Losing Toenails Running: A Runners Rite of Passage?

Running Losing Toenails

While working at a running store, I’ve learned a lot…

I’ve learned there are various methods of tying shoes…

I’ve learned there are multiple designs of shoes and brand models and the fit of each…

I’ve learned while a shoe might be great for some people, it might be awful for others.  Internet reviews can tell you a lot about a shoe, but no two people have the same feet.  In fact, each person’s feet are not identical.

I’ve learned information that has helped my running and I’ve learned information that helps people who walk through the doors.  Ultimately my job is to help people. My job doesn’t revolve around my running; it revolves around other people’s running.

One of the most interesting things I’ve learned is no matter the distance or amount you run; you should not be losing toenails running. Runners losing toenails is a sign the shoe is too small.

Read that again: Runners losing toenails is a sign the shoe is too small.

Toenail loss isn’t a sign of good running or training.  It’s not a runner’s “rite of passage”.  You are not a real runner once your feet are nasty.

Losing toenails running is a sign the shoe is not fitting you well.

When you lose toenails running, it generally means the shoe is either too narrow or too short.  The top of your toenail is jamming up against the shoe.  It means there isn’t enough space in the top of the shoe.  Your toes usually turn black and blue, and then your toenail falls off.

It doesn’t necessarily mean you need to go longer in a running shoe, losing toenails running means your shoe might be too narrow or the toe box or front of the shoe doesn’t match the shape of your foot.

Think about it this way: if you continue to punch your arm, it will bruise.

If your toenails continue to jam against the top of the shoe, they will bruise and eventually fall off.  When you think about it, you are jamming your toenails against the shoe hundreds or even thousands of times per run.  With long runs, and longer distances, your feet swell more. That is why many runners doing distance running, lose their toenails.

Most people lose their biggest toe or second toenail (depending on which toe is longer).  If the shoe is not wide enough you lose your pinkie toe.With injured toenails, you are more likely to get a fungal infection.

Signs your running shoe is too small: 

Bruised, black toenails, and losing toenails running..

Toes being numb or tingling…(if your toes go numb the toe box is generally too narrow) 

The lateral side of your shoe gets a hole in it (the shoe is too narrow)

So how do you solve the problem of losing toenails running? 

You should always go up a half size from your “normal” size. For instance, I wear a size 9 regular shoe. I wear a 9.5 or even 10 wide running shoe. My foot can breathe and my toes can splay the entire time. You should be able to wiggle your toes before, during and after the run.

The shoe might seem a little “big” at first, but it’s not going to fall or slide off.  It’s always better to go up half a size versus cramming your foot into a smaller shoe.  You usually cause far more issues by a too small of shoe, like losing toenails running. Having a shoe slightly big rarely causes problems.

Question for you:

Have you ever lost toenails running? 

What running shoe do you currently wear?

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  1. Haha I’m glad to know that the whole losing-toenails things isn’t a necessity! That doesn’t motivate me to run more 😉 haha. But it makes sense that it would be more of a shoe-issue!

  2. Thank you for this. I have many friends that don’t believe me when I say your shoes don’t fit if you are losing toenails! I have never lost a toenail and love my running shoes. Just takes a lot of trial and error.

    1. I agree, I also have quite a few friends who don’t believe me either. You can run and have nice feet 😉

  3. I definitely had issues when I first began running years ago. Too narrow, too small. I think I may have lost a toenail then? I honestly can’t remember. But agree. And today there is just too much information and too many running stores out there to help, this is not a norm by any means!
    And as much as I hate my feet my bf always comments how “great” they are. I personally just think he is biased though 😉

  4. Only happens to me with races and doesn’t bruise, I get a blister (not blood blister) under the toenail. I’ve tried lots of shoes and can make it 60 mile a week training cycles with no issue… Half or full and bye bye nails. Any ideas?

  5. this is so true and important. i finally figured out that my shoes were too small. i actually had to go up a full size. now my feet feel great — and haven’t lost a single toenail!!

  6. I try to tell people this, and that they should get fitted for shoes to make sure they are wearing the right model and size… but know some runners consider it “hard core” to lose toenails *sigh*. I do think my feet swell more in the summer months on long runs too, so buying up is important.

  7. Thank you for this! I always tell people that it’s about the shoe fit and that it’s not normal! For the records, I’ve never lost a toe nail!

  8. I’ve lost two toenails over the course of seven years of running, so I don’t think I’m doing too badly 😉 My problem is that I have one foot almost an entire size bigger than the other, so it’s difficult to find a good balance that will accommodate both feet. Add small ankles into the mix and I can’t always go for shoes that are on the bigger side because then I get issues with them sliding up and down when I run and I end up with massive blisters on the backs of my ankles.

    I think runners in general sometimes enjoy making things harder than they need to be. There’s a lot of ‘for show’ behavior in running these days that wasn’t around before the spread of social media. Now it all seems to revolve around bragging rights and telling others about how much pain you’re in or how much damage you incurred. It’s not clever to run a stupid amount of miles and then end every Tweet with #ruined. Running is not some kind of gateway to martyrdom, and I get so irritated with people who portray it that way.

  9. A long, long time ago when I started running, in the 70″s, I was told and read that when you run a marathon you will lose a couple of toenails or at the very least your toes will be bruised turning black. I’ve never had that happen! My first marathon was the Penn Relays Marathon in Philly and I wore Brooks Vantage Supreme shoes, 1978. Since then I’ve always run in good shoes changing them often and being careful that the shoe has a large toe box. Losing toenails is a wives tale right up there with blood in your urine after you run is OK.

  10. This is so interesting. I’ve never had any issues with my toes, but I also don’t put a lot of miles on my feet. I’ve always wondered about whether or not it was “normal” since so many people seem to experience it… glad to hear that it’s not something I have to “look forward to.” Thanks for the tips!

