Why is it that we labour under the delusion that having black, dead, or missing toenails is a badge of honour in running? If this was our teeth would we feel the same? I doubt it. I would suggest that kicking a tree root or rock with significant force should be the only reason to lose toenails. In more than a decade, the only toenail I have ever come close to loosing was after attempting to uproot Tane Mahuta (the god of the forest) with my toe. Want to avoid turning your feet into nail graveyards?
There are several factors that contribute to black toenails. Our feet have 26 bones and 33 joints and are a marvel of physiology. These marvels need to be allowed to do what they are perfectly designed to do, that is, move and adapt to changing terrain. The more they move, the more adapted they become, the stronger they get. As with most contributing factors to our running performance, it is what we do in our everyday lives that contributes most to our race day performance as much as the x amount of minutes a day we spend running.
So then, if your foot is fixed and gnarled into a sensory deprivation chamber for 60-100 hours a week that is inflexible and discourages movement then we are surely going to end up with a loading issue. Like most things, If we continue doing what we have always done, we will come up with the same results, so addressing black toenails is going to require a shift in a person’s thinking from running being something that they do episodically to a mindset where adaptive movement and function is a vital part of our everyday lives.
So what are the things that we can do to lessen the chance that we will have black toenails after a long run?
Get out of your everyday shoes as much as possible. Go barefoot at any and all opportunity. Look at some foot mobility drills and practice them. The stronger and more mobile your feet are the more they will be able to do what they are supposed to do. Ideally, let's make sure that your everyday shoes are flexible, foot shaped, as flat and as close to the ground as you can handle. The amount of time spent moving what your mumma gave you can only benefit your running. There is no reason to not do this in general life, so get multitasking. There are more and more elegant options for casual/business shoes available these days, a quick Google will provide you with many options. My unashamed favourite are Vivobarefeet, however, each to their own.
As a result of the years of use, abuse, and amateur, albeit unintended foot binding, I would recommend seeking out a health professional that can check and adjust the joints of the foot to regain and maintain movement. From a holistic perspective, I would suggest that you should apply this logic to the entire system. This becomes an ongoing process that sits alongside your running to correct the ongoing use.
As in life, so in running. I sound like a broken record, but inflexible shoes that deaden sensation and inhibit natural movement are not helpful. Choose running shoes that are flexible, foot shaped, as flat and as close to the ground as you can handle. The Goldilocks rule of not too tight, not too loose, applies here. This is where it may be wise to invest in multiple pairs of running shoes for different applications. Comfort and variation are both proven indicators of success when it comes to choosing running footwear.
Lastly, and most importantly, the way that you run is is the cornerstone of success and avoiding mashing your toes. This is important when running uphill, and even more so running downhill. Adopt a proud, relaxed stance, lift the heel off the ground, drive forward with knee, and land the foot down onto the ground. Ideally with a high turnover, spending less time on the ground and more time in the air. This should be happening every time you go for a run, if you'd like it to become habit.
Believe me? Get in touch, and we'll put the theory to the test.
Don't believe me? Get in touch, and we'll put the theory to the test.