***Warning!! If you have a squeamish stomach or have an aversion to foot/toe stories, this might not be the post for you***
****Also, there are no pictures in this post because I really don’t want to gross you guys out anymore than reading this might. Use your imagination!****
The dreaded black toenail. If you are a distance runner, most likely you’ve had to deal with the unsightliness of a black toenail and the ensuing toenail-less toe. I had never experienced the black toenail until I trained for my first marathon.
My first black toenail was the 4th toenail (the one next to the pinky toe) on my right foot, which is an uncommon and odd toenail to turn black. But, it turned black and then fell off (it has since grown back and I have had no problems with it). After this happened, I got new shoes and went up a size, to a full size larger than my street shoe. This was supposed to help prevent black toenails, which is caused by the toenail hitting the top of the shoe.
Nearly a year went by, and another full 20 weeks of marathon training, and no subsequent black toenails! Wearing a larger shoe must have been the fix!
And then…I ran the Boston Marathon, April 16, which has a lot of down hill portions (toes hitting the front of the shoe). When I crossed the finish line, one of the first things I felt was a sore toenail (not heat exhaustion since it was 90 degrees out) and sore quads (both from all the downhill portions of the race). It was my BIG toenail on my right foot. (my right foot is over a half size larger than my left foot).
The sore toenail became more and more sore, and then it started to change color from the cuticle up. It started purple, then turned black, and it became more painful. The pressure was becoming unbearable. Two weeks after I ran the marathon, I performed some minor surgery. But, instead of taking a needle and piercing the entire nail, I stuck the needle under the top of the nail (where the blood blister was peeking out). The blister started to drain immediately. It drained for the remainder of the day, and I began to feel some relief. This was nearly two months ago.
During the past two months, the pain subsided, but the nail was dying a slow death. It became a plethora of colors, all obvious colors of death: black, brown, and finally ghostly white. Just in time for summer.
Although the nail was dying a world-record slow death, the nail would not disengage from the cuticle. It was having separation anxiety…big time. And, the owner of said nail and cuticle was not going to rush the process. I had endured enough pain with the toe and nail, that I was going to let it fall off when it was absolutely ready.
That time finally happened.
On Tuesday, July 24, 2012, over three months after I first injured the nail, it finally said goodbye to the home it had become accustomed to. It had been living (well, not really since it was dead, dead, dead), half attached to my big toe for far too long. I had been waiting, patiently, for this day, and it finally arrived.
I had a mix of feelings when it happened:
- Fear-my toe is now exposed and vulnerable without a big, hard toenail to protect it
- Disgust-my toenail-less toe is UGLY
- Relief-I have been waiting for a long time for that thing to fall off
- Sense of loss-I lost a part of me
- Sadness-my toe lost it’s counterpart
- Nostalgia-my running the Boston Marathon is what caused the toenail to fall off
So, here we are less than halfway through the summer, and I am fortunate enough to gallivant around in my flip-flops without a toenail on my big toe. I need a pedicure desperately, but I don’t want to gross out the nail lady with my hideous looking toe. I feel so sexy.
So, how am I going to avoid a black toenail in the future? What is my advice to you?
- Buy running shoes that are at least a full size larger than your street shoe (since my right foot is so much larger than my left, I might even need to go up another half size)
- Keep your toenails cut very short
- Avoid running down-hill (okay, I know this is nearly impossible)
- Don’t run marathons? (not good advice, I know)
Have you suffered a black toenail? Any advice on prevention or care?