Yuck! Marathon Training's 10 Grossest Things

From shoulder zits to bloody toenails—here’s what you have to look forward to while training for a marathon.

by Esther Haynes
Photograph: Istock

Who knew running could be so GROSS? I am training for my first marathon (the ING New York City marathon, on Nov. 1), and I’m kind of shocked by all the physical nastiness that goes along with it. This is probably way too much information, but I’m hoping other runners out there will relate—or tell me what other disturbing occurrences I have to look forward to as my distances increase. Ah, the joys of exercise.

1.     Toenails Fall Off. Yeah, we’ve all heard this happens to marathoners, but I really wasn’t expecting it to occur so quickly after I started training for a half-marathon four years ago: The toenail on the second toe of my right foot turned black and then fell off. I do have strangely long second toes, but I thought I could keep that nail attached this time by trimming it frequently. Nope. It’s already black, and I still have two and a half months to go before the big race. My marathon friends tell me it might get even worse as I run farther: bloody toenails!

2.     Smelly Clothes. When I worked out only a couple of days a week, I could discreetly hang up my sweaty running gear in a closet to dry out so they weren’t on display for everyone to see before I got around to putting them into the laundry hamper. But now that it’s an everyday thing, the clothes seem to have multiplied—dirty bras, underwear, shirts and socks hang everywhere I look.

3.     Sweat Down There. Speaking of clothes, most running shorts available now are brilliant because they have built-in underwear made of a lightweight mesh that allows your hot spots to “breathe.” The problem is, if you’re running every day and you don’t have time to keep up with your laundry (see #2), you resort to using your OLD running shorts, which have to be worn with a real pair of underwear, which doesn’t allow you to breathe. And after 10 miles of sweat, there are some places where you want a little air. Thus, I have taken to cutting strategic holes in them—and believe me, these crotch-less undies are not sexy.

4.     Blood Blisters. I don’t mind a few calluses. In fact, I get upset when pedicurists want to scrape mine off; hard soles are appealing if you’re a runner. But shortly after I started training, I began to get a pain on the ball of my right foot—and upon closer inspection, I realized I had a small blood blister UNDER a thick callous. Ewww.

5.     Shoulder Zits. Isn’t it miraculous how sweat on sensitive skin can cause breakouts in places you never thought possible?

6.     Gnarly Hair. We’ve all heard that the worst thing you can do for your hair is to wash it every day, because this dries it out like the Sahara. But what if you’re sweating your head off every morning? At first I tried just rinsing post-workout, but by the time afternoon came around, I felt like tiny bugs were crawling around up there. So now I’m back to washing and conditioning after every run, and my hair looks like the “before” shots in John Frieda commercials: dry, frizzy, lifeless.

7.     Nausea. I swear, part of the reason I’d never wanted to run a marathon up until recent years is because someone once told me that at the beginning of the New York marathon, people just pull down their pants and empty themselves right there on the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge before the gun goes off. Fortunately, I have been reassured that plenty of portable toilets will be available the day of the race, so I shouldn’t have to resort to that. But I have had some stomach issues during training that have made me go running for a public toilet in the middle of a workout, or afterward. When I really exert myself or get dehydrated, I sometimes feel nauseated for TWO HOURS post-run. If you add that time to the two hours you’ve just spent running circles in the park, that’s a big chunk of your day spent feeling crappy.

Share Your Thoughts!


Cheri Armour02.19.2013

Esther - I work for a running company! Congrats on the training! Listen, as far as the black toenails you HAVE to go up at least a half size in your running shoes to prevent that. Black toenails are a dead-on indication of a show that's just a hair too small. Also, invest in a tube of Aquaphor, and your chub-rub will be banished! Hope this helps!

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