For years, the norm has been to avoid getting your feet wet. When feet get wet for extended periods, usually the feet have skin that is soft and macerated. In long events, and especially in multi-day events, that can lead to trouble. Taping or patching wet feet, or macerated feet, is very difficult. So it is best to keep your feet as dry as possible.
This has always been the rule.
In the past few years, adventure style races have become popular, which puts runners in conditions where wet feet are the daily norm. Most often, these races are six to seven days in length. The race often includes running through the jungle or mountains with stream crossings, wet foliage, wet trails, mud, and extremely humid conditions. In these conditions, your feet are always wet.
If you think this doesn’t apply to you because you are doing a “dry” race, please consider this. Even dry races with no water crossing can produce wet feet. Dumping water over your head at aid stations to cool off will get water in your shoes. Plus our feet naturally sweat and this buildup can result in wet feet.
Shirley Thompson, the Race Director of the Jungle Marathon told me, “We always advise runners to train with wet feet so that they can focus on a strategy before they get to the jungle. As far as footwear is concerned, we always emphasize trail shoes with good grip, and that comfort is the main factor.”
So how can we do that? For training runs, soak your shoes and socks before heading out. Step in puddles or use a hose if they dry out. Try to keep them wet as long as possible. If you feel a hot spot or blister start, stop and adjust your shoes and add tape, lube or your favorite blister prevention product. Take time to find the best shoe and sock combination for your feet when wet.
Personal Foot Care of Wet Feet
Because your feet will be wet, often at the start of each stage, it makes sense to do some of your training with wet feet. Use the same shoe and sock combination that you plan to use for the race – and get them wet. Walk and run in them. Not just a 30-minute run, but hours! Put some distance on your wet feet that is the same you expect to do during the race. Try to also to do back to back wet feet training days. It’s that simple.
As said earlier, stop and deal with any hot spots as soon as you feel them. Check for folds in your socks, friction from dirt or sand, pressure inside your shoes – and get rid of these irritants. Lube the area or apply a piece of tape or blister prevention patch to help. This may seem like common sense, but many people ignore this simple step.
At the end of each day’s stage, remove your wet shoes and socks, dry your feet and air them as much as possible. If your feet have tape on them, remove the tape to dry the skin underneath. Wear sandals or Crocs around camp to keep your feet away from the wet ground and dirt and sand. Walking around barefoot will often aggravate wet, cold, and soft macerated skin. Later in the day or the next morning, re-tape your feet and patch any blisters.
Because you cannot count on medical people patching your feet the way you want them patched or that they will be available, you must learn how to patch your own feet. I have helped at events where I have patched feet all afternoon and evening, and then had people line up in the morning for more work. Sometimes the medical staff is stretched thin or cannot get to everyone. Be prepared to do your own patching and have your own equipment. Better safe than sorry.
Many times at races, I have seen athletes who have not trained their feet for the event. They enter a race and don’t put the necessary miles on their feet, don’t have the right shoes, don’t know how to manage and patch their feet. I encourage you to take the time to train with wet feet and condition them for the extremes of your race.
Lisa de Speville, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a close friend who often emails with insights on blisters and foot care. Yesterday I received the following email and asked whether I could share it with my readers. Her email contains insights on little toe blisters, issues with minimalist shoes, and fit of shoes modified with gaiters.
Here’s her email.
Last week I ran in the 5th edition of the Namib Desert Challenge. I had the pleasure of running in their inaugural event back in 2009 and so it really was a treat to return. Great event, well-organized, wonderful region of Namibia and a lovely warmth and hospitality from the organizers.
Since about June last year I’ve been running in more minimalist shoes. I’ve always enjoyed a softer, more tactile shoe and I took to the pair of Asics Gel Fuji Racers that I won at a race immediately. I liked them so much that I was even running them on road. I like to keep trail shoes for trail and road shoes for road so in about August I bought a pair of Inov-8s. The brand is relatively new in SA so I thought I’d give them a try (my road shoes have been Addias Response or Supernova for more than 10 years). Let’s see… I’m in the Men’s Road X 255 (6mm lift), which is not flat as a pancake. Both the Asics and Inov-8 are quite roomy and my feet enjoy this.
Certainly over the past three months I’ve felt a change in my soles – more firm and muscular, which stands to reason if they’re strengthening and working harder. It is muscle after all. Before I started adventure racing and running ultras my feet were 1.5 shoe sizes smaller and I have a feeling that my feet are another half-size bigger in recent months.
So, the time comes for the Namib Desert Challenge and I get my favorite race shoes stitched with Velcro for my desert gaiters. Everything is ready. I hadn’t worn these shoes for a while. They were still relatively new – perfect for going into a multi-day race - as I’d bought two pairs of the same at an end-of-range special many months ago. I’d flattened the first pair so they were in no condition for this race.
When I put my foot into the shoes in the days before the race to get a feel for them again they felt a little tight, especially across the width of my forefoot. And more than just newness. This is why I figure my feet are a certainly a half-size bigger. Nothing that some lace-loosening wouldn’t sort out.
I started to develop what I call ‘triangle toes’ almost immediately. This is the one thing I avoid like the plague because I hate having sore little piggies. Triangle toes is where the underside of the little toe – and sometimes the neighbor next door – becomes pointed. A blister forms here and can result in a ‘toe sock’ – where the skin of the whole toe comes off, almost like a sock. It’s nasty and I not very fondly recall some incidents of almost toe sock about 10 years ago in adventure races. Since then I take special care pre-race to make sure my little toes stay ’rounded’ and that any harder, potentially triangular skin, is filed off regularly.
