A month ago I wrote a blog post about two multi-day races in Europe that are implementing a triage system for medical care at aid station – the outcome of their being overwhelmed by the amount of treatment and time that their participant’s blistered feet were requiring. Here a link to that post about Providing Foot Care for Athletes.
In this post, I want to expand on a quote from their website that I included in the original post. It was about the 6Ps of foot care.
They stated that foot care is easily divided into several phases, what they call the 6Ps: “Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance” and provided a thorough list of preparation, prevention, assessment, and treatment suggestions. “Proper Prevention” means in the months before the event, “Prevents” means during the race, and “Piss-Poor Performance” is what happens if you fail to follow the first three Ps. Let’s talk about these one-by-one.
Proper Preparation – In the months leading up to your race, and even race to race, you, and you alone need to be responsible for learning proper preparation. You need to learn how your feet respond to being wet and maceration starts, to being in sweat soaked and dirty socks, and when your feet are caked with dirt and grime. You need to learn about the best lubricants and/or powders, and insoles. You need to learn what causes the hot spots and blisters and what steps you can take if or when they develop. You need to practice taping or whatever strategy you plan to use. This is your job – not your crew’s job – and not the medical or non-medical people at aid stations.
Prevents – You need to know what to do when you develop hot spots and blisters, and have the materials and tools, and even more importantly, the skills, to fix your feet. This focus on “prevents’ needs to happen in the months before your race and during the race. It’s about proper toenail care, skin care, callus reduction, shoe and sock selection, whether to wear gaiters, preparation for a variety of weather conditions, and of course, putting the required and necessary training miles on your feet. This also is your job – not your crew’s job – and not the medical or non-medical people at aid stations.
Piss-Poor Performance – This is what can happen when you fail at any of the first three Ps. Your performance suffers. Your race may be over. In many races, medical volunteers will try and help patch your feet. Some races do not have the luxury of dedicated medical volunteers for all the aid stations, much less the finish line. You cannot and should not count on a race having medical personnel to help with your foot care needs. Just because there is a doctor, nurse, or EMT at an aid station, that doesn’t mean they know how to patch feet. You cannot and should not count on races to have the foot care supplies that you want for your feet. If you will have a crew, work with them so they know how to work on your feet with your supplies.
Some runners may feel I am being too harsh as I tell you these are your responsibilities. Let me share a story from years ago. In 1985 I ran Western States for the first time. After crossing the river at Rucky Chucky, I had blisters in the arch of one foot. Someone at the far side offered to help patch my feet. After lancing the blisters, I had a wad of gauze taped to my arch, which changed my gait. I finished the race, but learned a lesson. The treatment, while well intended, was not the best for my foot. I learned to take responsibility for my own foot care. For the next three years running Western States, I managed my feet – and I’m sure that experience helped fuel my interest in foot care.
So my point in expanding on the 6Ps in this blog post is to reinforce the notion that foot care of your feet is your responsibility. If there are medical volunteers at a race, and they know how to patch feet, and have the supplies – and the time, consider yourself fortunate – but don’t count on them being there.
Please feel free to agree or disagree with my position, and share by commenting below,
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footcare, Footwear, Footwear Products, Health, Sports
A while back I was interviewed about foot care by Shawn Bearden of Science of Ultra website and podcast. Here’s the link to the Science of Ultra website.
Shawn asked great questions and got deeper into foot care than any other interview I have done. We talked about the essential components of good foot care, from shoe fitting to blister care. Then we wrap it up by defining the essential features of a good minimalist foot care kit for your next run or adventure. The whole episode is about an hour and 22 minutes.
I encourage you to listen to the interview on the Science of Ultra website and then check out his website and other interviews. Podcasts can be subscribed to in iTunes and Stitcher Radio. By subscribing, you’ll received shows on your device (smart phone or tablet) as they are released.
Never ignore an injury. Pushing through an injury or returning to your sport too soon after being injured can lead to additional injuries. You do not want to turn a temporary injury into a permanent disability. Too often athletes rely on self-diagnosis rather than consulting with a medical specialist. If during or after running or hiking you have persistent foot problems or recurring pain that you cannot resolve, seek medical treatment from a medical specialist who can provide his or her medical expertise for your problem.
Primary Medical Specialists for Feet
Orthopedists are orthopedic surgeons, experts of the joints, muscles, and bones. This includes upper and lower extremities and the spine. Look for an orthopedist that specializes in the foot and ankle. The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons and the American Orthopaedic Foot and Ankle Society can provide referrals. There are also Orthopedic Clinical Specialists (OCS).
