Google ‘marathoner’s feet’, go ahead, I’ll wait. Gross right? Guess what I’m an endurance runner and I don’t have feet like that at all! I have had a few issues over the years, not that many but I did have a big toe nail turn black and fall off once. The key with foot issues is to prevent them at the first sign of an issue rather than to treat them after they happen. However if you’re already at the treatment stage I have some help for that too. Like skin issues on the face there can be divided into dry issues and wet issues. The other compounding factor is that since your feet are the furthest point from your heart they take longer to heal due to lack of circulation. So whatever damage you do it might well be with you for a while. So we’ll divide this whole thing into left and right, I mean prevention and then treatment for specific issues. Maybe some general stuff at the end. So let’s dig in our heels and get started then!
Are the heels worth it?
I think this only applies to women out there but I could be wrong. In training the best bet is no heels. I’m sorry, I know, it sucks! If you’re working a training program the damage done in one night of heels can take two weeks or more to heal so hem your skirt, buy some cute flats even going barefoot would probably be better. Even if you’ll just be sitting, even if it’s just an hour and even if they haven’t done you dirty in the past, its best to skip it. Add alcohol to that situation and you might end up doomed. Even if you plan on hitting one wine bar and sitting for a couple of hours max we all know how these thing evolve. It’s one bar, then another, then some dancing and then you’re walking to the other side of the downtown for the good pizza all with the numbing effects of too many wobbly pops. The next day your feet are ruined and well you’ll probably have a headache. Don’t look at it as a punishment, look at is as an opportunity to buy more shoes! Grab a couple of pairs that won’t rub or dig into you that you’d be happy to wear on fancy days.
Always, always, good shoes
While we’re on the topic of shoes every pair you wear should fit well, not cause issues and you should really never be barefoot. This will help with foot issues but also prevent injury. Summer is hard because sandals have a tendency to rub causing injury when your feet are hot and sweaty. If you can find a great pair that’s actually comfortable and stylish buy them in bulk. If you have to sacrifice make sure they will only cause issues that don’t tend to bother you while you run. So flip-flops that cause blisters on either side of your foot are terrible but a pair that causes issues on the top knuckle of your third toe, that’s probably less of an issue.
Running shoes should fit well, too tight and you’ll end up loosing nails and getting blisters too loose and well that will cause blisters too. It’s especially important to pay attention to the toe box and heal since that’s the most likely place for problems to spring up. The other thing that an ill fitting pair of running shoes can cause is hotspots, often on the top of the foot. Hot spots are basically points where a shoe rubs and you become super aware of that point. It might feel hot, itchy or irritated. This is the first warning sign of a problem with a particular pair of shoes. On really long runs even a great pair of shoes can cause a hot spot as your feet swell a bit. A hotspot on the boney top of the foot is less likely to cause serious problems and can usually be alleviated by loosening the laces ever so slightly. If however you get a hotspot on the toes, heel or sides of a foot stop and check because that could be the start of a serious problem.
You should also be wearing something around the house, ideally that’s also supportive in addition to comfortable. We put a lot of steps in around the house cleaning and or making snacks. For me it’s mostly the second one. I wear a pair of old boat shoes around the house. They don’t mark the floors (as if we’d know) and they are easy to slip on. You don’t have to get fancy and it’s a great use for old running shoes.
These littler flockers are expensive yet important, like sell your first born for a week’s worth expensive. Ignoring this knowledge last year I actually did end up dealing with forming blisters last year in half training. I was wearing normal socks for most of my runs especially those that weren’t fast or long and that was a mistake. At some point in half training those ‘easy’ ones get pretty serious and tough too. During the winter or out of training wearing your regular socks isn’t that big a deal if your milage isn’t that high. Once you get into training though it’s best to always wear your fancy running socks. I sort of have two tiers of runnings socks, those that are super serious at $15+ a pair with a fancy brand and those that cost about that much for a bulk pack without a brand name. For long and or fast runs go with the expensive ones but the cheaper ones will do for all the others.
The perfect pair of running socks should be pretty much seamless, very tight to your feet and made of the most wicking fabric available. That’s also the recipe for preventing blisters and hotspots in general. Seams will only serve to rub the same spot of skin starting a blister, a tight fit protects your skin from the shoe and the removal of moisture prevents soggy foot skin which is more delicate and prone to injury. The last thing to consider is the thickness of the fabric which ranges from paper thin to thick and cushy. Some of that is a personal preference if you’re sweaty footed you might like thicker socks which also provide more padding or always go for a thin fit. The perfect pair might also vary with the weather through the year or the type of run you’re headed out for. In the winter I appreciate the coziness of a thick pair but for long runs in the heat of the summer it’s a wafer thin pair all the way. For me the perfect pair for a race feels dense and squeezes my mid-foot a bit more than average.
