Yesterday, I received this question from a reader, and fellow Junior Varsity Ninja Death Squad member:
“Could you do (or have you done) a piece on foot/toenail care? My feet are jacked up after this past week and I’m not sure how normal it is/how to recover/how to wear sandals in public ever again and things like that. There must be some considerations with mud/water/questionable gunk that we run through.”- John P.
Let me address this question in pieces.
First and foremost…a Death Racer just asked me if it’s a fashion faux pas to wear sandals in public with gross runner feet. Picture me with a blank stare on my face. No, no, not blank…condescending. Yes, that’s the look. Shaking my finger at you in the way only a mother could. I’m disappointed in you John P. Not really, but I will say this: if anyone, ANYONE, gives you a hard time for those gnarly toes, you tell them exactly how you earned them, then demand they drop and give you 30 burpees, and then walk away with your head held high. Gross runner feet are nothing to be ashamed of, they are badges of honor. Gross ones.
But if they really bother you, you could always paint them with some nail polish.
(oh, and I’ve been informed some people are grossed out by pictures of feet, even more so gross feet, so consider this your warning…below you will encounter pictures of hard earned, gross, runner feet.)
Make sure your shoes fit. When you run, especially longer distances or rough terrain, your feet begin to swell. Less room in the shoe means your toe begins to hit the end (and possibly top) of your shoe, putting excessive pressure on the toe and pooling blood under the toenail. Alternatively, a shoe that is too big will result in the foot sliding around in the shoe, and you guessed it, hit the end of the shoe, pooling blood under your toenails (especially while running downhill). Having a properly fitting shoe that is large enough to accommodate the swelling, but not so large that you are sliding around, will help prevent gross toes, and blisters.
Keep your toenails short to help prevent excessive pressure on the toe from the impact of running. Longer toenails are more likely to become injured.
Say NO to cotton socks. Socks designed for runners are not just another gimmick to take your money, they are necessary. Synthetic (or even wool) socks designed for running will wick away moisture, which will help prevent painful blisters and be less likely to harbor bacteria, gross funguses and things like that. Of course, when it comes to mud runs, you are pretty much out of luck in the “staying dry” department, but none the less, running specific socks are less likely to cause chafing, slipping, or become ill fitting when wet.
Change out of wet shoes ASAP. Again, somewhat impossible when you are doing an obstacle course race, even more laughable when you are doing something like the Death Race (which would explain the numerous cases of trench foot, but I digress). As soon as possible, change out of your wet socks and shoes, and put on dry ones, or better yet, air those feet out.
Keep your gear dry when not in use to prevent harboring bacteria and fungus like athletes foot, etc.
Sometimes, even all of the preventative measures in the world will not spare you from scary runner’s feet. So here are a few things you can do:
Bruised or black toenails: Do nothing. The damaged part of the nail is gradually pushed off, and a new nail will replace it. Don’t force the off, it will eventually fall off on it’s own. When? Well according to Runner’s World:
A bruised nail usually heals on its own within six months. If it’s really painful, see a podiatrist who can drain fluid from under the nail. Also, if it’s a chronic problem, a sports podiatrist could help you determine if toe-lifting and toegripping are to blame, in which case an orthotic may be a fix.
Really super gnarly dirty toenails: All of my fellow mud runner’s know what I’m talking about, that mud gets in every possible crevice and refuses to leave. My suggestion is to soak them in a warm, soapy foot bath, and scrub them really well with a nail brush. You don’t want to leave anything behind that could possibly cause some sort of mystery mud rash, like the one in Illinois (I know, that had nothing to do with toes. But you get what I’m saying. Who knows what we roll around in out there.)
Blisters: To pop or not pop, this is a much, much debated topic among athletes, podiatrists, dermatologists, you name it. So my professional suggestion is, when in doubt: ask your doctor. Popping a blister does indeed often relieve the pain of the blister, however, it opens the skin up to possible infection…and even more pain. Case in point: I popped a gnarly, quarter sized blister after the 2011 Spartan Super and couldn’t walk for days after that. You don’t want to do that.
Fungus: Yellow toenails? Gross things growing off of your toes? Itchy feet? Not quite sure what’s going on down there? It might be a fungus. Yes, it’s gross, but yes, it sometimes happens. The soles of your feet have a tremendous number of sweat glands, and are among the heaviest producers of sweat in the body. Further, you’ve got a lot of surface area, as well as non ventilated areas between the toes. Fungus and bacteria LOVE that. There are numerous anti-fungal creams available over the counter that will soothe the discomfort and help get rid of the fungus, but when in doubt, check with your doctor.
Calluses: Leave them alone…maybe. Calluses are areas of thickened skin that are formed from repetitive pressure on one specific spot. Therefore, calluses help to prevent blisters. In this case, you want those calluses. However, if your calluses become a source of discomfort or interfere with your running, it may be time to talk to a doctor. But don’t get rid of the calluses just because they are ugly…you’ll regret it after your next run.
At the end of the day, do not worry about what other people think of your gross feet. As long as they are not physically hurting you or impeding your running, then I say, flaunt them with pride. OK, maybe you shouldn’t show your black toes to everyone you meet, or give someone a necklace made with the toenail you lost from an ultra (true story, I know this guy), but don’t worry about what a friend or passerby may think or say as they glance down at your toes.
And if they do say something…challenge them to a race. A real long one.
Tell us about your toes! Are you a chronic toe nail loss sufferer? Blisters no matter what? Have any home remedies or tips you’d like to share?