I dealt with the resulting blisters – stage 2 or 3 they came up on both little toes - by draining, leaving overnight to dry and then added some tape for the stages. I tried to flatten the triangle under the tape, but it ended up triangular again at the end of the stage. For the most part they gave me little trouble.
At the start of the 55km ultra stage on Day 4, I was debating whether to remove the inner soles for give my feet more room so that the little toes would have more width. It felt odd so I started with them in and my laces not too tight. By the first waterpoint I needed to change something so I took out my innersoles. I had to re-tape a toe a little way further because the change in space altered something. After this, no problem.
I’ve never run in shoes without innersoles and it really changes the feel of the shoe. The Adidas Response TR shoes really suit my feet – I’ve been running in them for 13 years! Taking out the innersole changes them to the Inov-8 feel. Flat and bland inside, which isn’t a bad thing – just different. It also makes the sole feel so much more flat and less cushioned – I felt like I was running in a non-cushioned shoe… for 47km!
Fortunately I was none the worse for wear but, for sure, if my feet hadn’t been conditioned from 10 months of running in ‘flat’ shoes my feet would have felt it. I ran the 5th and final stage without the innersoles too.
Aside from the triangle toes, my only other foot ailments included an injured big toenail on my left (not sure why? perhaps from a kicked stone?). The toenail developed a blister underneath, which was easily solved by drilling into the nail to relieve the pressure. I only discovered this one after the second stage when inspecting my feet. The other blister came up on the long stage under the ‘joint’ of my left big toe, where it connects to the foot. I have some scar tissue there from when I sliced my toe open many, many years ago. It occasionally twinges and at this race, on the long day, I caught exactly this spot so many times on rocks – prodding in. I couldn’t have purposefully aimed as many times in that exact spot! Again, not a bother (fortunately!) and easily solved by draining. On the final stage I didn’t hit it once and so it didn’t flare up again. For the rest, beautiful feet after 230km.
As I haven’t had triangle toes for years, this confirmed for me that width-ways just-that-little-too-tight squeezing of the forefoot is almost guaranteed to cause triangle toes and the resulting underside blisters, with the potential for toe sock, somewhere you do not want to go. In fitting shoes we tend to focus on the amount of space at the front of the shoe but definitely need to pay attention to left-right wiggle room.
Finally… one of the runners had really badly injured toenails (most of them) and the tops of his toes. The reason… too small desert gaiters for his shoes! I don’t know what kind they were (not mine) but they were Velcro attached (around the shoe) and pulling at the top and front of his shoe and causing toe injury. Live and learn.
Lisa de Speville
Johannesburg, South Africa
Adventure Racing: www.ar.co.za
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Health, Sports
Every so often I hear a foot care story from an athlete that intrigues me. It’s fun to read their story about their issues with their feet and then the steps they took to find answers.
One of the best examples of this is Nathan’s story on page four in the 5th edition of Fixing Your Feet. He told the story of how he studied foot care techniques and learned hot to manage his feet – and successfully finished Racing the Planet’s Australia race.
Then the other day I received an email from Karen. I liked her story and asked if I could share it with my readers. She agreed. Here is what she wrote.
First, I am extremely prone to blisters. Initially I thought it was friction. I tried Hydropel, but its sticky nature attracted dirt but did nothing to calm my problem. At Fruita one year, Lisa and Jay (Smith) Batchen shared their knowledge in a presentation about the three primary causes and the light bulb went off. Hydration is my primary issue – specifically bloating. The bloating happens because I’m no longer processing fluids.
After working thru formulas and cause and effect for several years on my own, I finally solicited help from Scott Jurek -I knew him from Coyote events. Mutual friends had helped me focus on running nutrition, but I wasn’t making progress on my own. Scott helped me maintain my ability to process fluids and enabled me to delay bloating and blisters.
When I get blisters, they’ll either start as a hot spot on my pads or a painful toenail. I get them under my toenails (which I keep extremely short) or the entire pad of my foot/feet will get it. Over New Years with a very low mileage base, I went to California and ran/hiked 34 miles. Had a hot spot early that I actually taped, and a blister on a toe but that was it – a sign that I was on the right track!
I’ve also become smarter on dealing with my blisters. I still get them, but they aren’t crippling. Once after my first attempt at the Leanhorse 100, they were so bad they caused me to miss the cutoff, and they got dangerously infected. Two years later, I went back and finished – it was my first 100. I still got blisters but they didn’t prevent me from meeting my goals.
Here’s what I do now for my feet other than monkey with hydration:
- Work on my calluses and keep my toenails trimmed
- Get my orthotics re-surfaced at least a couple months before event
- Keep my shoes and socks current too and only use Smartwool socks
- Train on the exact terrain I expect and work on the plan for my feet – it’s just as important as my physical and nutritional race plans
- My starting feet recipe is to use BodyGlide on my feet before putting on socks. Then change my socks every 20 miles if I’m running anything over 50K.
- Carry a foot kit on my back at all times with a couple Engo Pads for hot spots on my orthotics, a couple of alcohol wipes, blister pads and a safety pin, and duct tape for real emergencies on a pencil or on my water bottle
- A full fledged foot kit for crew or in a later drop bag with new supplies for my carry kit, Desitin if it’s wet conditions, and tape/scissors/tincture for the next defense. An injection devise and zinc oxide and Second Skin/New Skin as final defense. I had to do all three lines of defense to actually finish Leanhorse, but we did it.
