea.  So when I walked away from the KC Marathon this weekend without the slightest hint of black creeping up under one of my toenails, I wasn’t sure to be ecstatic or sad that yet another marathon passed without being able to brag about my ugly feet.  So why do runners lose their toenails?  And why hasn’t Bill Nye the Science Guy tackled this question?  Or CSI?

Yeah right….

Here’s the fun part about losing toenails:  They rarely ever just fall right off.  No, instead, you spend several weeks or even months with this ugly black nail that is painful and will get caught on just about everything as it starts to fall off.  If you’re going as a runner this Halloween, don’t forget the black nail polish. Time to get all scientific and throw out some big medical jargon type words.  I love this stuff. Hell, it’s what I do for a living.  I’ve been lucky enough to even drain a few of the really nasty ones.  That’s right, they trust me with a scalpel.  So that lovely purplish black color that pops up within a few days of a race or really long training run is actually a bruise under the nail called a subungual hematoma.  Impressive, huh?  As the blood pools under between the nail bed and the nail itself, the pressure causes the toe to become tender.

As a new toenail starts to grow in to replace the damaged one, the new toenail pushes the old one out, eventually causing the nail to fall off completely.  The best way to treat this is to just leave the nail alone.  Trim it to prevent it from getting snagged on socks, furniture, carpet, kids toys (true story), whatever… The new nail will keep pushing the old one out of the nail bed, so until that new nail is ready to take over, there’s no rush in getting the old one off unless it’s causing other problems.  This process may take a few months.  Monster Dash was at the end of October.  My toenail fell off while I was getting ready for a date where I was pretty sure he’d be seeing me sockless for the first time in February.  Luckily, the new nail was fully grown out by flip-flop season.

So why do so many runners lose their toenails?  The biggest culprit is poor fitting shoes.  When running for long periods of time, if that toe is rubbing up against the front of your shoe, bruising can occur.  Running downhill (gravity sucks) and running in warmer weather (warm temps make the feet swell) can increase the odds of injuring a toenail or two.  Unfortunately, Morton’s toe also puts you at higher risk for toenail loss.  Random interesting facts:  In some cultures, if you’re a woman, good luck finding a husband.  It’s supposedly a sign of bossiness and domineering personality, so crazy potential mother in-laws may be checking out your feet to make sure their little baby doesn’t end up with a woman who likes to be the one wearing the pants.  The biggest 2nd toe of all belongs to the Statue of liberty.  Good thing she wears sandals, because I would not want to find that toenail laying on the floor.

Morton’s toe or no, you can prevent an embarrassing toe mishap on date.  Buy running shoes that provide enough room in the toe box and can accommodate any swelling that may happen mid-run.  Typically, you want to wear a running shoe that is at least 1/2 a size larger than your regular shoe size.  Trimming your toenails regularly and keeping your feet as dry as possible while running can also lessen the chances of having to ask if they give missing toenail discounts the next time you and your girlfriends go to the spa for a pedi. Better yet, opt for the hot stone massage and tell your masseuse that your feet get cold easily when they ask why you’re still in your socks.


2 responses

  1. I also haven’t lost a toenail to running…yet.

    2012/10/25 at 5:18 am

  2. It took 30 years of running before I lost a nail. Then I lost 6 in a year – 100 mile trail runs will do that! [“subungual” is new to me. good one!]

    2012/10/25 at 10:09 am

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