At this point in my running life, I consider myself a serious runner. I run six days of the week, I know and understand running workouts, I can write my own running plan, and I have even made some running friends. There is however one aspect of running that will forever remain a mystery to me - the purposeful surgical removal of one’s toenails. [Editor's note: Despite 6x6's implication, toenail removal is not "normal" for most runners!]
Most common to those who run ultra marathons (distances longer than a marathon) some runners will elect to have their toenails surgically removed in order to avoid any potential bother from their toenails.
This isn’t right. I believe as much as anyone else in “to each, his own” but there is a limit. To quote the author of Born to Run, Christopher McDougall, “You know any sport has gone off the rails when you have to remove body parts to do it.” Amen. Body parts are for life. You simply aren’t meant to remove them.
This can be avoided, says one experienced ultra marathoner, “if you wear properly fitting shoes, keep the nails trimmed short, and potentially even use something like aquaphor on them before a long race, you'll be fine.” Even custom orthotics or running sandals could alleviate any wear and tear on the toenails. Many runners will cut holes in the tops of their sneakers to relieve the pressure.
The removal of toenails carries serious risks. Not to mention, toenails often grow back after surgery. Toenails are not evolutionarily obsolete. They provide important protection to your feet just like your rib cage does to your vital organs. Nails can also serve as an indicator of health. Oxygen deprivation, infection, dehydration and lack of protein, among other health issues are sometimes all seen first in the nail bed. So toenail removal can be like taking the mercury out of a thermometer, while you have a fever.
Growing up with a father and grandfather who were missing fingers, I admit that I may be biased toward keeping all of my appendages, no matter how small. Like a tattoo, it’s a choice you’re simply bound to regret when you’re older or when you decide to wear open-toed shoes . . . whichever comes first.
Author's note: This is by no means medically accurate, simply my observations from a bored day at work spent on Google.
[Editor's Note: OMG finding pictures for this post was horrifying! My toenails aren't about to win any beauty pageants, but oh man, Google "toenails" or "toes" and you may feel a bit nauseous! The things I do for you readers. All for you!]