Podiatrists are doctors of podiatric medicine (DPM) that work on the feet up to and including the ankles. They specialize in human movement, and medical and surgical problems including foot diseases, deformities, and injuries, such as nail, skin, bone, tendon, and diabetic disorders. Podiatrists treat such disorders with surgery, custom-made orthotics (shoe inserts), physical therapy, injections, casting and braces, prescription medication, and medicated creams and ointments. The American Podiatric Medical Association and the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine can provide referrals.
If you have chronic foot problems, or you are uncertain what your feet are trying to tell you through their pain, consider consulting a podiatrist or orthopedic surgeon. Listen to your whole body and especially your feet. Be attentive to when the pain begins and what makes it hurt more or less. Then be prepared to tell the specialist about the problem, its history, what you have done to correct it, and whether it worked or got worse.
There is a wide range of skill overlap between orthopedists and podiatrists. Each can treat most of the same foot problems. When searching for a medical specialist for your feet, talk to doctors about their training, experience, and whether they have a specialty field. Each of the two specialist fields has doctors who specialize in sports medicine, and these would be my first choice. Weigh this information when making a decision about who to turn to for help. Additionally, a variety of other specialists can provide assistance in strengthening, alignment, rehabilitation, and footwear design and fit.
Pedorthists work with the design, manufacture, fit, and modification of shoes, boots, and other footwear. Pedorthists are board certified (C.Ped) to provide prescription footwear and related devices. They will evaluate, fit, and modify all types of footwear. A C. Ped. can help find a shoe built on a last (the form over which a shoe is constructed) that best matches a person’s feet, and then construct a custom orthotic that meets his or her particular biomechanical needs and interfaces with the shoe in a way that improves its fit and performance. The American Orthotics and Prosthetics Association and the Pedorthic Footwear Association can provide information and referrals.
Sports Medicine Doctors specialize in sports-related injuries. They are typically doctors of internal medicine with additional training in sports medicine. When treating athletes with lower-extremity injuries that do not improve with their initial treatment, they may refer the athlete to a podiatrist or orthopedist. Most are members of the American College of Sports Medicine (which does not provide referral services).
Physical therapists (PT) are licensed to help with restoring function after illness and injury. Most work closely with medical specialists. Physical therapists use a variety of rehabilitation methods to restore function and relieve pain: massage, cold and heat therapy, ultrasound and electrical stimulation, and stretching and strengthening exercises.There are also Masters of Physical Therapy (MPT) and Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT). The American Physical Therapy Association can provide referrals.
Athletic trainers are licensed to work specifically on sports-related injuries. Rehabilitation methods may be similar to physical therapy but can additionally focus on maintaining cardiovascular fitness while injuries heal. The National Athletic Trainers’ Association can provide referrals.
Massage therapists work with athletes in reducing pain and tightness in muscles, tendons, and ligaments—the body’s soft tissues. The American Massage Therapy Association can provide referrals. Look for either Licensed Massage Therapists (LMT) or Board Certified in Therapeutic Massage and Bodywork (BCTMB).
Chiropractors are doctors of chiropractic (DC) medicine who specialize in the alignment of the body’s musculoskeletal system. Pelvis, back, and neck pain and muscle imbalances are often treated by a chiropractor. Some may specialize in sports injuries. There are also Certified Chiropractic Sports Physicians CCSP). Two organizations, the American Chiropractors Association and the International Chiropractic Association, can provide referrals.
When the time comes to seek medical attention, ask others in your sport for referrals, ask at your local running or outdoors store, look in the Yellow Pages, or search online. If you have a choice, choose a sports medicine specialist over a general doctor.
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footcare, Health
After years without an expedition length adventure race in northern California, the Primal Quest Adventure Race returned this past August. Even though there were openings for 20 four-person teams, only 11 teams toed the starting line in South Lake Tahoe.
For those unfamiliar with adventure racing, races generally consist of a mix of disciplines: trekking, mountain biking, orienteering, white waters, rafting, kayaking, and ascending and rappelling. Some events have caving and other exotic disciplines.
This year’s race stated with a downhill run to kayaks on the shore of Lake Tahoe, after which they paddled north, and then took off on mountain bikes for a long ride. Unfortunately, much of the 80+ miles turned into a hike-a-bike. Then at Kirkwood, they took off on foot for a long trek / orienteering section. For some teams, this section took hours longer then expected.
