This weekend close to 400 runners will start at Squaw Valley and make the trek over the Sierras towards Auburn – 100 miles away. It’s the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race. I love the race, having completed it three times in the late 80’s. It’s tough and throws a lot at the runners. Cold, heat, extreme heat, streams running down the trail, rocks, dust and grit, water crossings, long ups and long down through numerous canyons – and for many runners, a second sunrise with renewed heat.
I will again be working at the Michigan Bluff aid station doing foot care. Later, I will be at the finish line taking care of feet as people finish. Having worked this race for years, I have a good idea of what foot problems to expect. Here’s what I commonly see and a few tips.
First, here are common problems:
- Toe blisters. Under the toenail, on the tips of toes, between toes, and under toes.
- Heel blisters. Either at the rear of the heel or at the sides.
- Ball of the foot blisters. Either in a certain area or across the whole foot.
- Side of the foot blisters.
- Stubbed toes. From hitting rocks or roots.
- Sprained ankles.
- Sore feet.
Here are some tips:
- Cut toenails short and them file them smooth. No rough edges to catch on socks or hit the toebox of your shoes.
- Reduce your calluses as much as possible. This close to the race, don’t file too much off. Aim to get reduce the thickest rough patches.
- Use Engo Blister Prevention Patches in problem areas – sides of the heels and ball of the foot. They will greatly reduce friction and shear.
- Pretape any problem areas.
- Check your insoles for thick edges at the sides of the heel – always a problem area. Thin these down or change insoles. Most side of the heel blisters are caused by these edges.
- Don’t use Vaseline as a lubricant. Stick to SportSlick, BodyGlide, or a similar lube.
- Change socks frequently and clean your feet. Today’s trails shoes often have mesh uppers, which allow sand, dirt, and trail dust inside the shoe, on and into your socks, and on your feet.
- Know how to manage your feet and patch blisters on your own – or your crew should have these skills. You can’t count on aid station people knowing what you need or want or doing it on your time schedule. There may be other runners in front of you or they may be out of supplies.
- If you feel something inside your shoe, stop and clean it out. Even a small rock can cause problems.
- Wear gaiters to keep rocks and trail grit and dust out of the top of your shoes.
- Build your own quality foot care kit. Stock it with what you need and learn to use everything.
Maybe I’ll see you at Michigan Bluff. I hope it’s just to say Hi as you run through.
Have a great race.
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Health, Sports
Every so often I hear a foot care story from an athlete that intrigues me. It’s fun to read their story about their issues with their feet and then the steps they took to find answers.
One of the best examples of this is Nathan’s story on page four in the 5th edition of Fixing Your Feet. He told the story of how he studied foot care techniques and learned hot to manage his feet – and successfully finished Racing the Planet’s Australia race.
Then the other day I received an email from Karen. I liked her story and asked if I could share it with my readers. She agreed. Here is what she wrote.
First, I am extremely prone to blisters. Initially I thought it was friction. I tried Hydropel, but its sticky nature attracted dirt but did nothing to calm my problem. At Fruita one year, Lisa and Jay (Smith) Batchen shared their knowledge in a presentation about the three primary causes and the light bulb went off. Hydration is my primary issue – specifically bloating. The bloating happens because I’m no longer processing fluids.
After working thru formulas and cause and effect for several years on my own, I finally solicited help from Scott Jurek -I knew him from Coyote events. Mutual friends had helped me focus on running nutrition, but I wasn’t making progress on my own. Scott helped me maintain my ability to process fluids and enabled me to delay bloating and blisters.
When I get blisters, they’ll either start as a hot spot on my pads or a painful toenail. I get them under my toenails (which I keep extremely short) or the entire pad of my foot/feet will get it. Over New Years with a very low mileage base, I went to California and ran/hiked 34 miles. Had a hot spot early that I actually taped, and a blister on a toe but that was it – a sign that I was on the right track!
I’ve also become smarter on dealing with my blisters. I still get them, but they aren’t crippling. Once after my first attempt at the Leanhorse 100, they were so bad they caused me to miss the cutoff, and they got dangerously infected. Two years later, I went back and finished – it was my first 100. I still got blisters but they didn’t prevent me from meeting my goals.