  11. Interesting… I think I might have to try to go up a half size. I have one toe nail that is just bruised beyond belief. It hasn’t fallen off yet but I’m assuming its only a matter of time. I run in Nike Pegasus, it’s neutral and supportive enough for me. It’s the first pair of running shoes that I’ve had that have totally worked for me, and helped me stay injury free. Thanks for sharing!! Happy Friday : )

  12. My feet have actually grown or spread out since I first started running, so I’ve had to go up a full size in running shoes (and in most of my other shoes, too, sadly). I don’t lose as many toenails, but there are two factors working against me: the nail on one of my toes next to the big toe sticks up a bit, so it hits the top of the shoe, not the end of the shoe. Also, bombing downhill on trails tends to bang my feet around.

    That said, I agree that most runners should NOT be losing toenails. One of my best friends holds a 3:04 marathon PR and was putting in 90-mile weeks until she got pregnant, and she has never once lost a toenail. Feel free to use her as an example — I can send you her name so people can look up her race results. 😉

  13. This is the most common problem we see at the running store I work at. We always go a full size up from the customer’s regular shoe size. I have a few messed up toenails from when I wore my spikes too small in high school and after that I learned my lesson to always wear my shoes bigger. Now, it’s more comfortable to me but a lot of people don’t like feeling like they have a lot of room.

    1. Ugh spikes are the worst because I feel that is a whole different ball game and you actually want them tight.

  14. In high school and half of college before I even knew a running shoe existed on Earth, I ran in Nike Shox. Also, I ran in a size 8 or 8.5. After losing about five toenails (3 at once one time), I now wear a 9.5. Just thinking about my foot in an 8.5 makes me cringe. The pain…. ><

  15. This is such a great post. A lot of people glorify losing toenails like it’s a sign of hard work and dedication. I’ve never had any issues with my toenails bruising/falling off because I’m always properly fitted each time I transition to a new make or model of a shoe. I did used to have toenail issues from skating and I had to have a minor surgery once.

    1. Are ice skating boots like ski and snowboarding boots that you have to wear them super tiny?

      1. Yes! I wear a size 7 running shoe now (correct size) but for years I wore a size 6 and refused to wear them bigger because I was so used to skates squeezing my feet!

  16. I’ve never lost a toenail before. I have to admit that after running for over 20 years and 30+ marathons, it still makes me feel like I’m not a “real” runner when I tell people this. However, I know that it just means I have good shoes! I run in the Asics Nimbus and have since I started marathoning in 2006. Love them and that they have a wide enough toe box for me (and my bunions). Thanks for the reminder that we all need to look a little more closely at our shoes! 🙂

    1. Asics nimbus is such a great and well cushioned shoe. I’m glad to hear you’ve never lost a toenail Sarah!

  17. *Knock on wood* I’ve never lost a toenail. Not even during my high school field-hockey days when I wore cleats. Going up a half size for running shoes makes a huge difference. In fact, my “normal” shoes feel small now because they don’t have that extra wiggle room!

  18. I have lost a toenail, but not in years. I run in a whole size up from what I normally wear and at this point it just feels normal. I run in Asics Nimbus and Mizuno Wave Riders. Mostly am doing my longer runs in the Nimbus.

  19. Thanks for sharing all that you’ve learned. My parent always tease me about having “runner’s feet.” Definitely have lost a toenail or two, but usually while in racing spikes! My Asics Gel Cumulus are feet lovin’! 😉

  20. I just finally lost a toe nail that I had bruised during fall matathon training! It was the first that I’ve lost due to running and now I’m definitely thinking I’ll try a new brand of shoes next time! Thanks for the tip !

    1. The worst part is when there is all that pressure so it hurts more than when you actually lose it!

  21. I haven’t lost a full toenail yet, but the second toe on both my feet is close. However, they have not gotten worse (lower) in over a year, so I think I finally got the right shoes. I’m loving Saucony Kinvara. Thanks for the great post!

  22. This is why I like your blog. Besides being entertaining, your blog actually adds to people’s insights and makes people question things 🙂

    I read this yesterday after experiencing toe pain in the past week. The 11.5 size shoes I got in NY are a lot tighter on my feet than the same Nike Lunar Glide 11.5 size shoe I got in Europe. They felt unusually tight in the store but I just accepted the staff’s answer that they would “loosen up”.

    I never thought about running in a shoe up a size to your normal casual shoe. So I’m going to try it, thanks!

    1. I’m glad I could help you out Mike. I always think “yes this is a personal/life blog but I work at a running store”. I know there are things that could help readers out!

  23. I have been trying to figure out my toenails for years. I also wear a size 9, but wear a size 10 running shoe (sometimes I get 10.5 if they don’t carry a wide version and I even tried a 10.5 wide before I was yelled at for the shoes being too big). My 4th toes on both feet get bruised, every year and sometimes my big toes too (this year, both big toes went). I’ve tried different brands of shoes too. Nothing seems to work. Sigh.

    1. Awe I. Sorry to hear that Susan. That’s really interesting about your fourth toe. I wonder if it’s the shape of the shoe toe box. Which shoe are you currently running in?

  24. I always have issues with this and I really don’t know what to do! Its only on my left foot and its the same toe, but I am already up a full size/size and a half from my regular shoe. (I wear a 7 or 7.5 in regular does and either an 8.5 or 9 in running shoes). I feel like when I have tried on even bigger shoes my feet just slide around way too much. It doesn’t make me feel like any more of a real runner, its just really annoying and sometimes painful, but I’ve yet to figure out any solution to it.

    1. It sounds like one of your feet is bigger. Your feet are always growing or the arches falling (in turn getting bigger!). I wonder if that is it?

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