Monday, September 17, 2012

Feet, feet, feet!

"Slow feet. Quick feet. Well feet. Sick feet. Up feet. Down feet. Here come clown feet."- Dr. Seuss

While a post on feet might seem entirely unnecessary, in my opinion Dr. Seuss was on to something when he dedicated an entire book to the subject. With the UltraBeast coming up this weekend, I have been thinking about feet. Feet can make or break even the most prepared athlete in an endurance event. If your feet quit, you are done. Here are a few things I have learned along the way that might be helpful to those venturing out for their first endurance event on their feet.

Preventing foot problems before they happen is by far the easiest way to deal with foot issues. Once you have blisters, swelling and/or bleeding, treatment is going to be only temporary and will only help so much. Protect your feet, especially if they are going to be wet with a few strategies:
When the course goes this way, you need to think about how you are going to prevent swamp foot a little differently

1) No cotton. Never. Synthetics and wool are both good options. Save the stylish knee high socks for another day. Enough said.

2) I like to wear two layers on my feet. Friction is going to be your enemy, particularly when your feet are wet. A second layer can prevent the skin on your feet from being peeled away-  even the slightest amount of sliding friction between you foot, grit, and footwear can do significant damage. I often use either a thin synthetic liner sock or double layer socks like Wright socks.

3) Add lube under the socks to further prevent chafe from rubbing. Vaseline, Body glide (or other similar products) all work well. In addition, both of these products will also add a hydrophobic layer to keep wet feet from getting punky as fast.

4) Never wear brand new shoes for a long race or long run even if they are the same shoe model and maker that you had before. Sometimes, even the slightest variation in the individual shoe can lead to your unanticipated demise if you don't put some miles on them first.

5) I personally don't think there is one shoe that is the magical answer to all foot ailments. Some people love Vibrams. Some love lightweight shoes similar to racing flats. Personally, I wear old fashioned sneakers. Wear what makes your feet most comfortable is what is best. Skip the fads.

6) If at any point during the event you have the opportunity to dry out your feet- do it. Even if it costs you time, it will be well worth it in the end. A change of shoes and socks at a drop bag or even a quick stop at an aid station to wring out socks that have been wet for hours- your feet will thank you. Don't subscribe to the mentality "they will just get wet again, why bother?" In 15 dry minutes, lots of healing and damage prevention can happen.


You tried to be proactive and it just didn't work out for you. Don't despair, things can still get better. Here are a few things to keep in mind.

1) Once you have identified that there is a problem, deal with it now. Don't hobble along telling yourself you will deal with it when it is convenient. It is never convenient. Again, if you can get your feet dry (drier) do it. Change your socks. Wring out your socks. Take off the shoes and socks and air dry your feet.

A change into dry shoes at Jay Peak.
2) Once your feet are dry, if you have blisters, pop them. Yep, pop them. I know- just what mom told you never to do. This is not going to feel great tomorrow- but tomorrow is another day, right? I actually use a sterilized needle to do it (alcohol pads, a match, etc.) or the tip of a pocket knife. Barbaric measures don't have to lead to infection. Once the blister is popped, you want to cover it to protect yourself from any infection. Cover it with a small amount of gauze, Band-aid, etc. with a dollop of Neosporin. On top of this I recommend adding a piece of tape that will hold the cover in place. While I shouldn't recommend Duct Tape because there are nasty chemicals in it that you shouldn't apply directly to your skin- it is what I use. You could also cover it with a more medically approved tape if you can find one that stays on when wet.

3) Before you put socks on, you should add another layer of protection. If you are developing other hot spots or trouble spots that aren't quite in need of popping and taping then a mixture of Gold Bond powder and Vaseline is a great option. I shake a little of the powder in my hand and then smear in the Vaseline to make a paste. Apply the paste liberally. It won't last super long, so you will need to repeat every few hours or so.

As soon as you can get your shoes off and dry your feet, the better off you will be. Also remove any tape (especially if you used Duct tape) as soon as you can. After thorough drying, I find that soaking my feet in an ice bath for a couple of minutes helps with pain, although I know some don't subscribe to this idea. A soak in Epsom salts for 5-10 minutes also can help with swelling, bruising and pain.  Be sure to let your feet dry out between treatments. I also find that getting up and on my feet as soon as possible helps get the healing process going.

If you give your feet the attention they need, they will reward you with lots of extra miles. Happy trails.

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