Thank you Karen for sharing your foot care plan.
Today’s post is long, but illustrates a valuable point. The Facebook post below started a long chain of responses – all suggestions on what the poster could do to eliminate her blister problem. There were a total of 64 responses. Let’s get right to what was initially posted.
Original Facebook Post
So some of you may remember the nasty blood blister I got during Boston in 2011. I am very unhappy to say I have another one as a result of yesterday. Today I will be doing a GREAT amount of reading on not only how to treat but prevent this from happening again. My next long run is 20 miles. I think that moleskin is going to become my new best friend for EVERY long run.
I use Sportslick and only wear Wright socks (thin, double layer) for long runs. For my last Ironman I put anti-perspirant on my feet everyday for a week before the race. I got no blisters. Good luck!
Soldiers have been known to wear panty hose footies during marches. And tape every hot spot.
Going to look up mole skin because since I lost 90+, my sneakers were huge on me and I didn’t realize it so after the bursitis incident I walked a few miles and had horrible blood blisters that were UBER painful. I applied Band-Aids the next day and kept hustling… moleskin eh? Thank you and healing love to your blisters. They hurt!
May be time to re-evaluate your shoes. I got a whopper this summer after a 20 miler. My inserts in that particular pair of shoes were causing me to run a little odd.
Moleskin! I used it with any shoe that pinches or rubs, especially heels. I found cleaning my skin with alcohol first helps it adhere the best and stays even after taking showers!
If you have sweaty feet be warned moleskin can be sweated off. It is probably the best out there though to prevent blister. If it gets rolled or folded it can make the problem worse.
I use Sportslick and wear Wright socks as well. No blisters as of yet. It got me through my first marathon with no blisters and it rained that day and my feet were soaked. It didn’t do much for my bruised toe nails though lately I have been using Monkey Butt” anti-chafing powder when training for triathlons. Have had great results with this product with my bike shorts. But for feet, I would recommend Sportslick as it is a thick petroleum based ointment. Best of luck! And remember, one foot in front of the other. It doesn’t have to get any more complicated than that!
New shoes may also be the answer. I switched from running in Nike Air Pegasus years ago to Mizuno Wave Riders with little to no blistering. Turns out I needed a narrower toe box and the Nike Pegasus toe boxes would stretch a great deal over time.
Research socks and use a Bodyglide type product .
I have hyper mobility in my feet. I was using Sauconys. Horrible foot pain. Got some Mizuno. Best shoes ever! I can run without pain!
I use anti-perspirant and change my socks every 5 miles .
Try Balega dry fit socks. I NEVER get blisters anymore and I’ve completed two marathons and two Ironmans in them. Used to get blisters all of the time before I switched!
Mizunos + Bodyglide + a great fitting pair of socks = No blisters… ever again!
I get the cheap Monistat anti-chafing cream and put that on my blister prone areas, and it works perfect!
My latest blood blister peeled off the end of my toe just this week! I had a little party!
Have you ever tried Smartwool socks? They are pricey, but worth it. I haven’t had a blister since I started wearing them on my runs .
We always wore two thinner pairs of socks in high school if we had history of blisters… one pair inside and it worked like a charm.
Inside out [socks].
Here’s my 2 cents! I keep my toenails as short as I can handle- short! Smear on some Vaseline between my toes wear the same brand of sox and so far so good.
Moleskin is amazing, and glide works well too. I have heard if you’re in a pinch use deodorant where there is any friction.
In the years I have done marathons/half marathons, I find that having the right shoes, using wicking socks (I too use the Wright socks), and use talc/baby powder in between my toes I do not get blisters.
I gave up on running because of constant and ongoing blisters, I tried several shoes etc nothing helped, I loved running but those blisters were so painful, what is moleskin?
Totally agree with Smartwool socks. They rock.
Try Nuskin. I have a friend who is a marathon runner and this company is her sponsor. Supposedly very good!
Love moleskin! I get wicked blisters without it and none with it. The stuff rocks! Superb for healing blisters too!
Military uses just basic slip on panty hose/dress socks especially with long hauls when carrying 80+lbs in the desert – it works and it is cheap.
Mole Skin and my hiking boots = Love.
Panty hose and then socks over?
I swear by these don’t know if you have used/seen them – Nike Elite Anti-Blister Low-Cut Tab Running Socks.
I spray my feet with Trislide if I start getting any rubbing in my shoes. I can run barefoot and not get a blister no matter how long I go.
SUPER HELPFUL! OKAY NOW FOR TREATMENT FOR MY EXISTING BLISTER? IDEAS? I HAVE RUNS THIS WEEK.
There are lacing techniques that you can try to that help prevent this – as with some of the other comments; you may need a different shoe or sock. I’m sorry, that’s such a pain! I recently switched from Saucony to Mizuno’s & have had a really great experience so far.
Try the book Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof. We ultra runners swear by this book.
Yeah I do believe my Saucony Kinvaras are out for this very reason. Both times I wore them – in Boston and again yesterday it happened.
The best stuff for blister is Compeed. It is now sold by Band-Aid as Blister Band-Aid and still says Compeed on the box. You can put over the blister and still run without feeling anything. I always carry with me on races. Just in case!
