When Running Wrecks Your Toenails

Runner's feet

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about runner’s feet and the state of my poor toes following the Geneva Marathon. You’re probably thinking, “Gross. Another post about feet? Enough!” But my toes have been on my mind lately. It is sandal season after all, and every time I look at them, I go “Ugggh.”

One toenail has totally fallen off and another is on the verge. This is far from ideal, and I’m self-conscious about it. But I know that blisters, callouses, black toenails and dead toenails are all a pretty common running injury.

In my last post, I promised that I wouldn’t share any disgusting pics of my feet  (I still won’t!) but I also promised I would tell you how to prevent these issues. So, to help you avoid having feet like mine, here are a few tips I should have followed.


Start with your shoes. One of the main culprits of black toenails is running in shoes that are too small. Your running shoes will likely be larger than your everyday shoes. For years, I ran in a 6.5 (UK 4). Only recently did I go up to a 7 (UK 4.5). And now, I’m up to a 7.5 (UK 5)! The general rule is that you should have about a thumb’s width of distance between the tip of your big toe and the front of your shoes.

Keep your toenails cut short, especially while training for a race. The longer the nail, the more it will rub against the front of your shoe while running, causing blisters, black or dead toenails.

Save the pedicure for after race day. Salons like to file off all your callouses, but your feet have built those up for a reason! You need them for running. Those are the places where your feet naturally rub against your socks and shoes. If you file them off, you risk getting blisters. Also, try to maintain a square shaped toenail.

Runner's feet


Leave them alone! I knew something was wrong with my feet after the Geneva Marathon. My middle toe felt like it might blow up, and my second toe on the other foot was so tender I couldn’t even let the bed sheet touch it at night. The #1 rule is not to agitate them. It’s natural to want to fuss and poke at them, but do NOT pull at a toenail that is coming off. Just leave it alone and let it do its thing naturally. Use an antibiotic ointment daily.

Wear sandals. While unsightly, it’s good to wear sandals if you can. Gotta let the little piggies breathe! It also helps avoid infection.

For black toenails, or a toenail that’s come off, there isn’t really much you can do, other than wait for the new nail to grow back! This can take 4-6 months or longer! This part sucks. However, to cover up the damage, you can:

  • Use a dark shade of nail polish to effectively cover up a black toenail,
  • Paint the skin where there was once a toenail,
  • Get a salon to apply a fake toenail if there is a nub of a new nail growing
  • Wait and wear your missing toenails as a badge of honour

If you’re in a lot of pain or things look really funky, see a doctor ASAP.

No more blog posts about toenails. Promise!

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