I was at TA3 (transition area) and we expected the first team early Friday morning, but in fact they arrived almost 24 hours behind schedule. The rest of the teams were spacer further and further apart as time progressed.
My point is that many of the racers had been on their feet for more than two and three days by the time they reached us. Then teams went back on their bikes, into kayaks, and into another long trek. Some teams were short-coursed – taken ahead on the course
Fast forward to TA6, a day and a half later and teams are still racing. Some of the racer who have done the full course to this point have had little time to rest and their feet are extremely sore to the point of being very painful. They may also have some degree of maceration going on too.
One such racer, Thomas, asked me to look at his feet. There were no blisters on the balls of his feet, just very soft and tender skin – very sore with some maceration. I told him I could help.
I cleaned his feet and allowed them to air dry. I applied Tincture of Benzoin Compound to the skin from mid-foot upwards to the base of the toes. Over this I place a piece of soft, 1/8 inch thick Hapla Fleecy Web (adhesive felt), cut to follow the shape of foot at the base of the toes, square at the bottom, and curving up a bit on each side of the foot. At the base of the felt, mid-foot, I placed a strip of Leukotape to help hold down the bottom edge of the felt. Benzoin was used under the tape and edges were rounded. The last touch was two figure 8’s, cut from HypaFix cotton tape, placed between the 1st and 2nd toes and the 3rd and 4th toes, with the bottom of the 8 under the foot and the top of the 8 on top of the foot. This anchors the forward edge of the felt against the skin and keeps it from rolling, especially on downhills. Each figure 8 is about three to four inches in length and the tape is two inches in width.
I received a report later in the race that the patch job had held. After the race ended, Thomas let me know the patch had helped his race.
The adhesive felt helps pad the forefoot and provide cushioning to the sensitive tissues, and can help relieve pain and discomfort from maceration. This is not moleskin, or a version of moleskin. It’s a thicker product and much softer. The felt can be found in 1/8 and 1/4 inch thicknesses. In the Amazon we used fleecy web that is 1/8 inches thick. In the Amazon Jungle Marathon I used the patch job many times on macerated feet – after drying the skin as much as possible.
Medco Athletics sells adhesive felt in a variety if thickness and lengths. You can search on “adhesive felt” or for a specific product I have used, “Fleecy Web.” To give you an estimate on pricing, four Hapla Fleecy Web 9” x 16”, x 1/8 thick sheets sells at Medco for about $26.00. The Hapla Feecy Web is 100% cotton and is latex free.
It also works well for padding around blisters, bunions, heel bumps, and more. Because it is thicker than tape, I would use Benzoin to help it stick better and consider adding extra tape as I described above.
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!
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footcare, Footwear, Footwear Products, Sports, toenails
8 Top Tips for Foot Care
If you are a subscriber to Backpacker magazine, check out the October issue, page 34 for a full page of eight top tips to care for your feet. I have included an image of the page in this post. If you click on the image, you’ll get a larger view.
I was contacted by Backpacker several months ago and did a phone interview. Here are the eight tips:
- Trim nails
- Get in shape
- Fix calluses
- Prep your shoes
- Pack camp sandals
- Two ways to treat blood under a nail
- Wash your socks
- Lance right
The tips are good whether you are a backpacker, runner, walker, adventure racer, or just plain person who loves the outdoors.
I like Backpacker magazine. It’s one of my favorites. I encourage you to pick up a copy and check it out.
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footcare, Footwear, Footwear Products, Health, Sports, toenails
The seven tips below are written for the Primal Quest Expedition Adventure Race starting next week. They are also applicable to any race you may have coming up.
Primal Quest is less than two weeks away and here are seven things you can do to improve your chances of finishing with healthy feet.
1. Wear the best fitting shoes you can. Have a bit of space in front of your longest toe and enough height in the shoe’s toe box to avoid squishing the toes from the top.
2. Bad toenail care can result in toe blisters and black toenails, where fluid or blood is under the nail. Trim your toenails short and then use a nail file to smooth the tip of the nail. File the nails from the top over the edge down toward the tip of the toe. The goal of the trimming and filing is to remove any rough or sharp edges. File the nails so when you run your fingertip up and over the tip of the toe no rough edges are felt. It’s even better to file the nail so that no tip of the nail is felt. If you have thick nails, file the top of the nail down to reduce its thickness.
