Foot Care For Running - Part 1
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
I'm fortunate that I rarely suffer from any blister or nail issues. At a race finish, despite my obviously dirty stinky feet, I'm often asked for foot care tips. I confess that things don't always go perfectly every time, especially in a new situation, but I usually learn something new from the experience for next time and don't repeat the same mishap.
There's no magic bullet but I believe that starting a race with your feet in tip-top condition is key. Over several years now I've developed my own routine for how I take care of my feet. NB I'm not qualified in any way to provide sound and safe advice on foot care. All I'm doing is sharing with you what I do. It isn't necessarily right and a Chiropodist will probably be horrified by what I'm describing here. In part 2, I'll cover my race day foot preparation.
Now to present you with my feet
They'll not win any modelling work but I like them, they get me around rather well. You can see some discolouring on one of my big toenails. That's my mistake from wearing a shoe that was half a size too small. Both of my 2nd toes have thickened nails from the toes lifting and the nail catching on the top of the shoe toe box. I've had this for 20 years so is quite possibly permanent damage now. You can see that my little toes like to sneak under my 4th toe. I can get pinch blisters on the 5th toe where it tucks underneath and can get bad rubbing on the outside as well. Little pinkie problems are for me the most painful.
From left to right:
Manicure drill thingy - I bought this from Amazon some years ago for about £30. It's not for doing the main work on your feet but to tidy up at the end.
Callus/hard skin remover - I've listed this as I know some people do use them. Personally, I think it removes too much skin as you have little control over the blade and leaves a poor and uneven finish.
Metal nail file - levelling off thickened nails and tidying edges.
Ingrown toenail file - used to remove hard skin from corners of the toenail and to smooth rough nail corners.
Cuticle pusher/remover - has all sorts of uses and not just for cuticles. I cut loose skin and shave hard skin with it, providing it is very sharp.
Nail cutters - I use this for when the clippers struggle.
Manicure drill attachments - 2x nail polishers, 1x sanding band for hard skin.
Now for the grim part of this blog
I start with trimming the nails and I make them very short. This is a job you should be doing weekly and not too close to race day. As I keep on top of my foot care I only need to give them a light trim about 5 days from the race. This means that if I create any soreness this will subside in time for the race.
The nails on my second toes are very thickened and if I leave them this way they can get sore by catching on the top of the shoe toe box. I file them down very gently with the metal nail file. Be warned though if you file too much too soon they can get sore and you'll feel this when running. Little and often works best. Once I've thinned them I find it easier to get the nail cutters into the corners to stop the nail digging into the skin.
Next up is my big toenails. These slightly ingrow and I get a lot of skin build-up in the outer corners. I don't do much with the nail other than keeping it tidy with the ingrown nail file but I do pay a lot of attention to removing the skin build up in the corner as this is a hard corn. By removing this my nail has more room and then it doesn't get sore. I do see a Chiropodist to cut away the nail if things get bad but with careful management, I rarely need this. Once I've tidied the big toes I squeeze the sides between my finger and thumb to find any remaining soreness. If I do, I check again that enough of the corn has been removed.
On to my little pinkies. These little blighters really are the source of my biggest problems. They like to hide under their neighbour where they get squished and blistered and the outer edge gets very sore from shoes not being wide enough. I actually have normal width feet but I do require a square toe box. Here I use the cuticle remover and push this over the skin build-up. It's quite a satisfying process and gives a good result. I continue to use the cuticle remover gently over the area to shave the skin edges and generally tidy.
I continue over any other areas that have loose/peeling skin or hard skin using the cuticle cutter to lightly shave the excess off. Again this is a little and often job so you don't make anything sore. Always cut away loose skin and don't rip it off. If you have lots of very hard skin you should get this sorted out. Hard thick skin isn't supple and is more likely to tear under a shearing force. Also if you get a blister under the hard skin it becomes very challenging to get a needle in to drain. See a Chiropodist and have the thickness reduced but make sure they understand you're a long-distance runner so they don't remove too much.
Now for the manicure drill. I start off by using the two nail polishers on the thickened nails. This further reduces the thickness and gives them a neat finish. As before don't remove too much else they will get very sensitive and can take a while to settle down.
I then switch to the sanding disk and tidy up the skin edges wherever it is needed. It's tempting to use this tool to remove loads of skin as the tool is easy and satisfying to use but don't. Using a sander will generate heat from friction and could burn the skin. It will also stimulate the area to build more callus. It's exactly the same as the friction that causes blisters and calluses when you're running.
Finally, I check everything and pass the metal nail file over the nail edges so they are smooth and won't catch and then I'm done. My feet feel all new and soft, ready for a spin on the trails.
Points to note:
Treat your feet often. I trim my nails weekly and remove loose skin. The full treatment I've just described is done every few weeks.
Don't go overboard. If you've neglected your feet for some time a trip to the Chiropodist might be best and then get yourself into a good maintenance routine afterwards. Removing a large amount of thick skin yourself is asking for trouble.
Your feet tell a story, pay attention. Calluses, for instance, tell you where you are stressing the skin. Check your shoes, see a Podiatrist, and understand what you are putting your feet through. You may need wider or narrower shoes, a different shaped shoe box, change the way you lace your shoes, or you may even need orthotics.
No loose edges. Loose skin and unkempt edges create an ingress point for moisture and under shearing forces will tear more easily.
Don't copy me. As I said before, I'm no expert and I'm not qualified. This is my routine and copying it might not do your feet any favours!
You will have probably heard of this book before but get yourself a copy of "Fixing Your Feet" by John Vonhof. It has an enormous amount of information on managing your feet before, during and after racing. It's not just about blisters but goes into biomechanics, footwear and the multitude of solutions out there. It includes his observations of how athletes manage their individual problems, some are quite unconventional. My take away from this book is there are no iron-clad guarantee methods out there on how to manage your feet. Experiment and practice and find what works for you.
Take a look at some of the posts at Blister Prevention. This site has all sorts of advice and solutions discussing pros and cons.