Foot Care for Running - Part 2
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
In this part of my foot care blog, I'll cover how I prepare my feet on race day and what else I do during the race to help get me through, hopefully, with no sore feet. Just to remind, this is just my preparations and by no means will necessarily be right. I'm not qualified in any way to provide foot care advice or treatments. As mentioned in part 1, prior to race day, you should get your feet in tip-top condition. You're going to struggle if not. Nails that are not trimmed could get sore, loose and peeling skin an ingress for dirt and moisture, dry hard skin that will tear under shearing forces.
Neatening your feet alone isn't enough though and what I'll describe in a moment is also not enough if you choose to wear trainers that are a poor fit. Your priority should be to have a shoe that fits well and for ultras can accommodate your feet swelling, or have a 2nd larger pair in a drop bag if that's allowed. The trainer should be wide enough where it matters. I need a wide toe box but the rest of my feet are normal width. It's tempting to buy a bigger size to gain width but this can create issues from sliding movements in the shoe, such as bruised toenails, heel slippage or blisters from shearing forces on the sides of your feet. Likewise, if you have narrow feet you will require a narrower shoe. Also, consider if orthotics could help, how you tie your laces (I use the heel slipping method) and how tight. All of these things can make or break your race. Some people apply a large amount of tape as a preventative measure and if that works for them this is fine. I believe the more you apply the greater the potential that this might come back to haunt you later. Tape can cause blisters to adjacent skin, come become loose and fall off and when removed can take you skin off. I used to tape my big toes but other changes I have made now mean I no longer need to do this. It's not wrong to tape your feet, it can be essential like it is for me on my little toes, but if you're covering your feet in the stuff you may need to look at the root cause and perhaps see a podiatrist. Whatever strategy you go for, test it out thoroughly before a race to make sure it works as intended without it creating other problems.
Morning foot prep
I do all my foot prep in the morning of the race as I can't stand going to bed the night before with tape and socks on. I have enough problems getting any sleep without my feet feeling different to normal. It does add to an already long list of things to do and I would rather get it out of the way the night before but I just can't do that. I do have everything laid out the night before though so I don't forget anything and have tape cut ready for application.
I start with my little toes. These like to tuck under my 4th toes and I get pinch blisters so I use Zinc Oxide tape to straighten them as it is strong and not stretchy. The tape also prevents blisters on the external edge of the toes however if the width of the trainer toe box is correct this tends to be ok. I firstly apply Benzoin Tincture and allow it dry a little to a tacky finish. I then add a loop of tape around the toe but not all the way around so it can't cut off circulation in the toe.
NB I've learnt recently that I shouldn't use zinc oxide for the 1st piece of tape as it can remove the skin if I do develop a blister and that KT tape is best. I'm yet to experiment with this however the Benzoin Tincture underneath will be essential to keep it in place.
Next, I use a strip of tape and anchor one end to the first piece of tape to the outer edge and pull to straighten the toe. The other end is stuck down to the top of my foot. Another piece of tape goes from the top of the toe to the foot. This is an insurance piece of tape and keeps everything in place.
I then apply Gurney Goo to the corners my nails on the big and 2nd toes. I find this helps prevent blisters from the nail corners digging into the skin. I then apply generous amounts of the goo to any areas that might experience shearing forces, like the sides of my big toe, and places I tend to get hotspots, like under the toes. If my feet will be exposed to very long periods of moisture (wet or sweat) I apply all over my feet as a barrier. The goo must not go near the tape though. If it's a mountainous race I tie my trainers tight to stop my foot slipping however I can get pressure sores on the top of my foot where I tie the laces. For this, I apply more Benzoin Tincture to the top of the foot and then some KT tape. This keeps it all in place and I don't get sore.
Finally, I use Injinjis, carefully rolling on to my foot as not to disturb the tape or rub off the Gurney Goo. I think these socks are magic and although some people find them too strange and quite pricey. I think they're worth it, especially if you tend to get blisters between your toes. I'm so used to Injinji's I now find it weird to wear normal running socks.
What's in my backpack
I take a small bag of useful odds and ends, from tissues, indigestion tablets, to blister treatment. Some races make blister plasters and antiseptic wipes part of the mandatory kit but I take this on all long runs and races anyway.
A small tube of Gurney Goo should I feel a hotspot developing I apply this immediately.
Antiseptic wipes for cleaning an area before treating your feet and removing sweat and grease to allow tape to stick.
Various blister plasters and regular plasters of different sizes.
Safety pin to pop blisters (yes I know this pin won't be hygienic but the general public can't get hold of syringe needles).
KT tape, either used on own to manage hot spots or to apply over a plaster to help secure it. Also generally useful to have. I used this when my backpack has rubbed.
Crew/drop-bag first aid kit
The feet specific items I include are shown below. These are for my morning prep routine and foot repairs during the race.
A large tube of Gurney Goo. This has been a game-changer for me since I was introduced to it 2 years ago. This goo along with keeping my skin well filed (see part 1 of the blog) means I no longer tape my big toes.
Scissors, for cutting tape.
Benzoin Tincture. A sticky liquid which vastly improves the adhesion of tape and plasters. This stuff keeps them in place all day, even in soaking wet conditions.
Cotton buds, for applying Benzoin Tincture.
Various blister plasters.
Zinc Oxide tape.
Engo plasters of different shapes. I have used them when a trainer was slipping on my heel. They can be used anywhere you might be getting a hot spot but they must never be stuck directly to your skin. Apply them to your trainers (heel, insole, sidewall etc) as they are frictionless and prevent rubbing. If applied correctly they can last the lifetime of your trainer. You could apply directly to your sock, e.g. between toes to prevent pinch blisters, but that would be a once-only deal.
Chiropody felt, to pad around a blister and relieve pressure.
Talc, for drying feet or preventing Benzoin Tincture or tape edges from sticking to where it isn't needed.
Points to note:
Don't push your luck. Don't wear trainers that you've not tried before over long distances or using a pair that you know can be problematic.
Be a friend to your future self. As soon as you feel there is a problem, stop on the trail and deal with it immediately. It will most probably only get worse and cost you a lot more time than it takes to sort it early on, e.g. taking the stone out of your shoe, applying some Gurney Goo to a hot spot, tightening or loosening your laces.
Have options. Take spare trainers and socks. If you are allowed a crew or a drop bag which gets returned to you then take extra kit with you.
Pop your blisters. There is some debate over whether you should do this but blisters will get bigger, adding more pressure until they eventually break open. Pop them to remove the pressure. If a blister loses its roof, i.e. the top comes off or peels back, then it's very painful and can get infected. Deal with it early.
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!
Useful resources: Peter Gold has a blog and he covers his foot preparation and race day taping. I'm pleased to say we don't differ much on this topic and he's a Spine race finisher so he should know. I witnessed his feet at the end of the 2020 Spine which was a very year and they were in mint condition. 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.