It’s undeniable: Men really don’t care what their feet look like as long as all the working parts are functioning effectively. But women runners do care. Ugly, black toenails and other common foot afflictions that are so unsightly, bother women much more than guys.
Guy or gal, the feet take a beating when you run. Especially in the summer because your feet swell more in the heat. But in order to keep your feet and toes in working order and not so ugly that the world takes notice, you need to pay special attention to them.
Toenails are the worst. Over time, the toenails get pounded and thicken with running and can turn yellow or even black. Even worse, they can become infected and either fall off or have to be removed. Not a pretty picture. But it is a picture that is painted after marathons and long runs because of the abuse the toenails absorb.
Surprisingly, toenails don’t really serve any real function and you can run or walk normally without them. You probably don’t want to do that, but if you lose one or two after a marathon or long run, it’s not a big deal. They grow back in a few months and are just as good as new.
The most important way to protect your toenails is to keep the nails as short as possible. Cut round, not square. But you don’t want to cut them too closely. If you do, you’ll injure the nails and your toes will hurt when running. If you allow your toenails to grow too long, it can result in a black toenail or the nail can get infected. If either happens, you’ll probably lose the nail. You’ll know the toenail is infected if the toe swells, gets red and throbs.
If you have diagnosed that the toe is infected, you need to get rid of the blister fluid that builds up under the nail as soon as possible. This is what causes the throbbing. Soak your foot in warm water to soften the nail. Then, take a disinfected needle and slip it under the nail into the infected area. Poke it into the blister. Once done, blood and pus will leak out from under the nail. Afterward, soak it in an antiseptic. You might have to repeat this a couple of times, but once the infection is gone the nail will loosen and you can cut away some of the dead skin underneath it.
Eventually, the nail will become so loose it will fall off on its own. Or you can accelerate the process by cutting some more of the skin holding it on. The toe will look weird without a nail, but after just a few days skin forms over it to protect the nail bed area. The sooner you get rid of the old nail, the quicker the new nail can grow in.
Black toenails are rarely a problem. They most often occur after upping your mileage, long runs or after a long race. Black toenails are often the result of sustained pressure from underneath the toe. Step after step, there is impact and/or friction between the toenail and the skin tissue surrounding it. When that tissue gets damaged after thousands of steps, fluid accumulates. The blackness results from blood capillaries that are broken by the pounding.
There’s not much you can do about it and a black toenail (s) can last for months and months. They don’t always fall off either. If there’s no discomfort, just try to ignore the black toenails. If it really bothers you, merely apply nail polish. Even some guys do this. That should solve the trick. If it has fallen off, wear socks to prevent any further infection.
You can run during this period as the toenail grows back. After the first couple of days, any tenderness should disappear. Again, it will take a few months for the nail to grow back. The toenail on the big toe takes longer than the smaller ones to grow back.
To protect your toenails, make sure you cut them on a weekly basis. Equally important, is to make certain you are wearing shoes that are wide enough in the toebox area. And not just your running shoes. Many women runners wear properly fitted running shoes, but their dress shoes are too narrow and cause toenail damage. Needless to say, high heels are the worst.
It doesn’t matter—male or female—no runner wants to get athlete’s foot. The itchiness between the toes is a major irritant, but is generally not a serious problem.
Athlete’s foot is a fungus that usually occurs between the toes. Cracks can open between the toes, often accompanied by white scale. Yuck. Athlete’s foot develops in moist conditions and sweaty, dirty socks can lead to it. Athlete’s foot is also easily picked up by walking barefoot in showers, pool areas and locker rooms.
Preventing it means wearing clean, dry socks and using an anti-fungal powder. Also change the insoles of your shoes if they have become smelly and wet. Allow your shoes to dry out thoroughly in the sun between each run.
Treating athlete’s foot is easy with plenty of over-the-counter remedies to choose from. If it’s a chronic condition, you’ll need a prescription from your doctor for a stronger treatment.
Calluses and rough skin
Most women don’t like ugly calluses, but sadly, they are also an inevitable part of running. Running toughens the skin and to protect it, calluses develop. It’s nothing serious enough to worry about, but rough skin around the toes and on the sides of your feet come with the territory.
The best way to treat rough skin and calluses is to purchase a pumice stone and after every run gently reduce the callus or rough skin. If you do it in the shower after every run, the warm water will soften the skin and you can stay on top of it before the callus gets too prominent and unsightly.
Smelly feet result from smelly shoes and socks. It’s easy to prevent. Wear clean socks for every single run—regardless of how short the run is. If your shoes are especially gross and stinky (especially from running on the Butler/ Lady Bird Trail), air them out and exchange the insole with a fresh one. If that doesn’t take the odor out, wash them and dry them outside in the direct sun. (Don’t place your shoes in a clothes dryer.) If they really stink and you’ve had them for several months, get a new pair.
What to do
Visit a pedicurist and get a pedicure and foot massage. It feels great and it’s not only for women. There’s nothing better than treating yourself to a foot massage after a long hard run or marathon.
You can also perform self-massage on your feet on a daily basis in a variety of ways. One of the most effective ways is to wear massage sandals that have little nodules strategically arranged to massage and stimulate your nerve endings in the foot. Another good way to massage your feet is with a variety of self-massage tools such as foot rollers and The Stick that are readily available in running stores. Rolling your feet on a daily basis, relaxes your feet and stimulate the nerves.
Take care of your feet and they’ll take care of you.