A month ago I provided foot care at the Western States 100. Then two weeks ago I worked the Tahoe Rim Trail 55KM, 50M, and 100M. And finally this week I worked Badwater in Death Valley. As much as I hate to say it, I saw a negative common denominator as I worked on or saw runner’s feet.
The common negative was runners’ toenails.
I wish I didn’t have to say the toenails were bad, but a lot of them were. While not every runner suffers with their bad toenails, many do. Enough to warrant this blog post.
The picture here is an example of nails that could be better – much better. I won’t identify the runner or the race because I saw these same toes at each of the three events.
Toenails that are thick can be smoothed with a nail file. In severe cases, a Dremel tool can be used to reduce the nails quicker, especially when the nails are really thick and tough.
Your nails don’t have to be thick. They don’t have to be rough. They don’t have to have an upward curl or edge. They don’t have to be wavy. They don’t have to stick over the end of your toes. In short, candidly, they don’t have to look like your toes are 90 years old and you live in a nursing home. If you think you might have toenail fungus, check with your doctor – and take care of it.
An inexpensive toenail clippers will set you back about $5. If you have tough nails, you may want to buy a stronger set of clippers that look something like wire cutters. Then get a file for another $1 or $2.
Toenails that are too long, too thick, have rough edges or corners, will catch on your socks, which will push the nail back into the nail bed and cause trauma, fluid or blood under the nail, or toe blisters. During a race, these nails become painful to touch – meaning you can’t trim or file them without pain.
So we see you at an aid station, and you are hoping we can fix your feet. If there is fluid or blood under the nail, we can drain them. We can run a strip of tape over the tip of the nail to provide a bit of protection to the nail. But we cannot fix the discomfort and pain.
I can patch most anything on your feet, but I cannot fix a thick toenail that sticks up way above normal. I cannot smooth the rough edges if you cannot tolerate the filing. I cannot trim the nails if you cannot tolerate the pressure.
Caring for one’s toenails isn’t that hard. Once a week, use a clippers and nail file to trim them. Clip them fairly short and then run the file over and down the tip of the nail, removing any rough edges. The goal is to have nails that you can’t feel when you run your finger over the front edge of your toes.
If you have lost a toenail, as the new one comes in, file the top of the nail thin. Wrap a Band-Aid around the toe to help train the nail to curve naturally to the shape of your toe.
Toenails are not complicated. But just as you care for other parts of your body, you need to care them them too.