To heal the latest blisters I had to pop them as they were so big I couldn’t put shoes on. Then I cut the size of the blister out of the center of the moleskin and place it over/around the blister. Kept blister clean and voila, perfectly fine that night!
Yes – pantyhose and then socks over – they glide and no friction in between skin and toes.
I play hockey and some girls get the worst blisters from skates. It was actually a doctor on our team that recommended using duct tape! It does work better than moleskin and with good socks. This is at the stage where you are getting irritated in a certain spot, not of course after the blister has formed!
I second the double sock and panty hose method. I actually found ones you wear for ballet flats very helpful. Not sure how they would do on long hauls as I was a short and medium distance sprinter. Cheap and easy.
I have ran a ton of marathons and have stopped getting blisters when I purchased a good pair of socks and bought my shoes a size and a half bigger. So one good sock and big shoes = happy feet.
What you are describing sounds like poorly fitted shoes to me. Make sure you get fitted a good running shoe store, and tell them up front that you have a problem area. A good running shoe fitter should be able to fix the problem.
Knee high pantyhose along with powder maybe but the pantyhose should protect your feet from the friction.
You need to check out Incrediwear.com – they have the best socks for runners. My husband does marathons and I’ve recently started running myself. There is no question our feet don’t hurt and they wick away the sweat. They are made with bamboo charcoal and they increase blood circulation.
Wright socks!! I get them sometimes. But I wear Vibram FiveFinger shoes. And any other running shoes I have are minimalist shoes. So not socks… But if you do wear socks. Get some 2-layer Wright” socks! They are awesome. Or an old army trick. Wear nylons/knee highs under socks.
You are not supposed to pop blisters ever. If they pop on their own fine. But I would cover it up with something like the moleskin or a blister Band-Aid and wear good socks and shoes. I like the knee-high panty hose idea. Good luck & feel better!
I hate to hear that girl…I run in Asics, and those socks I told you about and have never had a blister…sorry feel better girl!
I remember that blister because I had an awful one at the same time! I finally stopped getting them when I went to a actual running store, they fitted me with a pair of Sauconys with a wide toe box and laced them just from the middle of the shoe and up. In all the miles I ran after that never got another blister and my black toenails grew out and had no more problems with that either! It’s the wide toe box that saved my feet.
If the blister is open, use vitamin E oil on it at night. Air it out as much as possible. If the blisters are so large you can’t wear shoes, take a cleaned (alcohol) safety pin and drain. Don’t tear skin off. It is best not to pop but sometimes it’s needed. Motrin for the pain may seem extreme but if you r in so much pain and start altering your stride you’ll get even more blisters.
Try Second Skin. It works very good for soldiers. In two days your feet will be like new!
I never got blisters-and i used to run 65 miles a week. My trick was either Thorlo socks, or wearing two pairs of snug socks. And wearing shoes that were a full size larger. My favorites are Kswiss performance. When running distance, your feet swell so much, you need the space to be able to accommodate it.
Vibrams! They literally took away all my feet problems, including blisters. I love them.
Essential oils are helpful for treating the actual blister. Lavender and tea tree (also called Melaleuca) will help it heal. Apply 2-3 drops of each every couple hours – or when you think of it really. I hope it feels better… they are nasty.
I grease my toes and footpad down with simple cocoa butter Vaseline before any run or distance walk! Haven’t had a blister since! Took a couple times to get used to the immediate feel, but now a year later with no blisters, I hardly notice I’m doing it any more! It’s cheap & simple! And, foot fitting socks! I have my favorite kind that I own multiple pairs of, got them at the local Fred Meyer!
I do the same for long runs. And sometimes baby powder to. Helps with the moisture.
After all 54 responses, I had to weigh in. Here’s what I wrote:
As the author of Fixing Your Feet, I’ll comment that some of what has been suggested here is good but some is not what I would recommend. There is no “one right” answer to the ago-old blister problem. There are many causes and many answers. Try some and find what works for your feet. What’s important is fit, socks, trimmed and filed nails, reducing calluses, and a high-quality lube if needed to reduce friction.
Later, I emailed Jenny and based on what she described and the picture of the blister, here is my response to her.
Let’s talk treatment first. Because it’s a blood blister, I’d try to keep the roof intact. If it opens, your circulatory system is open to possible infection. I lance them, but I am used to doing that, and give the athlete a lecture on infection. Generally if you soak your foot in warm/hot water with Epson Slats, several times a day, the blood and fluid will be reabsorbed – and the blister will harden. Over time, after that, the top layer of skin may slough off but by then, the possibility of infection is over. Start there. If the blister ruptures, make sure you use an antibiotic ointment and keep it covered. Signs of infection are redness, heat, swelling, pus, pain, and streaks moving up the foot. That becomes serious. Make sure your Tetanus shot is up to date (usually about every 8-10 years).
As far a prevention goes, here are a few thoughts:
- I think I see the edge of callus at the forward edge of the blister. I don’t like calluses. Try and reduce any you might have.
- Do you have bunions? If so, that changes a few of my ideas.
- I’d guess that you have a shoe issue (meaning fit). If you have wide feet, or the shoes you wear are too narrow, you’ll have these problems. I read you wore the same shoes both time this happened. That’s a good sign you don’t have a good fit. A better fitting shoes could solve your problem. Can you get fitted at a good running store?
- Something else I see is that the bottom edge of the blister is right at the edge of where the insole hits the side of the shoe. This again gets to the issue of fit. There is pressure there, creating friction, that cayses the blister, that builds from this bottom edge upward.
