"It's pretty bad...are you sure?"
I carefully pealed off the bandage and showed Holly my toe, exposing the place where my second largest toenail should have been.
"Wow, that... that just looks terrible" she said.
Holly was right. The toe, missing its nail, looked downright horrible--like an alien amongst four other normal brothers.
The toenail was destroyed on a recent trail race. The downhills had propelled my second longest toe into the front of my shoe. Stomp after stomp, the repeated blows crushed the nail into oblivion.
When I got home I discovered the damage and finished removing the nail. Yikes!
Luckily, and surprisingly, I had no pain. I just cleaned up my toe, smeared on some antibiotic cream, and covered the injured little piggie with a band-aid (and my toes were once so pretty. Oh well, C'est la vie).
I mentioning this to a few veteran runners and it turns out that this isn't that uncommon, especially if you have any toes (like mine) that are longer than your big one.
Below are a few tips I learned from caring for my missing toenails, so hopefully you won't have to encounter this gross side-effect of running too often.
While I'm at it, I might as well cover other gross stuff that comes up for runners.
So... if you're not easily grossed out, and haven't already bolted for another blog, read on...
Toe / Toenail Protection
What causes you to lose a toenail from running? It depends on a lot of things including how much you run, what type of running you do (flat/hills/trails) and your foot anatomy. You might be one of the lucky ones and never lose a toenail due to running. But for many, it's kinda just part of life, particularly if you're running longer distances and doing lots of steep trail work.
A few things can help mitigate this.
- First, make sure the mid-part of your shoes laces are tight enough to keep your foot seated in rear of the shoe. This reduces the likelihood that your toes crash into the front of your sneaker.
- Make sure you have the right shoe size. Some runners will run in a shoe that is a half or full size larger just to ensure their toes don't impact the front of the sneaker.
- Lastly, trim and care for your nails before you head to the track or trail. By keeping things trimmed, you'll be less likely to damage them on your next steep descent.
Sometimes on longer runs its the little things that get you. Your quads don't give out on you. Rather, you're defeated by the collar on your shirt rubbing your neck. Over 10...20...or 30 miles the innocent looking shirt you put on transforms into an unrelenting menace.
By making sure your clothing doesn't move excessively and rub your neck, back or armpits, you can avoid a lot of discomfort. Don't test a new shirt fabric or shirt cut on your longer runs. Go instead with an old faithful.
Also helpful are skin anti-chafe balms like Body Glide. These types of balms, coupled with technical running shorts (the type with the underwear built in) can also help with fend off chafing on the inner thigh (luckily, no photos for this one).
Chest Area (for men and women)
Yes, I'm talking about nipples. The simple motion of a technical shirt (with sleeves) shifting back and forth across a man's nipples can draw blood and cripple even the strongest runner. I've seen runners finish marathons with streams of red covering the fronts of their technical shirts.
Not a fun sight to see and probably an even worse feeling to experience. Luckily, this can be avoided. I run almost exclusively in sleeveless shirts or singlets. This is because without sleeves, the shirt is less mobile on your chest. When you swing your arms, your shirt stays put.
Male runners who prefer to stay with sleeves can also cover their nipples with duct or medical tape, or for shorter runs (say, under 10 miles) can use vaseline to protect themselves.
What should women do?
Mo, a female runner recently told me that ladies should invest in a quality sports bra to help protect themselves. "Never go out without it. A quality bra offers great protection and support."
Sounds like great advice.