Foot Care for Runners, Ultra Runners, and Adventure Racers
You name it, it’s happened to me - black toenails that eventually fall off, blisters the size of credit cards, bloody feet, hot spots that won’t go away, bruises that constantly ache, etc. As a multisport athlete, I think I’ve made just about every mistake there is in regards to footcare. I tend to push my feet to the limit by doing ultramarathons (a race that is longer than a marathon and is typically on a trail), 36 hour adventure races, Ironman triathlons, and XMS (eXtreme MultiSport) training weekends. After extensive pain, suffering, and trial & error, I finally know how to take care of my feet! Ultramarathons, adventure races, Ironman triathlons, and long runs are much more enjoyable if your feet aren’t screaming! In this article, I summarize the key lessons I learned the hard way. Hopefully, this advice will prevent you from having to suffer and go through the same pain I did! If you have any footcare tips of your own, please leave a comment.
Running on the Sun Trailer - Guy Has His Toenails Removed!
I typically wear thin socks for my road runs, but I wear thicker socks for ultramarathons, trail runs, and adventure races. It took me some time to figure it out, but I kept losing my toenails after adventure races. It was because my shoes were too small. Although I wear size 12 for road shoes, I need a size 12 ½ for trail shoes. This is due to the thicker socks I wear and also due to the more aggressive downhill running that occurs during ultramarathons and adventure races.
Gore-Tex. Avoid Gore-Tex shoes at all costs! There is no point in Gore-Tex shoes. I once accidentally bought a pair of shoes with Gore-Tex. I used these shoes on a 17 hour hiking trip and my feet were totally jacked up after the trip – I could barely walk for about a week. I’m convinced it was because my feet were overheating and couldn’t breathe due to the Gore-Tex material.
I typically buy all my running shoes from Road Runner Sports. I really like using their Shoe Dog feature to narrow down the results for my selections (Stability+). Shoe Dog is awesome. Check it out!
Socks - Cotton Not Allowed!
Don’t skimp on socks - you need the right socks! If you’re wearing cotton socks, you need to switch to a better technical fabric! Cotton = foot problems! For road runs, I typically wear DeFeet Aireator socks – a combination of nylon, coolmax ecomade, and lycra. I use these socks in Ironman races also. The DeFeet Aireator socks are very comfortable and have excellent durability, wicking, drying, and air permeability. I typically buy a “grabbag” of these through amazon.com – this is six pairs with various designs on them. I think these are just excess stock of certain sock patterns, but it’s way cheaper than buying them individually!
For ultramarathons or adventure races, I use wool socks. I typically go with SmartWool socks. I also like the “Darn Tough” brand of socks, made from Merino Wool. REI carries a good selection of SmartWool socks and you can order Darn Tough socks through amazon.com.
2008 Primal Quest Adventure Race Highlights
During ultramarathons, trail runs, and adventure races I’ve seen people do all sorts of strange things at water crossings (trying to jump across the water, throwing rocks in the water to step on, taking shoes and socks off, changing socks after crossing the water, etc.).
If you have the right socks and right shoes, just go through the water! The socks will wick the moisture from your feet and your shoes will breathe to aid in the wicking. My first ultramarathon was the SwampStomper 50K. It rained the entire night before the race, so almost the entire course was under water. My feet were wet for seven hours or so and I didn’t have any issues because I had the right socks, right shoes, and right anti-chafe solution!
For any run longer than about 10 miles, I use an anti-chafe product. I typically use a combination of Asics Chafe Free Powder and BodyGlide. I simply put a little of the Asics Chafe Free Powder in my socks and then shake the socks to evenly distribute the anti-chafe powder. For the BodyGlide, I rub it between my toes and on potential hot spots on the rest of my foot, such as the heel.
Blister Care 101 from The Distance of Truth - You want to Avoid this Situation!
Clip your toenails as closely as you can a day or so before a race or training. This may seem like a no-brainer, but I’ve forgotten to do this before and paid severely for it. There’s nothing more irritating than one of your toe nails digging into another toe!
I hope these suggestions help you on your multisport journey! If you have something to add, please leave a comment. Best of luck!
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