- One option is to protect the area with a strip of tape. Duct tape isn’t the best, but would work. Don’t use white athletic tape. It won’t stick. I prefer Leukotape.
- You could cut a horizontal slit in the side of the shoe over the pressure point.
- I hate moleskin and never use it. It does not stick well, does not conform to the shape of the area, and is too thick. Stick to tape. The ONLY kind I would recommend is Profoot Velvetex Moleskin (available on Amazon).
- Only wear moisture wicking socks.
Something to understand, that I preach all the time, is that what works for one person will not necessarily work for another. That goes for socks, shoes, lubricants, powders, etc. We each are an experiment of one and need to determine what our feet need. Keep me posted.
For years blister care has been fairly standard. Many athletes use Second Skin over the top of a blister and then apply tape to hold that in place. Some still use Vaseline. Others will drain the blister and cover with a Band-Aid or athletic tape. And some will use zinc oxide under tape.
All can work – but some work better than others. I’ve seen many runners who have tried one of the above with poor success.
Sometimes the lack of blister patching success happens because of a poor tape job. Maybe too little adhesive around the patch and it didn’t stick. Maybe the blister was not lanced correctly and refilled with fluid. Or maybe the Second Skin migrated under the tape and folded on itself or might have been old and too dried out to work as designed. Or the Second Skin made the skin too moist and maceration occurred, causing more problems. Or too little Vaseline or zinc oxide was used and friction reoccurred, leading to an increase in fluid.
So here’s the deal. I am interested in hearing from a few athletes, runners or adventure racers, walkers or hikers – who get serious blisters almost every time they go out. I don’t mean a minor ¼ inch blister, but a blister ½ inch or larger, anywhere on the foot. And especially those where the roof tears off, leaving raw skin underneath. The worst, the better and the bigger the better. This is not a prevention item but would be used as a treatment for formed blisters.
I have a product to test and need four to six testers.
Send me an email and tell me about yourself, what you are doing when you get blisters, and how you have treated them in the past – what you have tried and what worked or didn’t work. If will do my best to respond to all who send me an email. Please sned an email rather than a comment on the blog.
I’ll pick the best of the worst cases and supply you with sample product and suggested ways I want you to use it in the trial. I’ll give you forms to use to record your results and may ask for a photo or two. I will ask for your confidence in the trail until I can judge the results.
I make no guarantees as to whether this will work or not. But I think it’s worth a test. This is not a homegrown product but one made by a medical company.
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Footwear, Sports, Travel
Last week I read a report over at BirthdayShoes.com about a guy who completed the Jungle Marathon in the Amazon in Vibram FiveFingers. I was fascinated by what I read and contacted the race director who made the connection. Stuart Crispin sent me the article he submitted to Vibram.
“I recently completed the 2012 Jungle Marathon in Brazil, and in doing became the first person ever to take part in and finish this grueling event wearing a pair of Vibram FiveFingers (VFFs). With the help of a pair of VFF Spyridons men’s 43 I even managed to finish the worlds toughest endurance race, as listed by CNN, in 5th place overall. I did not wear toe socks at any time during the race. [Stuart's overall time was 47 hours, 43 minutes.]
The race is a six-stage, seven-day self-supported foot race. Runners have to carry all of their food, clothing, hammock, sleeping bag/liner, medical kit and other mandatory kit, as well as 2.5 litres of water (picked up at every checkpoint). My rucksack at the start of day one weighed about 12.5kg. The longest stage on day five is a non-stop 108.5 km ultramarathon. The total seven-day distance covered was over 255km across swamps, dense jungle, mangroves, sandy beach, creeks, rivers and dirt roads. (Details at junglemarathon.com).
Before flying out to take part, I wrote to the race director who advised me not to wear VFFs suggesting they might not offer enough support for such a long distance race. I also emailed a previous competitor, who is also a physiotherapist for her advice on wearing VFF. Her response was ‘… FiveFingers will be a disaster… they will not offer your feet the support they need… they are not designed for such long distance running… and they won’t have enough grip to help you stay upright on the seriously wet and muddy terrain, particularly on the severe ascents and descents.’
Despite this advice I opted to go with my Spyridons. Thanks to the clever Kevlar lining in the sole I had every confidence they would give my feet enough support to avoid injury to the sole of my foot while running through the dense jungle, where the floor was covered in sharp spiky objects as well as spiky stinging insects like scorpions. I felt no impact at all underfoot and the Spyridons’ grip was more than adequate to cope with the muddy terrain. A week before going to Brazil for the race I wore my Spyridons to hike up Snowdon, the UK’s third highest mountain. They were great for that too, although while walking across large, wet slightly tilted rocks and boulders I could feel my feet slip slightly, but I think that may have happened in walking boots also. The hike up to the summit left me in no doubt that my Spyridons were the right choice for the Jungle Marathon.
The tough material used for the upper is still in exactly the same condition it was before the 255km race. There are no tears or cuts at all to the upper of both shoes, and the soles too are also damage free. The only minor sign of wear and tear is a very small section of the material on the outside of one of the big toe pockets, where it has very slightly come away from the sole. But in order to see it you have to look closely and after such a long way in some seriously aggressive and tough terrain, including deep bogs and swamps I think that is extremely impressive and shows how robust the Spyridons are.
