How to properly prepare your feet for running?
As soon as the Spring sun comes out, the urge to breathe in the fresh air and go for a walk in nature is greater than anything. Many people register to running events early so they can be motivated, set goals for themselves and challenge their limits.
But what are your feet’s limits? After all, they’re the ones that will take you to the finish line. Even though our physical and mental preparation allow us to succeed (most of the time!), a mere blister can ruin an entire race.
Open blister linked to shoe friction
1. A few parameters to take into consideration
The quality of care your feet receive is paramount and should depend on the type of event you’re training for. Indeed, your morphology and the distance you plan to run are variables that need to be accounted for to ensure optimal preparation.
For a 10 km event or a half-marathon, your skin can generally easily withstand the friction given the relatively short period of time. Beyond this distance, special attention needs to be paid. To avoid injuries, and enjoy your event comes D-day, you should take the following parameters into consideration.
First of all, not everyone reacts in the same way when it comes to friction. Those dealing with Hallux Valgus (commonly called “bunions”, which is a deformity of the first toe), Quintus Varus (also called “tailor’s bunion”, which is a deformity of the 5th toe), claw foot (also called “claw toes”, a deformity of the toes causing friction against the shoe) or a bony outgrowth will have more problems with friction than others. In order to prevent these distinctive features from causing pain and/or injuries during a race, it is important to identify them while you are preparation for your event to be in a better position to remedy the problem.
Although there are several solutions to avoid friction, it all starts with the right shoes. Test them out during training. If discomfort or friction persists, you may want to see a podiatrist or a pedorthist. These professionals can recommend external devices (e.g., gel socks, foam) or shoe modifications to limit friction.
Other factors such as small rocks, dust, sand and water may reduce comfort during running. These potential irritants can be avoided by wearing gaiters, waterproof running pants, etc.
As for ultra-marathons, friction of the toes against the shoe when running downhill must also be considered. Obviously, in these situations, training is the best preparation. In and of itself, it allows strengthening the epidermis and tanning the skin. Walking barefoot as often as possible also greatly improves tolerance of the skin. In short, knowing which problems might arise is the best way to prevent them.
2. Field experience and good common sense: a winning combination?
No study has yet determined the best product or best preparation technique for the feet, but good common sense and field experience have allowed me to provide you with some very useful tips to avoid foot pain while running.
- Let's start with choosing your shoes. Buy shoes preferably at the end of the day, as your feet will have swollen a bit. Choose a shoe with a toe box adapted to the shape of your feet, wide enough to avoid friction, and long enough to avoid friction while running downhill (1 size bigger is usually suggested). Prefer shoes equipped with adapted laces to enable tightening and loosening at will during the race depending on your feel and/or better adapt in case of pain (your podiatrist or pedorthist can give you advice about this). Once purchased, you will need to “break” in your new shoes, which means using them in training for several kilometers to ensure that all is well.
- Socks are also very important. They allow protecting your feet while limiting excessive sweating, which causes maceration. Socks should not cause friction either. As a result, socks should not restrict your toes, thereby causing friction between your toes, or have poorly placed seams or stitching, which could cause sores. For this reason, toe socks can be a good option, provided that your toes fit properly into them and that your shoes have a fairly wide toe box.
Quick story about Antoine GUILLON (winner of the 2015 Ultra-Trail World Tour) concerning one of his first races, which started very early in the morning: he decided to get dressed in the dark so as not to wake his fellow runners. He ended putting on thin socks instead of running socks he had already tested and approved. As a result, he suffered from many blisters under the external malleoli throughout the race... Which goes to show that testing your equipment is paramount.😉
3. Step-by-step preparation for your feet
Once your equipment has been tested and proven, the only thing that remains is to prepare your feet for the journey.
- It all starts 3 weeks before the race combining tanning with citric acid and hydration. Obviously, you will want to start walking barefoot as early as possible to strengthen your skin ahead of the race.
Tanning your feet can be done in several ways:
- A more “organic” version which consists in brushing your feet with 1 squeezed lemon or lime.
- A “turnkey” version which consists in purchasing “Tano” tanning foot lotion in a drugstore or online.
The citric acid mixture, organic or not, should be applied once a day, preferably in the morning. Great care must also be taken moisturizing the feet. This should be done in the evening to avoid maceration caused by spending the whole day wearing shoes (as your feet will be coated with cream).
Moreover, several products can be found to hydrate your feet.
- Once again, an “organic” cream for dry feet is available made from products of the hive and sold by Alvadiem (once per day in the evening)
- There is also a less organic-friendly cream best-known as Nok to be applied once per day in the evening.
Beyond these suggestions, many other moisturizers can be found on the market. Although they are mainly used in areas other than sports, they are just as effective.
- Then, 10 days before the race, make sure to perform last-minute maintenance. Go to your pedicurist and have them remove any accumulation of excessive layers of stratum corneum, cut your nails square and file the angles to avoid ingrown toenails.
Three days before the race, tanning should be stopped so as not to dry the skin entirely. However, keep hydrating your feet until the day of the race.
- D-Day is finally here! As is the case with your backpack, which requires attention so as not to forget anything, your feet require a specific type of preparation. Make sure to plan for spare socks during ultra-marathons, or even spare shoes to avoid maceration induced by perspiration or weather conditions.
While GORE-TEX shoes should be avoided in high temperatures, they can still be useful depending on the weather.
Tapings, strappings or any other adhesive strips should be avoided as much as possible as they can roll up and injure the skin even more.
Blisters caused by too much prevention (tapings) during an ultra-trail event.
The best option is to start with as few items as possible 😉. The body has the capacity to adapt as long as it is given enough time...
During the event, don’t hesitate to go to the podiatrists made available to you at aid stations. Don’t wait for a problem to get worse; there are always solutions that can help you get even further in the race.
- After the race, your feet deserve to be pampered. If necessary, go back to see the podiatrists to have any hematomas, blisters or others treated on arrival and make sure to remove your shoes and socks to let your feet breathe a little.
Now, all there is left to do is set a goal for this year and prepare accordingly. 😉
Enjoy the race.