Oh, the woes of runners’ toes…
Every hobby has it’s milestones and its badges of honour. Scouts and Guides have their patches and awesome knot tying skills. Boxers have the memory (hopefully) of their first black eye and scars from split lips.
Runners? Well, we have our feet.
Our feet are our secret trophy cabinet. While others see calluses from old blisters, we remember that extra mile added onto Sunday’s long run. Where some may spot bruises on the ends of our longest toes, we remember smashing those 800m reps last week. And so when I looked at my black toenail last night and noticed that another is just about ready to fall off, I didn’t think it was gross. I just thought fondly of that half marathon that battered my feet to within an inch of their lives…
There is tonnes of advice online about how to avoid the usual runners’ foot complaints (the solution is usually just to get your trainers fitted at a specialist shop, and half a size bigger than you usual shoes), but all the sparkly trainers, double layered socklets and cocoa butter in the world isn’t going to stop your feet from turning into trotters when you’re in the middle of training. And when you consider how hard your feet are working, why would you expect them to look good?! The most important thing is to keep them free of infection and, as much as possible, free from pain.
I swear by soaking blistered feet in warm salt water. The salt water hardens up the skin, which over time can help prevent recurrent blisters. This was particularly helpful for me during the training for my first half marathon last year, when the increased mileage led to repeated blisters in the arches of my feet, or at least where the arches would be if my feet weren’t so damn flat… I now have two great big callus ridges along the soles of my feet, and they do sometimes still rub when I pass the 9 mile mark, but I’ve not had a blister there since those salt water soaks.
Blisters are an inevitable part of running, but there is something quite grand about a blackened toenail. It carries a certain kudos, it is proof of how hard you ran, how far, how fast… It doesn’t matter how good a runner you are, or how experienced – if your toes turn black you have pushed yourself, and those gross looking digits are your evidence.
I had my first toenail crisis after my first 10K race in 2010. My little toenails didn’t turn black – they just looked kind of purpley-bruised and sore – but when both little toenails came loose and fell off a fortnight later I took to Facebook to boast of my acheivement. But since then, other than blisters, my feet have shown little ill-effect from my running exploits. There was no visible evidence of my long runs, except for a subtle limping on Monday mornings. That all changed as I crossed the finish line in Berlin earlier this month though and felt a very unpleasnat rubbing against my toes.
“I’ve done it,” I thought. “I have finally run so hard I have worn away my little toes.”
Not quite. But I did have two smashing black toes from enormous blood blisters under the nail bed. I had to burst one (hygienically and carefully, obviously) because I was frightened that it may burst in my shoes and socks (much less hygienic). And so now I am left with a toenail half hanging onto my right foot and two bruised toes on my left.
I’m so proud.