I did have a concern about using the Velcro strap version as I wondered how it would hold up in the swamps and bogs. Some of the bogs were up to 1km long and over knee deep with mud. My concern was whether the strap would stay secure and tight when pulling my leg up out of the mud, as I did not fancy losing a shoe. However, the VFFs are designed to fit snugly to the foot so although on a couple of occasions the strap came undone the shoe remained firmly in place on my feet. But this did not happen during every swamp or bog, and there were many.
Every single day of the race I had several other competitors asking me about my choice of footwear, often questioning whether I would be able to finish the race. My reply was the same every day, that they were extremely comfortable and I felt no pain or any objects under foot at all. They looked amazed but also looked very impressed. Many of them said they were going to try using VFFs after the event. Perhaps even more impressive than the toughness of the shoe, is the comfortableness of the Spyridons for running and hiking. After running 255km I did not have a single blister on either of my feet, and that is dispite starting and finishing every day with wet soggy feet. The only sores I had on my feet were between a couple of my toes caused by sand getting between them during the 108.5km long stage. I had already run several miles on sand during the previous four stages without any problems with the sand at all. During the long stage I think it only happened due to having had wet feet since 4.30am at the very start of the stage when we started with a river crossing, and by the time I ran on sand I had been running with wet feet in 35 degree heat in almost 100% humidity for over 12 hours. Perhaps if I had put on a pair of toe socks I may have been able to prevent the sores at all but as they were only minor I opted to just carry on to the finish.
The race director, who advised against wearing VFF, saw me on day four at the first checkpoint and said she couldn’t believe I was still going wearing them, and going so well. She said every day she expected me to pull out with trashed feet and after the race told me how seriously impressed she was with me for finishing in 5th place and wearing VFFs for the entire race.
I had reservations myself about wearing VFFs and I don’t think my Bikilas, KSO’s or Classics FiveFingers would have been up to the task. But thanks to the Spyridons trail running qualities I was able to wear them. In my opinion the Spyridons are the most comfortable running shoe I have ever worn. I have run over 20 marathons on both road and off road, and several ultramarathons including multi-day events in the Sahara, the Atacama in Chile, the Himalayas and Scottish highlands, as well as 100km and 100 mile non-stop races. I have worn several different brands of running shoes, some of which have left me with horrendous blisters. Some have been ok when it comes to blisters, but even if I finished blister free I always felt ‘hot spots’ which is the start of a blister. I have never worn a running shoe that has left me with zero blisters and zero hotspots.
I would have no hesitation at all in recommending VFF to other runners and for trail/off road running at the moment in my mind there is no better option than the Spyridons.
I will definitely be using Spyridons for my future off road running and will continue to recommend them to other runners who always approach me at races and while I’m out training, asking about them and how they feel.
I would be happy for you to use this review if you wish, as I would like other people to know about my experience of using VFFs. I searched the web before the race looking for other reviews or advice on using VFFs in such extreme environments but the information out there was limited. No one has ever worn Fivefingers in such an event and I would be happy to share my experiences with others. I am also a qualified personal trainer, as well as a London based firefighter, and will recommend the sensible and safe use of VFFs to some of my clients where suitable.
I asked Stuart a few questions and here is what he wrote back, “The Jungle Marathon was my first multi-day race wearing Vibrams. Before that I ran the London Marathon in VFF Bakilas but since I hadn’t run further than 12 miles in them before the marathon the jump in distance was rather silly and I did get some minor pain in my left foot. But I didn’t get a single blister or hot spot and like in the jungle I ran with no socks. My longest run before the Jungle was 14 miles off road and I ran with wet feet and again had no blisters. I have run several multi-stage ultras and marathons and only the VFFs left me with no blisters. I know they probably won’t work for everyone but I won’t run in trainers ever again. Before wearing VFFs I used Injinji toe socks and they definitely helped reduce the amount and severity of blisters I got from running than when I wore normal socks (including two socks).”
Thank you Stuart for this great report and congratulations on your finish.
If you are interested in learning more about the Jungle Marathons, the links are below. Shirley Thompson, the race director, puts on challenging races, well run with a great safety record, and a professional staff. It is my hope to be at both these events next year.
In October 2010 I wrote a blog post about a runner at the six-day ThanksRockies who wore FiveFingers for the 115 mile race. If you want to check out the link, here’s the post: Vibram FiveFingers at the Gore-Tex TransRockies.
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Footwear, Health, Sports, toenails
I believe strongly in prevention as a proactive measure in foot care.
Tim Noakes’ sixth law of running injuries must be heeded—any running injury can be cured only after the cause is found and eliminated. All of us who run, hike, or adventure race at some point have problems with our feet or sustain foot injuries. The prevention chapters are numerous and lengthy because many factors contribute to foot problems and injuries, and for every factor, there is a preventive measure that can reduce or eliminate it. Prevention is the key to saving your feet. Dave Scott, a good friend and ultrarunner, put the foot problem in proper perspective: “When you don’t take care of your feet during a long run or race, each step becomes a reminder of your ignorance.”
It’s very easy to relinquish our responsibility for preparedness and let someone else dictate what we should do. We tend to listen to those whom we look up to and to those who are more experienced. In many ways this is OK, and it is often the way it should be. However, only you can determine what works for your feet.
Knowing your prevention options is important. That’s being proactive. I get emails every week from athletes who are looking for answers for their feet issues.
Some have my book but others don’t. Some have the book and have gone through the chapters to find possible treatment options. Others have the book and haven’t read it – and want me to answer their questions.
