How are Your Runners Toes?

Have you been plagued by the bane of the ugly “runners toes”?

I have had my fair share of them, it’s a joke in my family.

In 2012, I helped out at an orphanage in India. As I was saying good-bye to one of the girls she leaned in for a hug. With tears in my eyes I leaned into hug her back and as I did her foot scraped the front of mine. She ripped my nail right off my foot! I was visibly in tears by then, partly because I had to say good-bye but partly from the pain in my big toe. On the way back to the US however, I rejoiced! My ugly nail was gone! Now though in its place was an empty gap where a new toenail would have to grow. Patience requires patience to accept patience…

As a long distance runner, you may find yourself breeding some black nails here and there throughout your training. Usually they are just unappealing to look at but sometimes they can also cause pain. So how do you take care and prevent your nails from all turning colors on you?

How do You End Up With Runners Toes?

Ok, yes, this is my toe. I admit. I obviously did not take into consideration any prevention tactics and so here is my payback. But no more! This is my last one! (Although they do say "never say never"...)

Common Causes: 

  • The tips of your feet rubbing against the tip of your shoe. Repeated rubbing causes a bruise to form underneath the nail. Rubbing continues, the blood builds up in the bruise and you form a blister. This is why the area underneath your nail might feel sore or give you pain.
  • Frequently running downhill also can contribute to the condition. Turns out that running downhill can lead to lots of injuries but let’s talk about that later.
  • Another cause is moisture around your feet. This can be from sweaty running socks which traps the moisture.


Really the best thing you can do to treat the problem is to just give it time…lots and lots of time. This is one of the most frustrating parts.

It can take 3-5 months before it returns to normal. The good news is that there isn’t normally any pain after you get past the first or second day.

If you are experiencing pain, especially on the first or second day, I find that putting vitamin E oil on or under the nail relieves some of the pain and can reduce the bruising.

Otherwise be patient and wait.

This isn't what most people want to hear but the nail will eventually fall off as a new one pushes it forward and up. It might be a little bit ghastly for awhile. As a female, I put nail polish on and wait so that the color (but still not the texture) looks like my other nails.

If you are a guy and really can’t stand looking at your toe then put a band-aid on it. Just try and let it air out most of the time and especially at night.

If your nail is becoming really painful for several days or weeks you may want to see a doctor. They will drain the fluid from underneath the nail which will promote a quicker recovery. 


  • Since this condition is the result of your nails rubbing against the end of your shoes the best way to insure yourself against the problem is to buy your running shoes a half size bigger than you would your walking shoes. Typically in long distance running your feet begin to swell which means that if you buy your shoes in the same size as your regular shoes you probably aren’t giving your feet enough room to run comfortably.

  • Sweat absorbing socks will also help to take the sweat away from around your feet. Don’t keep your feet in your running socks and shoes when your done running. Let them breathe after you've been on a run, especially a long run.
  • Keep your toenails clipped. Short but straight! Having a toenail that is too long will only increase the friction and the rubbing against the shoe and is an invitation for fluid buildup underneath the nail. 

Don’t worry too much about your bane of ugly runners nails. They will eventually go away.

Remember, you don’t have to accept them just because you are a marathon runner. Just learn to treat your feet right or live with them. It can be a nuisance but really it’s all for your marathon dream!

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