Marathon recovery: Let's talk about toenails.

At the risk of stepping on someone’s (um) toes, I’m gonna jump in here and just sock it to ya. Black and broken toenails are part and parcel of marathon running. They sort of go with the territory. In fact, some endurance runners claim black toenails as something of a badge of honor, proving they made the mileage.

A marathon runner can make every effort to get off on the right foot and still have a blackened toenail or two by the finish line. And for those of us who have two left feet (so to speak), it’s practically a given.

What causes post-marathon black toenails?

When long-distance runners pound the pavement for many miles, aiming to be fleet of foot, our feet must absorb lots of repetitive pressure and compression. Even if we try to step lightly, we’re hammering our sneakers all the way. Our toes tend to creep forward in our shoes (no matter how well the fit or how strategically they are tied), causing our toenails to slam and rub and bend and maybe even break. 

As miles increase, a toe may become bruised and swollen and bleed under the nail. Then the toenail becomes discolored. And it hurts!  The discoloring toenail usually looks worse each day (for several days), while the bleeding continues underneath it. The toenail may pull away from the nail bed, especially if there's any swelling. 

Often, the nail will fall off, leaving the toe bare until a new nail grows in.

Black toenails can also be caused by ongoing medical conditions (such as anemia, certain kinds of cancer, diabetes, or heart disease) or by foot injury. But those that appear immediately after a long race or run can usually be blamed on the miles.

I just dipped my toes into the water for the first time, completing my first full marathon. And I have a couple of technicolor toenails to prove it. I’m not a speedy runner, but I think could go toe-to-toe with anyone in the blackened toenail department.

Still, I’m glad to say I am not exactly dead on my feet. And it looks like I’m gonna be able to hang onto those darkened toenails after all.

What can be done for post-marathon black toenails?

Mostly, we pretty much have to cool our heels for a while and simply let those babies heal. Putting our feet up for a bit doesn’t hurt, either.

Easier said than done.

Going barefoot or wearing open-toed shoes can give sore and blackened toenails a break. So, although cold weather is now upon up, with nightly frosts, I’ll be the one darting in and out of my car in flipflops. Except when I’m actually running.

Personal copyrighted photos.

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