I try. Sometimes it works and sometimes not. While I answer from my experience and knowledge, I don’t have your feet. And that’s important.
Your feet have your abnormalities (hammer toes, bunions, thick toenails, skin that calluses, a tendency to athlete’s foot, a tendency to blisters, etc.), your ankles, your shoes and socks, your fit (good or bad), your training base, your stride and gait, and more.
You are the best person to find what works for your feet. Others may give suggestions. Fixing Your Feet can give suggestions and I may offer a few via email or in this blog, but you need to try them on your feet to find the one that works best.
You are the key to prevention.
Please, don’t show up at a race with a bad case of athlete’s foot, holes in your socks, shoes that have outlived their support, insoles that are flat as paper, toenails that are long and untrimmed, shoes that don’t fit, huge thick calluses, blisters that are unhealed, thick nails from untreated toenail fungus.
Yes, I have seen all of these.
Again, you are the key to prevention.
Several years ago I met Gregg at Badwater in Death Valley. We were in line to check in at Furnace Creek and I heard the last name. It was the same as an aunt of mine. Turns out we are related.
At Badwater he ran well and finished near the top. Later that year, he and his wife moved to Asia and I had not heard from him – until the other day. He sent an email about running the Spartathlon in Greece. It’s a 246-kilometer (153 mile) race between Athens and Sparta. The Spartathlon aims to trace the footsteps of Pheidippides, an Athenian messenger sent to Sparta in 490 BC to seek help against the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. Here’s his email:
I just finished running Spartathlon. It was nearly as hot as Badwater (100.4), ok maybe not as hot as Badwater, but it was far to hot for this race, considering it is normally 86. The race by the way is fantastic; I would highly recommend that you make a trip out there if you get the chance.
So, I took a photo of my feet after the race and thought you might like the photo, being that you are the foot guy. Might make for a good example. The blister appeared to start from underneath the pad of my foot by my big toe. The pressure built up so much that it formed the blister on top of my foot as well – as you can see from the photo. Pretty cool if you ask me. I probably ran with it for 50 miles, since I didn’t change my shoes and didn’t feel like taking them off. They lanced it when I finished… as I was receiving two bags of IV fluid. Haven’t had any problems with it since, although it has taken a few days for the pressure under my foot to slowly recede.
As you can see in the photo, there is blood in the blister. Here’s where you have to be careful and take precautions to prevent infection. I don’t encourage people to lance these on their own, but in aid stations with the right equipment and knowledge, it can be done. When I do it, I always give the athlete the warning signs of infection: redness, warm to the touch, pain, fever, pus, and swelling. If you have a blood blister, be careful.
Really though, Gregg’s feet look pretty good for just having run 153 miles. Don’t you agree?
In August I worked the Gold Rush Adventure Race in the California Sierras. Throughout the race I worked at three checkpoints. As racers needed foot care, I carried my lounge chair and foot care box to where their team was set up and did what I could.
Most racers had hot spots, blisters and sore feet. A lot of times, athletes tell me that have blisters and yet, after cleaning their feet, none are visible. They may have a very sore spot or a hot spot, but there is no blister. Sometimes I can tape over the area or place a Spenco patch to provide a bit of cushioning. I often add an Engo Blister Prevention Patch to their insole underneath the tender area on their foot.
A lot of the racers needed blister care and taping. My whole aim when patching feet is to get the racers back in the race. I do what I can to drain and patch blisters on any part of the foot.
One of the racers came into checkpoint where they were transitioning from bikes to foot. At this point, they had been on their feet for almost two days. They started with a long paddle, followed with a long bushwack up a canyon, and then a really long bike section. The team was near the end of pack. The four members sat and discussed their options and whether to continue. The next section was a long trek of about 36 miles.
The racer needing foot care took off his shoes. As he sat back in my lounge chair, I removed his socks. His heels were fine, however he had major problems with blisters at the ball of the foot where the toes started. Both feet were the same. I cleaned his feet and did an evaluation.
I wish I had taken a few pictures of his feet but I was too involved in getting his feet patched so the team could continue. At the base of each toe were blisters. Many extended to several toes. Some of the blisters extended up between the toes. The majority had blood in the fluid. There were blisters at the base of the toes from one side of the foot to the other side – on both feet. His feet were swollen so the blistered skin was stretched tight from the fluid. In addition, several of the toes had blisters on the bottoms or sides, several with blood inside.
The blood in the blisters was my major concern and that there were so many of them. I usually drain blood blisters and with clean skin and a dab of antibiotic ointment – in a 24-hour race, I’m comfortable doing that. I always ask the person if they are up to date with their Tetanus shots and give them instructions about infections.
I talked to the racer and gave him my honest opinion – that he not continue in the race. We talked and I gave him my reasons. The next section was about 36 hard miles of cross-country trekking. His feet would get wet, and this would soften the skin and lead to further skin breakdown. The blisters were in a hard area to patch and it would especially be one long patch at the base of all his toes. The swollen condition of his feet was not going to get any better. And most important, the blood in so many blisters, even with the blisters lanced and patch, would increase the chances of an infection. Plus, if his feet took a beating during the trek, the blisters would become a huge open unpatchable mess (for lack of a better term). And of course, his feet would hurt badly.
He took my advice and I wrapped his feet as shown in the photo.
I think I can count on my fingers how many times I have advised racers to stop because of foot problems. Sometimes your feet simply quit. They have had enough.