Who knew there was so much to consider with a pair of socks? Finally if you are prone to foot issues that spring up from wet feet or you’re running in the rain it’s not crazy to bring a spare pair for very long runs. Certain situations are begging for a blister and swapping out your socks midway can prevent the inevitable. If you notice an unexpected hotspot mid run just taking off your shoes and socks and putting them back on more carefully can help too.
A dry out period
Since most of the issues come from skin that’s slightly soggy a dry out period after a run is a great choice. Hang out with naked feet for a bit before re-shoeing is an easy way to calm a would be bad situation. Apply these lessons to your feet in all aspects of your life and you can avoid most foot situations that endurance running puts you at risk for.
At some point the prevention ship has sailed and you’re firmly in the treatment sea. If that’s the case here’s what you need to know.
Officially never pop a blister. However sometimes you just got to. If you’re going to do it, do it after a shower. Sterilize a needle and put three or four small holes at the edges. Then don’t wear any socks or shoes for the rest of the night to let the skin dry out. For a day or two if you’re not running keep polysporin on it while you have to wear shoes. When you run again cover the area with moleskin or a blister pad and change up your shoes and or socks if you can. Consider wearing one tight pair of socks and another over top for extra padding. Then the movement will be between sock layers hopefully and not layers of skin.
About the only gross runner foot thing I have is thickened pinky toe nails probably more so from heels but running certainly doesn’t help. Thickened toenails that split or just grow funny will likely just stay that way for pretty much ever. Now if you’re going to lose a toenail it will first get purple at the base then black then all weird and lift as the new toenail starts to grow underneath. If you’re on this roller coaster THROW AWAY YOUR SNEAKERS! Somewhere you won’t be able to get them back! You probably will need a bigger size and likely a different style entirely. The one nice thing about black emigrating toenails though, as gnarly as they look they usually don’t hurt!
Weirdly it’s 2019 and we don’t really know what causes bunions yet. Genetics, too tight shoes and certain arthritis-es can cause them. Either way get thee to a doctor because you’re going to need orthotics. Some looser shoes all around in the meantime can’t hurt.
Hots spots and pressure points
These just do happen after runs get really long. Say 15 km long. If you’re getting them before that then you have a shoe, sock or lacing pattern problem. The good news is these usually resolve shortly after your run on their own. If one is driving you nuts during a run stop, sit and re-tie your shoes making sure to loosen the whole length of the laces. This can help as our feet swell as we run. Hot-spots are the first warning sign of a blister so take it serious. If experimenting with different lacing patterns and tightness doesn’t help get some new shoes or thicker socks.
Ahhh, calluses, the ant-blister if you will and one of those dry issues. These are kind of a great thing because they toughen your feet in that spot and make you feel tougher overall. But they can get so thick they irritate you. Even though the scar from my foot injury a few years back is barely detectable that area gets a callus when my milage gets extreme. For me I just go over it with a razor a few times every bath time when your feet are soft. It removes a few layers of dead skin and the callus never really builds up. That way it will never progress. Honey is so afflicted from is work boots so we have to step it up a notch. I have a handheld sort of footy cheese grater. Soak your feet first to soften them and then go at your calluses until you can actually feel it. Another great way to soften your feet for shredding is to wear socks with boatloads of lotion or even better Vaseline to bed the night before.
As much as we blame the nail the issue is with the skin and usually a bit of accompanying infection. Since they are caused by wet feet, tight toe box and cutting the nail back beyond the side skin treatment is in the same vein. You’ll get relief from roomier shoes but the best results are from combatting the infection and inflammation. Always, always keep it slathered in antibiotic cream. Epsom salt soaks go a long way too. I like to really drench the thing in rubbing alcohol too when it starts to hurt for immediate relief before re-bandaging. You can cut the nail back if you can stand it. I also read about cutting a cotton swab stick diagonally to create a wedge and then placing cotton under the nail if you can stand that, but that might be best done by a doctor! If it get’s unbearable doctors do have options to help you out that aren’t available at home like minor office surgery. Eeeeek!
If all else fails liberal application of duct tape can go along way to keeping you on the road racking up those miles but it’s not a solution to the root of the problem. You may also want to experiment with body lubricants like body glide (or in a pinch just Vaseline) which can be a long term solution for very long runs, races and rainy day runs. What foot problems have you run into as a runner and how did you solve them? Share your best tips with the group!