Friday, October 23, 2009

Toe-nail or not toe-nail? That is the question

(Courtesy of Chantal and the New York Times)

GETTING serious about a sport can mean doing the previously unthinkable. Swimmers shave their bodies sleek. Cyclists take blood-boosters. And ultramarathoners have their battered toenails surgically removed — for good.

Toenail removal is not for the faint of heart, but it can be a big relief to people who compete in 50- or 100-mile races. Even the most hardened ultramarathoners, for whom 26.2 miles is a warm-up, can be distressed by bleeding under a nail or a loose nail that bangs repeatedly against the front of a shoe.

“From my experience, it’s the hard-cores” who choose to go without toenails, said Dr. Paul R. Langer, a Minneapolis podiatrist who has been on the medical team for a 250-kilometer 7-day race through the Gobi Desert. “Even within the ultra community, less than 10 percent or maybe even 5 percent are permanently removing their toenails.”

The average marathoner suffers from plenty of black-and-blue nails, but doesn’t sign up to have acid poured onto a nail bed for permanent removal.

Ultramarathoners, who number more than 17,000 nationwide, according to UltraRunning magazine — “appear crazy sometimes, but they are great strategists,” said Dr. Robert M. Conenello, a sports podiatrist who tended to contestants of a multiday race in the Sahara. “A lot of them look at their toenails as useless appendages, remnants of claws from evolutionary times long ago. I’ve heard them say, ‘Toenails are dead weight.’ ”

The most utilitarian of ultramarathoners remove the offending toenails and keep problem-free ones. Then they sport a checkerboard look in sandals.

But the practice strikes some runners as overkill. “You know any sport has gone off the rails when you have to remove body parts to do it,” said Christopher McDougall, the author of a recent book about ultrarunning called “Born to Run.”

Ultramarathoners tend to keep quiet about toenail removal, Mr. McDougall said, because they “tired of being freaks, and they don’t want to add anything more freakish to their résumé.”

Marshall Ulrich of Idaho Springs, Colo., who had all his toenails surgically removed in 1992, has become a example for the practice. He used to stop mid-race to poke a hole in a throbbing nail to relieve pressure. Now, he said, toenails are “one less thing to have to deal with.”


Simon Says: - Nope sorry, if you do a sport where you constantly lose body parts then it's time to change sport. I lost a toe nail doing the Marathon Des Sables - I shan't be doing that again!

Shilpa has real problems with her toenails when running as do my sister, Angela and buddy, Chantal who both seem to lose several every time they run a marathon. Time to take up netball girls! Or sky diving (actually my sister already does that - what a wacko!)

1 comment:

Denis Oakley said...

Oooh it is tempting. I lost my big toenail at Langkawi and the last year has meant blissful downhill running (one foot is a lot lonnger than the other and I won't buy 2 sets of shoes to have 1 to run in).

Would I actually go out and have itt done. Probably not because of the time hassle and expense of arranging it.

But then we regularly shave our beards to be able to continue 'mating' so is it much different really :)