Could this have been prevented? Based on my experience, I have to say, probably. Changing socks, treating hot spots, earlier blister care, better socks, moisture controlling lubricants, airing feet at checkpoints, and better shoe fit. In a team event, such as adventure races, every member of the team must help the other members with foot care. Every team member must be honest with their teammates about the condition of their feet. In solo races where athletes are racing alone, they need to be constantly aware of their feet. And where there are crews, these important people must ask questions about the condition of the athlete’s feet.
There are no guarantees in a race of any length. Our feet propel us forward, but every so often, out feet quit.
I have worked a lot of events. Every one has its one set of conditions that stresses the participants’ feet. Sometimes, it’s the dry heat of Death Valley or the rainy British Columbia coast, or the ups and downs on the trails of the many trail hundreds.
For years, the norm has been to avoid getting your feet wet. Wet feet often mean skin that is soft and can become macerated. In long events, and especially in multi-day events, that can lead to trouble. Taping or patching wet feet, or macerated feet, is very difficult. So it is best to keep your feet as dry as possible.
And then there’s the Jungle Marathon.
The Jungle Marathon is held in the Amazon Rain Forest of Brazil. This year’s race is held over October 4 to 13.The race is in the stunning State of Para – often referred to as the Caribbean of the Amazon. Competitors have the choice of two distances: 240km or 100km, which will be completed in stages throughout the week. The longer distance will include six stages and the shorter will include four. Imagine running through the jungle with stream crossings, wet foliage, wet trails, mud, and extremely humid conditions. Your feet are always wet.
At the Jungle Marathon runners have to be self-sufficient, carrying their food and provisions during the race. They are provided bottled water at designated checkpoints. Nights are spent sleeping in hammocks at campsites along the shores of the river.
Shirley Thompson is the race director and she stresses, “Our medical team has many years experience in remote locations. Your safety and well-being is our prime concern and we employ only the most experienced personnel to assist us.”
Shirley told me, “We always advise runners to train with wet feet so that they can focus on a strategy before they get to the jungle. We also tell them to buy your book and try to find a strategy that works for them. As far as footwear is concerned, we always emphasize trail shoes with good grip, and that comfort is the main factor.
I personally spend quite a bit of time in the jungle preparing the trail and doing a trial run of the course, and I always use the same strategy, which I found years ago in your book. I spray on two coats of New Skin Liquid Bandage, then wear SealSkinz hi-tops, with a thin lining sock. I have never had a blister.”
Vicky Kypta instructs new medics who join the team on foot care and she gives clinics for competitors in the United Kingdom on foot care and preparation for the race. I emailed her and asked about their strategy for managing runner’s feet. Here is her response.
“Feet are soaked from the start of each stage, so in the end it made more sense to get people used to their feet being always wet. We found runners had less problems during the race when they had trained with wet feet. There was a lot of hideous feet in the first couple of years of the event before we adopted this strategy.
As far as blister prevention is concerned, we encourage all runners to find a shoe/sock combination that works for them and to train in them including getting them wet. During the race, the runners are told to stop and deal with any hot spots as soon as they start which includes not waiting to get to a checkpoint. It is amazing how just stopping for 20 minutes to deal with feet saves so much time and pain later in the race.
Some runners have their own preferences on how to treat blisters and if they do then we follow their instructions otherwise we tend to drain non-blood filled blisters. On those hardy enough we the inject compound tincture of benzoin to help seal the space created by the blister, to serve as a local antiseptic, and to prevent further abrasion or loss of skin. However, due to the intense burning sensation experienced for a few moments after injection not all runners want this method used – so for all others we drain the blister and then use the benzoin over the top to provide a tacky surface to help the tape stick. Over the top of the blister we then apply a layer of fleecy web and tape over that using zinc oxide tape.
Over toes we just use tape without the fleecy web as otherwise it becomes too bulky resulting in the runner being unable to put their shoe on.
Some runners like to use Compeed on their blisters and whilst they are very good at protecting the blister we have found through experience that with an ultra event such as the Jungle Marathon, they are very difficult to remove should there be any further problems with the blister later on during the race and more damage is often caused in attempting to remove them so we therefore don’t encourage their use.
Over the years we have been very fortunate and have had very few macerated feet as at the end of each stage we get the runners to remove all the tape and to thoroughly dry out their feet. Blisters and problem feet are then freshly taped later that evening or the next morning ready for the next stage.
Despite the incredible punishment the runners feet endure during the Jungle Marathon, year after year we have very few cases of macerated or infected feet which I believe stems from early and effective treatment of problems as they arise.”
Vicky holds foot care clinics including medical care prior to the races to help provide the runners with increased knowledge to enable them to treat themselves more effectively which will hopefully reduce the amount of foot problems even further.
The Jungle Marathon helps their runners successfully complete the race because of their unique approach to foot care. Here are my observations:
- They encourage participants to train with wet feet
- They even suggest soaking your shoes and socks before heading out for a training run
- They give specific advice that runners find the best shoe and sock combination for their feet when wet
- After each day’s stage, they have runners remove their tape, which allows the skin to dry out – re-taping afterwards
This combination of advice and attention of the runners keeping their feet healthy for the multiple stages of the race works well. I commend Shirley and Vicky and the Jungle Marathon for their success with foot care.
I encourage you to check out their website and Facebook page. If you are looking for a stage race with adventure, this is a well-organized event.
Here’s the link to the Jungle Marathon’s website.
Here’s the link to the Jungle Marathon Facebook page.