3. Any time you can, remove your shoes and socks to dry and air your feet. Your feet will be wet from water disciplines, stream crossings, cooling yourself off by pouring water over yourself, and simply sweaty feet. When stopping to eat or rest, remove your shoes and socks. Lay your socks in the sun to dry and switch to a clean dry pair if possible. Issues caused by wet feet will multiply over time and can end your race or at the least, result in extremely painful feet.
4. Do everything in your power to prevent and reduce maceration. This means not letting water poured over your head get into your shoes by bending over before dousing yourself. If means following the tips outlined in # 2 above. Use a moisture-controlling agent to help prevent the skin on the bottoms of your feet from macerating. Several include Desitin Maximum Strength Original Paste (available at drug stores, Walmart, etc), zinc oxide, Chafe X, SportsSlick, Trail Toes, and RunGoo. Apply liberally and before all water segments to help prevent damage to your skin. Once serious maceration happens, only drying your feet and letting them air, with the help of powder and warmth, will reverse the condition. If left unchecked, the skin can fold over on itself, split open, and tear layers of skin off the bottom of your feet.
5. Use gaiters to prevent pebbles and rocks, trail dust, and other debris from getting inside your shoes and socks. These become irritants and can lead to hot spots and blisters.
6. Take care of small issues before they become larger problems. Lance and drain small blisters whenever you feel them to keep them from becoming larger. Put a dab of ointment over the blister and then apply a strip of tape over the top to protect the skin.
7. Finally, make sure you have the supplies to treat your feet out on the course. Waiting to get to a TA to repair a blister can make a small problem much larger.
This weekend is the running of the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT) series of trail runs – a 55K, 50-miler, and a 100-miler. After a lot of planning, the dream of doing a foot care study has materialized.
The TRT is perfect for a study. There are two main medical aid stations, Tunnel Creek and Diamond Peak. 55K runners are seen at Tunnel Creek twice. The 50-mile runners are seen at Tunnel Creek three times and Diamond Peak once. The 100-mile runners are seen six times at Tunnel Creek and twice at Diamond Peak. The multiple contacts offer increased opportunities to talk to the runners, work on their feet, and record what we see and do.
In addition to the personal contact, runners are being asked to participate in two online surveys. A pre-race survey asks about their running and injury history, choices in socks and footwear, and how they typically manage their feet. A post-race survey asks how the race went in regard to their feet.
After the event, the data will be compiled, studied, and a report or paper will be written. The aim is a formal paper that can be submitted to medical journals and later distributed to the running public.
The purpose of the TRT Foot Care Study is to learn:
- Correlations of finishing rate against the number of miles run in training
- Correlations of foot injuries / problems against miles run in training
- Percentage of runners who are pro-active with foot care before the race
- Effectiveness of footwear modifications
- Effectiveness of lubricants / powers
- Effectiveness of blister dressings / taping
- Correlations of percentage of runners wearing gaiters against finishing rate and foot care injuries / problems
If you are one of the hundreds of runners doing the TRT this year, we hope you will participate in the study and surveys. Thank you.
The study will be supported by a number of professionals: Tonya Olsen (physical therapist), Kristy Gavigan (RN), George Miller (paramedic), Zak Weis (Podiatrist), Tracie Giambrone (Podiatrist), Doug Doxey (Podiatrist), and Andy Bussell (Chiropractor).
George Ruiz, the race director, and Dr. Andy Pasternak, the medical director, have been extremely helpful in making the study happen.
If you are at the TRT this weekend, we’d love to chat.
As we are able, some of the learnings from the study will be shared on this blog.
Last Saturday was the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run over the California Sierras. As you probably know, California is in year four of a severe drought. Most of us expected the trails to be dusty and dry. From everything I heard, they were.
So in a dry Western States year, why did so many runners have macerated feet from being wet?So in a dry Western States year, why did so many runners have macerated feet from being wet? Click To Tweet
There are several reasons. First, runners often cool themselves off by pouring or squirting water over their heads and on their body. We all know water runs downhill – right? So the water naturally runs down the legs and into the shoes. Socks become wet and as I often say – the skin of one’s feet prune up. In other words, they look like a wrinkled prune. Better to bend at the waist and let the water run off the head and shoulders rather than down the body.
