Running Toenail Troubles

For several years I’ve read about the toenail troubles commonly experienced by endurance runners, but didn’t share those woes with my toes. I figured this was because I buy my running shoes a full size larger than my street shoes. My toes like space. They don’t like brushing up against the end of the shoe.

Then I ran my third marathon in May. Maybe I didn’t clip my toenails close enough. Maybe I didn’t tie my shoelaces tight enough, to keep my foot from sliding forward. Maybe it was only a matter of miles before a toenail protested the constant pounding on pavement.

By the end of the marathon my right big toenail was throbbing and discolored. Over the next week 3/4 of the nail turned purple, then black.

For a while I wore a bandage on the toe, hoping the nail would reattach. It sorta did, and though the nail remained blackened, the color faded to a dull bruise. Rather than paint over it, for the first half of summer I left it alone, an ugly testament to my achievement.

Throughout the summer I expected the toenail would fall off. It didn’t. Instead it clutched at my toe like a cliff jumper who grabs on at the last minute, then fights to keep his grip.

This was a losing battle. A new toenail grew underneath the old one, pushing at it the way a permanent tooth displaces a baby tooth. But my original nail was healthy on one side. It clung tenaciously when the rest of the nail let go. When the nail started catching on things, like my socks, I bandaged it again and asked my Daily Mile friends for advice. They recommended clipping it before it tore.

With most of the toenail clipped, my toe felt naked, exposed and vulnerable but this beat the brief searing pain when it flapped and grabbed at the bed sheets.

Then my youngest child became a klutz and kept accidentally stomping on it, sometimes with soccer cleats. That’s the drawback to toenail troubles in warm weather – no protective shoe barrier. I also became a klutz and kept stubbing it against things. The new nail, which was thin and flimsy, couldn’t grow fast enough.

Five months after my marathon the last nub of the old nail finally loosened enough for me to clip it away. Today, 6 months post-marathon, the new nail is almost complete, though it’s still a puny version. Who knew they take so long to grow? About every ultra runner out there, I suspect. On top of running amazing miles, they lose toenails so regularly some of them, like Dr. Lisa Bliss, have their toenails permanently removed.

I’m not an ultra runner and I’ve only had one troublesome toenail. Compared to some of the other challenges I’ve faced as a runner, like injury, this was an interesting nuisance. it wasn’t enough to make me reduce my mileage or even notice it for more than a moment or two at a time.

And for some reason my blackened, ship-jumping toenail felt like one more running milestone to check off the list. Like a secret handshake or code-word, it’s another way I belong to this club of athletes who rave about running. A  troublesome toenail is, after all, such a small sacrifice for this sport. Toenails are expendable. The run endures.

Have you lost a toenail? How long did it take for you to grow a new one?

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