You put a lot of effort into your training, nutrition and race-day goals - don't sabotage it by neglecting your toenails. "Most toenail problems are easily avoided," says podiatrist Trevor Prior (premierpodiatry.com). "It's better to spend a little time looking after the nails than lose valuable training time."Here are the most common ailments:
Blackish-red and bruised nails
Diagnosis: Subungual hematoma
A badge of honour for ultra-runners, black toenails are caused by blood pooling beneath the nail. The most likely cause? Very long runs in ill-fitting shoes. "There should be 1cm between the end of the shoe and the longest toe, with the toes neither crowded nor slipping around," says Prior. The toenail may fall off, or grow with a horizontal ridge.
First step: Leave it for a day. If the swelling remains, puncture the nail with a sterilised needle to drain the fluid. Apply antiseptic cream.
Thickened, rough and yellow nails
An overproduction of keratin, the protein that makes up your nails, onychauxis can strike after repeated bouts of black toenail. It's mainly an aesthetic problem, but the nail may become tender. "The big toe is commonly affected, but you're also likely to suffer if you have a longer second toe," says podiatrist Rasminder Palahey (footmedics.co.uk). "That's why you should regularly tidy up your nails."
First step: Consult a podiatrist. Very thick nails may need to be filed down, or clipped, while topical solutions can slow keratin production.
Nail is cutting into the skin
"This is better known as an ingrown toenail," says Palahey. "The nail grows at an angle, perforates the skin and lets bacteria in, so a niggly, painful infection occurs." Tight shoes and badly cut nails can both contribute to this problem, although Palahey reckons that the majority of cases are down to your genetic foot shape. In the most severe cases, you will need a minor surgical procedure, done under local anaesthetic.
First step: Soak your feet in Epsom salts daily. In mild cases, use a needle to wedge
a wisp of cotton wool under the nail, encouraging it to grow back out.
Chalky, crumbly and yellow-looking nails
Diagnosis: Onychomycosis infection
"Athletes are prone to this type of fungal infection, because microbes feed off their sweat," says Palahey. Banish the beasties by frequently purging your sock drawer. Prior also recommends that you alternate pairs of trainers, since shoes take longer than one night to dry out completely. Try to avoid running in the rain - water softens the nail folds and cuticles that act as a natural barrier to germs.
First step: Visit a doctor for lab tests to confirm the infection type. They may prescribe medicated nail paint or anti-fungal pills.
The Runner's Pedicure
1. Cut nails after a shower – when they are softened by heat.
2. Use a strong pair of clippers – avoid jagged nails.
3. Trim toenails in a straight line, without rounding the edges. You can then use an emery board to smooth the edges. Avoid abrasive metal files, which can splinter the nail plate.
4. Rub in cuticle oil – it’s rich in moisturising jojoba and vitamin E.
This article is featured in our May 2010 issue, available on the newsstand now. Also in this issue (our London Marathon special): secrets to a stronger finish, easy ways to fix your form, foods that fight illness and a round-up of summer's best kit.