Foot Care – Help Yourself and Study Up

October 16, 2015 by
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Footcare, Health 

My October issue of Backpacker magazine featured an article about Bil Vandergraff, a Search and Rescue (SAR) Ranger. He served as a ranger for 25 years in the Grand Canyon backcountry. In the article he shared tips on surviving in the backcountry – especially in the harsh and unforgiving Grand Canyon with its heat and extreme elevation changes.

His tips on dealing with the heat are right on: wear the right clothes, embrace the sweat, go slow, stick to mornings and evenings, and know when to stop.

He stresses the importance of helping yourself and to study up – studying the route and conditions.

The one line that struck me was this:

“I don’t take care of blisters. I refuse to. If you can’t take care of your own blisters then you don’t belong in the canyon.”

Wow. I like that.

That same philosophy could be applied to runners, adventure racers, hikers – in short, anyone venturing into the outdoors on their own. Badly blistered feet can stop you in your tracks, can make it hard to climb out of the Grand Canyon, or off a mountain or out of any trail.

Can we apply that to races too? That’s a hard question. A huge question!

If a race has crew access, should the crews be responsible for foot care? Some races don’t provide specific foot care. Others have it in limited form based on whatever foot care knowledge any aid station volunteers or medical personnel may have and based on whatever supplies they have.

I know that at some ultras and adventure races participants will move along the trail from aid station to aid station, and at each one, require some degree of foot care. What was patched at an earlier aid station didn’t work or didn’t hold up. And they want someone at the next aid station to redo their feet. That’s a lot of work and a lot of supplies.

What compounds this question is that many athletes fail to do what SAR ranger Vandergraff stressed, helping yourself and study up. Anyone who has worked an aid station knows full well that many of the participants fail to take care of their feet to start with, fail to trim toenails, fail to reduce calluses, fail to wear the right socks, fail to wear gaiters, fail to replace worn shoes, insoles and socks, fail to learn how to do self-care, fail to educate their crew on good foot care techniques, and fail to have adequate foot care supplies. So then, when they run into problems, they want help. Their failure to plan, and in many cases, take common sense action that could have prevented or reduced the problem, then creates work and expense by others.

I remember an old quote by Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

Many events would see their finishing rate drop dramatically if they eliminated foot care. There is a definite need for medical care to ensure that participants don’t get into trouble that could cause them serious injury or bodily system failure – but is foot care one of those?

I’ll repeat Vandergraff’s statement. “I don’t take care of blisters. I refuse to. If you can’t take care of your own blisters then you don’t belong in the canyon.”

Again, can we apply that to races too? That’s a hard question. A huge question!

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