Got Toenails?

Is there really a purpose to our toenails or are they just some leftover remnant of our ancestors- evidence of the claws that may have been necessary for survival millions of years ago? For me, a diehard ultramarathon runner, they are just dead weight. More than that, they are a burning, throbbing hindrance to my running performance.

This is what they look like on a regular basis (If you’re squeamish, you may not want to look at any of the following photos):

I have tried numerous brands of running shoes, going up a half size, then a full size and even a size and a half to no avail. Tried all varieties of socks and toe socks. Tried all types of lubricant. Zero drop and extreme drop shoes. Minimal and maximal. It was apparent my toes were permanently marred and damaged. I settled on just tolerating the pain during hundred mile races and after long arduous training weeks. I would file them down as much as possible and hope for the best.

Then I read a story about Marshall Ulrich, the legendary ultramarathon runner who has completed Badwater multiple times. It seems he used to have toenails that looked like those above, but he discovered there actually was a permanent solution. Yes, it seemed a little extreme, yet it worked. Total toenail removal. All 10 of them.

I read this story many years ago and thought it would be great to do this but didn’t think I’d ever have the time. I mean, it might require a couple weeks of recovery and I didn’t have a couple of weeks to take off of running.

But after my last race, the 12 hour Christmas in July timed event, I was in need of some rest and had five months before Desert Solstice. This could be my opportunity.

I scheduled an appointment with a podiatrist, Dr D, who I knew from having family in the medical field. He said he had never removed all 10 toenails on a patient before, yet after looking at my toes and hearing me talk about my big running goals, he was on board.

He wanted to schedule all 10 at once but that would require being done in the ER under sedation due to needing some special tourniquet and being quite uncomfortable. However, he did not have rights to the operating room at the hospital my insurance covered, so plan B was to attempt to do 5 at a time in his office. The appointment was scheduled for the following Monday

I forced my husband to come along for moral support. At the reception desk the lady asked which toenails I was having removed. I replied, “All of them.” The expression on her face was priceless.

I was definitely the talk of the office that day. Many medical personnel came in to meet me and see for themselves that someone was actually choosing to remove all their toenails.

I was prepped, my toes cleaned up, and feeling a little anxious as I said my goodbyes to these five pieces of my anatomy.

I covered my face with a towel as Doctor D began one injection after another. Several in each toe to numb them up. Definitely not the most pleasant experience ever. Yet after that was finished I felt absolutely no pain.

But the thought of what he was doing was difficult to bear. I continued covering my face with the towel as I felt the pulling and tugging and listened to the colorful sound effects of my husband…  “ewww, oh my god, wow he took that whole thing off in one piece, oh geez don’t look” etc.

Dr. D was absolutely amazing with talking to me and trying to keep my mind on other things. He was a runner himself and training for his first marathon in Chicago. I attempted to keep my mind on running and picturing myself finishing my next 100 miles with much less toe pain.

After about 45 minutes it was finished. Here was my first look at them before the cute little tourniquets were removed.

He wasn’t exactly sure how to bandage them as he had never done five at once. He did a pretty good job I think:

And the right foot is sitting there thinking, “How the hell do I get out of this?”

I didn’t realize how difficult it was to walk with a completely numb foot so my husband helped me to the car.

I’m not much for taking it easy, and a pretty lousy patient when it comes to following doctor’s orders sometimes. Dr. D said to go home and take it easy or I’d probably be very sorry. Well, I had one client to see. (I’m a behavior consultant, work mostly with individuals who are on the autism spectrum.) I don’t like to cancel my appointments so I thought I’d go and take it as easy as possible. I ended up doing a lot more walking than I anticipated.

Upon getting home my toes were in serious pain. I took advil and it did nothing. Two hours later I took Tylenol. I propped my foot up on a pillow and didn’t move the rest of the night.

Dr D told me I probably wouldn’t be able to run for a couple weeks, it just depended on when I could tolerate the pain. Two days later I ran 8 miles. I was ecstatic!  It did hurt quite a bit in the beginning of the run, but the more I went the more I got used to it.

The pain got better each day. But the toes didn’t look any better…

But I did my twice daily soaking in Epsom salt and they slowly began to heal.

Two weeks after the left foot I had the same done to the poor toes on the right foot.  It all went quite smoothly and I felt the pain was less this time, but this time I chose to sit and do nothing for the entire day after the surgery.

It has now been 5 weeks since I had the first surgery and they are still not looking great, but it is expected to take a good couple months for good healthy skin to form. This is how they appear  today.

 24 days post op

38 days post op

The real test will occur in December when I run the Desert Solstice 24 hour track event in Arizona. Stay tuned!

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