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
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.
Lightweight, breathable, flexible, gripping, durable, and stable are a few words that describe today’s trail shoes. By far, today’s shoes are better then shoes of years ago. Technology has made great strides in how shoes are designed and made. I love all the above features. They’re good. Trail runners have it made. Almost.
Last weekend I patched feet at the Western and I quickly realized many trail shoes have a huge flaw. Let me qualify my statement. When I look at footwear, my view is that of someone who repairs damage done by the shoe, socks, the trail, and other factors. Sure, I look at stability, fit, comfort, mid and outer sole design, the lacing system, and more. But put me out on the trail where I have runners coming to me for aid, and I look at the shoe a bit differently.
What I saw at Western States is the amount of dirt that gets inside the shoe. Even the runners who wore gaiters had dirt inside their shoes. Where did the dirt come from? It was easy to see. It came through the shoe’s mesh. On some shoes this was concentrated in the forefoot. Other shoes also have mesh around the midfoot and heel. All that mesh creates the flaw.
I understand that the mesh is designed to make the shoes breathable. This helps keep the feet cooler and weight down. It makes sense. But, Western States is a dusty trail. All that dust has to go somewhere. And it does – inside the shoe – through the mesh. Then the dust and grit goes through the sock and onto the foot. Sweaty feet and feet coated with lubricant attracts the dust. This leads to dirty feet and an increase in friction, hot spots, and blisters.
I still believe in gaiters for trail runners – but even with them, the mesh in the shoes give the dust and grit an entry point.
When you buy your next pair of trail shoes, look at them in this perspective. Some brands have more mesh than others. Maybe go for a pair that has a few mesh panels on the side, rather than over the whole forefoot.
The shoe industry is to be commended for trying new ideas. It’s only as they push each other to new levels of innovation that we’ll see shoes develop to where they are really the best they can be. Running shoes are changing. Here are three examples:
The Adidas 1 1.1 has a microprocessor in the shoe’s arch that measures heel compression. This information is translated into cushioning changes based on the running surface, and the runner’s weight and size, pace, and foot strike. The theory behind the shoe is that when someone has optimal cushioning, they can perform better and longer.
The Reebok Pump 2.0 Wrapshear Cushion Running Shoe offers a unique laceless Pump automatic custom fit system. Controlled by a smart valve, the bladder inflates and releases, with each step, based on the needs of each individual’s foot and activity. The theory is that shoe provides runners with a customized fit for all foot shapes by surrounding the athlete’s foot with an automatic form-fitting air chamber.
The Inov-8 trail running shoes are made for trails. The shoes are light-weight, quick-drying, with a unique lacing system to lock the heel in place, a rounded toe box, side webbing support for increased torque sensitivity, a low Achilles notch, a midsole stiffening shank to allow the metatarsals to move independently, and an anti-clogging outersole. The Inov-8 theory incorporates the natural biomechanical function of the foot needed to traverse undulating terrains into the design of their shoes, making the shoe feel like an extension of your foot—as though you are running bare foot.
The best way to stay informed of changes in shoe product lines is to read the magazines of your sport (Trail Runner, Running Times, Runner’s World, Backpacker, Ultrarunning, etc.) and do Google searches.
In the not too distant past, footwear was easy to buy. There were running shoes, mainly for the road, and a few with tougher outersoles for trails. And there were hiking boots. There were a handful of major players and then another handful of minor companies. You made your choice based on cost, quality or both—pretty much the same as today. That’s about the only thing that has not changed.
Today, however, the playing field has changed. The old favorites are still here. Companies that once did running shoes are now doing lightweight trail shoes. Companies that once did boots are now doing lightweight trail shoes and in some cases, road running shoes. Then add in new companies, many from Europe, that have entered the footwear market. If you’re in the market for trail shoes, the market is very competitive.
What’s happened? The popularity of adventure racing in all its shapes for formats, the increased numbers of trail runners, and the increase in hikers tired of wearing heavy hiking boots has exploded the market—and everyone wants a piece of the action.
Inov-8 is an example of one such shoe company. Headquartered in England, the company makes lightweight trail running shoes that also work well for hikers. The shoes have a lower heel, are very breathable and drain well, and have an aggressive outersole. Their shoes have received great reviews from athletes around the world and have been featured in many magazines doing footwear reviews. In all fairness, I have two pair of Inov-8 shoes that the company sent me to review. I had just ordered a pair of trail shoes from another well-known company—and used them on trails. While they were good shoes, the heel plastic counter rubbed on my foot and I knew if I used the shoes in a long run, I’d develop blisters. Then I got the Inov-8 Flyroc 310 and Terroc 330 shoes. What a difference. Light, airy, fantastic traction, and without a doubt, the most comfortable trails shoes I’ve ever worn.
The changes in footwear are a positive move for today’s athletes. Companies are stretching their boundaries as they try to make shoes with better features than their competitors. Shoes and boots are made better with more features. Consumers have more choices than ever before. While the trail runners/lightweight hikers shoe segment of the market has seen the most growth, road shoes and boots have also benefited. In the long run, we all gain. My feet are happy. I hope yours are too.
In today’s marketplace, we are in a shoe buyer’s heaven. Everywhere we turn, there’s a shoe store and in almost every magazine, there are ads galore for new shoes and boots. But are all things equal? Here is where I chime in with a big resounding, NO.
First off, we are faced with the typical mall store, usually a chain shoe store that employs people without any degree of knowledge of how to fit shoes. Many times, they also sell shoes that one would never find elsewhere. For example, New Balance, a great shoe company, sells shoes to theses stores that are not found in running stores and running magazines. They are different, not as well made, yet are perfect for the typical mall shopper.
Specialty outdoor stores such as running stores, backpacking and camping stores, carry shoes that are well made and well known. This is important since we can find reviews of these shoes online and in sport specific magazines. This allows us to shop with a high degree of knowledge that the shoes we buy are made for our sports and will perform well. These stores also have salespeople who can fit shoes and help you choose between several pair.
There are running shoes (and this means road shoes and trail shoes), walking shoes cross trainers, and other sport specific shoes. I can walk in running shoes but would not run in walking shoes. I can run and walk in most cross trainers, but would be wise to not use walking and running shoes for a serious game of basketball or other court sport. I can run on trails in most road shoes, although I may sacrifice traction and support. While I can also run on roads in trails shoes, they are often clunky, heavier, and not as flexible.
My preference is to use shoes for what they are intended for. I have road and trails shoes and I use them for their intended purpose. Your choice in footwear is important. When shopping for shoes, look for those made for your sport. When participating in sports, use shoes designed for that specific sport. Your feet will thank you.