Dear Miss Fit: What Should I Do About Black Toenails And Other Running Oddities?

Welcome to Miss Fit–a weekly advice column from someone who is a bit of a non-conformist when it comes to health and exercise.

Dear Miss Fit,
I’ve just recently begun running distances beyond a 5k in the last few months. Previously, I’d top out after about 3 miles and call it a day because a.) I get bored easily, and b.) I was totally making up excuses for why I thought I couldn’t run further. Turns out, I can! But now I have all of these questions that come with a little bit of distance (my usual is a 10k now, but am looking toward moving in the direction of a least a half marathon, if not more.) Here are some of them that I would lot to have answered.

First of all, congratulations on stepping up your mileage and ditching the excuses! With 20 years of running experience and 13 marathon under my soles, I think I can help you. Here is my advice to each of your questions:

1.) I really think my toenail is going to fall off. It has begun to turn sort of purple-y. Please talk me through it. It’s gross. Will it grow back? Will it hurt? Is it going to come off in my shoe while I’m running?

Ah, black toenails are a sure sign of an avid runner. Most of us get them from time to time, and you’re right, they’re not pretty. Black or purple toenails are caused by shoes that are too small, socks that are too tight or just the constant pressure and action of your foot coming forward thousands of times during each run. This produces friction between the toenail and the tissue surrounding it, and when the tissue gets damaged, fluid accumulates. The purple or black color is actually the result of a blood capillaries that become broken in the process. When the pressure gets too great, the existing toenail will fall off, but not to worry, it will grow back usually in a few months.

2.) What can I do to prevent this in the future?

The best thing you can do is to buy shoes that give you at least half an inch extra in the toe box. Be sure to try on shoes later in the day when your feet are more likely to be swollen. Also, gradually increasing your mileage will increase the chances of your toes becoming more adjusted to the increased pounding.

3.) What’s the most important thing to look for in a shoe?

Ideally, you want a shoe that feels comfortable and light. It’s worthwhile to go to a professional running store and get your feet, stance and stride analyzed. If you pronate (lean inward), supinate (lean out) or have high or flat arches, you will need a shoe to accommodate this. Also, be sure to test the shoes on a treadmill or in the store’s parking lot before buying them.

4.) What are the best stretches?

OK, this is a good one–and a common cause of confusion. It used to be that we were told to stretch before a run, but now, that couldn’t be further from the truth. You should do some light loosening exercises before a run (i.e., rotate your ankles in a circle 3 times each direction, then your knees, then your hips, trunk, shoulders and neck), but don’t ever stretch a cold muscle. Instead, think of your first mile as a warm-up. Run for a mile easily and slowly, then pull over and stretch each major muscle group (calves, hamstrings, quads and glutes) for a count of 10. Resume your run and then stretch again when you’re done when your muscles are most receptive.

5.) Are you an outdoor runner? What, in your experience, is the difference between indoor and outdoor training?

Personally, I always prefer outdoor running, but that’s just me. If the weather is bad or it’s too dark outside, by all means, hit the treadmill. Just be sure to adjust the incline to a 1 or 2 grade to simulate the road better.

6.) How can I protect my knees?

Having the right form is essential. If you have knee issues, have someone videotape you while you’re running so you can spot any potential misalignments. Also, the right shoes are a must and again, gradually increasing your mileage.

Good luck and keep running!

Have a question? Send us your dilemmas about feeling like a misfit when it comes to eating, fitness, going to the gym or dealing with yoga bitches, and Miss Fit will take a turn at answering them. With 10 years of trying to be a better athlete and testing her willpower at every turn, while coaching others to do the same, chances are she’s heard it all before and can share some wisdom.

To ask Miss Fit a question, email us at with “Miss Fit” in the subject line.

Photo: Thinkstock


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    • susie

      Dear Miss Fit: During half marathons the tendon running down my left leg flares. This occurs at usually at mile seven or eight. Please advise.