Black toenails and 5 other icky running problems

Runners sometimes experience bodily malfunctions that they would admit only to a fellow runner. But your friend probably can't explain your need to make a half-dozen pit stops. So we took common problems to a group of running medical experts for their feedback and fixes.

A cure for running injuries

Why do I have to dash to the porta-potty midrun?
The jostling motion of running sometimes irritates the intestines, and when blood flow that's needed for digestion is diverted to the legs, stomach cramping can result. Gastroenterologist David Bjorkman, M.D., marathoner and dean of the University of Utah School of Medicine, recommends eating at least two hours before a run. Caffeine can speed the movement of wastes through your system, and artificial sweeteners (such as mannitol and sorbitol) can cause GI distress.

Although it's not wise to have a bran muffin before a race, Dr. Bjorkman says to incorporate more fiber in your diet (work up to 20 grams a day). "You can get your system to operate like clockwork, so that you can reliably go before a run," he says. If all else fails, he suggests taking an over-the-counter antidiarrheal medication before a run.

Why do my toenails go black?
Three causes of the black badge: a too-short shoe; a toenail that comes into contact with the roof of the shoe too often; and a runner who uses their toes to grip too hard. Blood vessels under the nail break open and spill blood (which looks black under the opaque nail) into the area between the toe bed and the toenail. "That area is rigid and restrictive," says Darrin Bright, M.D., family physician and sports medicine specialist in Columbus, Ohio. "It builds up a lot of pressure quickly."

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If the pressure is bothering you and you can handle more hurt, you can ask a podiatrist to press the end of a paper clip or safety pin, heated with a match, through the nail. Do it sooner, while the blood is still fluid. If the pain decreases and doesn't bother you, no need to take action. Either way, the skin below it will heal, the nail will die and fall off. Don't worry, it'll grow back.

Why does my bladder leak?
Urinary incontinence can be a problem for women, especially those who have given birth. Once the muscles that support the pelvic floor become weakened, anything from a cough to a burst of speed can cause a leak, says Patty Kulpa, M.D., a sports gynecologist in Gig Harbor, Washington, who has run eight marathons. "Kegel exercises help strengthen the pelvic-wall floor and are an effective cure for most cases of incontinence," she says.

To find these muscles, stop your urine stream while going to the bathroom. Before you get out of bed in the morning, contract the muscles for 10 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 times. Do the same thing throughout the day. Another trick is to run with a tampon, which can sometimes prevent leakage and help maintain muscle tone.

Why does my nose run as fast as my feet?
A runny nose, a condition called exercise-induced rhinitis, is most likely due to the increased air flow; as your breathing rate increases, your nose kicks into hyperactivity. "Cool and dry air-or both-have been shown to increase secretions, similar to what we see in exercise-induced asthma," says James Sublett, M.D., allergist and professor at the University of Louisville School of Medicine in Kentucky.

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If you're self-conscious about your drippy schnoz, know you're not alone: A 2006 study, published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, surveyed 164 exercisers and found that 40 percent had a runny nose while exercising inside, and 56 percent had one outside. Stuff your pockets with tissues, and perfect your farmer's blow: Breathe in through your mouth, like you're gasping. Lay a forefinger against one nostril and compress firmly. Purse your lips. c--- your head slightly in the direction of the open nostril and exhale forcefully through your nose.

Should I pop my blister?
These fluid-filled bubbles are caused by friction, excessive moisture (sweaty feet, wet weather), or shoes that are too small, too big, or tied too tightly. "Ignore blisters smaller than five millimeters (the size of a pencil eraser) since they're usually not painful," says Gregory G. Papadeas, D.O., a Denver dermatologist. But go ahead and pop doozies, especially if they hurt. With a sterile needle, prick the side of the blister and drain it. Don't remove the blister roof-cover it with an antibiotic ointment and moleskin or a bandage.

Banish blisters

If you feel a hot spot midrun, address possible causes: Are your socks bunching up? Is your heel slipping? Are your laces too tight? "If the blister hurts so badly that you're forced to change your gait, you're better off walking versus risking injury," says Stephen Pribut, D.P.M., a sports podiatrist in Washington, D.C.

How do I care for chafed skin?
Skin-to-skin and skin-to-clothing rubbing can cause a red, raw rash that can bleed, sting, and make you yelp during your postrun shower. Moisture and salt on the body make it worse. Underarms, inner thighs, along the bra line (women), and nipples (men) are vulnerable spots.

How to avoid foot injuries

Wear moisture-wicking, seamless, tagless gear. Fit is important-a baggy shirt has excess material that can cause irritation; a too-snug sports bra can dig into skin. Apply Vaseline, sports lube, Band-Aids, or NipGuards before you run. And moisturize after you shower. "Drier skin tends to chafe more," Papadeas says. Treat it by washing the area with soap and water, apply an antibacterial ointment, and cover with a bandage.

Have you encountered any (or all) of these problems? How do you deal with them?

Susan Rinkunas is an associate editor at Runner's World, a magazine (and website) that informs, advises, and motivates runners of all ages and abilities-and we mean it. Her blog on Yahoo! Shine offers tips on running technique, nutrition and weight loss, shoes and apparel, and balancing fitness and life.

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