Secondly, runners sometimes cool off by getting into the water at any stream. Several runners talked of sitting in the streams. While this can cool the runner, it is the worst thing a runner can do to their feet.
When they remain wet long enough, the skin becomes soft, often creating creases. Many times these creases are deep and in severe cases, the skin can split open.
Most often the runners complain of badly blistered feet. In fact, there are no blisters, just macerated skin on the bottom of their feet. This condition can be very painful. Walking and running hurts one’s feet.
There is no fast cure. They say time heals all wounds and with maceration, it takes time for the skin to dry and return to its normal state. Putting powder on the skin can help, as can clean fresh socks, gentle massage, and letting the skin air-dry.
I saw a lot of macerated feet at Michigan Bluff, mile 55.7. More than I expected. And of course there were lots of runners wanting treatment for bad blisters at the finish, and it was maceration.
The picture here is of a runner who completed the race, I think sometime around 28-29 hours. I don’t know his story but at some point before the race or in the race, he had his right foot wrapped in what appeared to be a self-adherent wrap, with a thick pad of some kind at the heel. Then that was wrapped with layers of what seemed to be silk type medical tape. Tonya and I had to use trauma shears to cut the thick wrap off his foot. Once it came off we saw the extent of the damage to his foot.
If anyone knows the runner or recognizes him, I’d love to find out more. It’s possible that because of maceration the skin at the heel had sheared off and someone at a medical aid station, or crew, had cut the skin and put on the wrap.
What we did at the finish was to apply a coating of antibiotic ointment to the open and raw skin, cover it with a wound care dressing, and wrap with a self-adhering wrap. We gave him instruction on how to care for this in the days after the race.
Look closely at the picture. He’s happy. He has his finisher’s medallion and knows he’s getting his buckle.
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footcare, Footwear, Footwear Products
Many runners have a love-hate relationship with gaiters.
Some love them and swear by them when running trails. Others never wear them, and dislike them. Which camp do you fall in?
I have regularly promoted the value of gaiters since I made my first homemade set from a pair of old white cotton crew socks. I believe it was one of the first years I ran Western States, maybe in 1985 or 86. I cut the foot out of the socks, leaving the ankle part to pull on my foot and fold over to cover the top of my shoes. I used twist-ties to anchor the socks to the shoes. And – they worked – as primitive as they were.
Then as the years progressed, people with more business sense than I started to make and sell gaiters. Now days, you can get gaiters in a myriad of colors and types.
I still believe in gaiters for trail runners, and in one recent conversation, told a friend that should make them mandatory gear for multi-day trail events.
You have every right to ask why.
Today’s shoes have become increasingly lightweight and many shoes are made with mesh uppers. It’s this mesh that allows all kinds of sand, dust, grit, and dirt into the shoe. These bad things will work their way into your socks and onto your skin. Rubbing and abrasions can occur. If you use any type of lubricant on your feet, the bad stuff will be attracted to the stickiness. The bad stuff can be a contributing factor that can lead to blisters.
A good set of gaiters will cover the tops of the shoes and the toe box to keep bad stuff out.
I’ve included two images of special gaiters that are typically found at the Marathon des Sables (MdS).
Here is the link to the myRaceKit for the MdS page that shows two gaiters they support. And a page from their blog that describes the fit and application.
These are highly useful when doing races in the desert, but how about when running trails? I believe the weak point in some gaiters is how they fail to cover the top of the shoe’s upper, thus allowing bad stuff inside.
I have treated many runners’ feet that are filthy with dirt and grit that makes it hard to wash off in order to find, clean, drain, and patch blisters. Blister patches and tape usually does not stick to dirty skin. In addition to making it harder for medical personnel to clean one’s feet, it also means it takes longer, which can affect not only your race, but those behind you that also need their feet worked on.
Back when, I wore homemade gaiters because that’s all there was. Now there are many styles and fabrics to choose from.
If I was going to run a tail race of any length, but especially a 50M or 100M, or multi-day race, I would buy one of the gaiters that attached to the shoe with Velcro and cover the whole shoe.
Here are two of my blog posts about gaiters.
Blisters and Gaiters – this is by Lisa de Speville and adventure racer and ultrarunner from Soith Africa and her homemade gaiters.
In two weeks I will be working foot care at the Michigan Bluff aid station of the Western States 100. Then three weeks later I’ll be doing a foot care study at the Tahoe Rim Trail 100-Mile Run. I’d love to see a few runners wearing a more substantial gaiter.