Here’s what I do now for my feet other than monkey with hydration:
- Work on my calluses and keep my toenails trimmed
- Get my orthotics re-surfaced at least a couple months before event
- Keep my shoes and socks current too and only use Smartwool socks
- Train on the exact terrain I expect and work on the plan for my feet – it’s just as important as my physical and nutritional race plans
- My starting feet recipe is to use BodyGlide on my feet before putting on socks. Then change my socks every 20 miles if I’m running anything over 50K.
- Carry a foot kit on my back at all times with a couple Engo Pads for hot spots on my orthotics, a couple of alcohol wipes, blister pads and a safety pin, and duct tape for real emergencies on a pencil or on my water bottle
- A full fledged foot kit for crew or in a later drop bag with new supplies for my carry kit, Desitin if it’s wet conditions, and tape/scissors/tincture for the next defense. An injection devise and zinc oxide and Second Skin/New Skin as final defense. I had to do all three lines of defense to actually finish Leanhorse, but we did it.
Thank you Karen for sharing your foot care plan.
This post came about because of a Backpacker magazine article about skills. One of the items was about endurance and was for, “Blistered feet during a high-mileage trek.”
The tip was to, “… protect against hot spots by applying a skin lubricant like Vaseline to high-friction areas…”
I’m sorry, but I think Vaseline is a bad choice.
When I ran my first ultra, back around 1982, there was not a huge choice in lubricants so Vaseline was commonly used. But I learned very quickly that its stickiness helped it collect dust and grit, sand and dirt, and other things that found their way into your socks and shoes. Once absorbed into my socks, it also became stiff. I looked for an alternative and discovered Bag Balm, which I used for years.
Over the years, Vaseline has been surpassed by lubricants that are slicker without attracting “stuff’ that can cause hot spots and blisters, that last longer, that don’t cake up on your socks, and that are much more effective.
So, here’s my choice for a bad lubricant: Vaseline.
And here are my choices for good lubricants:
- Solid Stick
- Pocket Slick
- The Original Anti-Chafe Balm
- FootGlide Foot Formula
- Ant-Chafe with SPF 25 Balm
- BodyGlide Anti-Chafe for Her
- Liquefied Powder
- WarmFX Anti-Pain Balm
- Anti-Chafe Stick
- Anti-Chafe Stick, Sensitive Formula
Hydropel Sports Ointment
Many of these are available through ZombieRunner. Click on “Anti-chafing & Skin Care.” I you are looking for a new lubricant, or want to try one of these, check them out through ZombieRunner.
Disclosure: Clicking through to ZombieRunner and making a purchase credits me with a few pennies to support this website.
A few months ago, received an email asking if I could comment on the use of Vaseline or petroleum covered with powder. Cas Camara, of Florida, was going to run the Brazil 135 and was looking for feedback.
I responded: “Vaseline is the old-time standard for a lubricant-but it has problems. The problem is that it is sticky and attracts grit, gust, sand, and whatever the athlete comes in contact with. It tends to also cake up over time and can almost harden over time on socks, shorts, or other materials. Newer lubricants are less sticky and are much slicker and better at lessening the effects of friction. Putting powder on a lubricant can be done but usually athletes use one of the other. I have only seen a few use both. Powder may cause the lubricant, especially Vaseline, to cake up.”
Cas emailed me later and said, “I concluded the race without any foot problem by applying a mix of lanolin and Vaseline several times a day. I wore an Injinji sock under a Thorlo sock with loads of powder in between.”
Then a few days ago I received another email, which in part, said: “…it seems that the socks I used with just a basic Vaseline smearing were not the right tools to use, so it’s back to the store I go to get some different socks and to find the right solution for me and my feet.”
The point here is that Vaseline is still used by many athletes – but in my opinion, it has more faults than value. To repeat what I said earlier in this article, Vaseline and other petroleum-based lubricants are sticky and attract grit, gust, sand, and whatever the athlete comes in contact with. They tend to cake up over time and can almost harden over time on socks, shorts, or other materials.
When you have such great products such as BodyGlide, SportsSlick, SportsShield, and Hydropel, why use an inferior lubricant? Use what will work best on your feet. The newer lubricants are proven as longer lasting, better bonding with your skin, they do not cake up in your socks, and a few excel at repelling moisture. The use of Vaseline on feet is just as bad as wearing cotton socks.
If you want an easy one-stop shopping experience for all four of the the above products, check out Zombierunner.com. Click on Foot Care and then Lubricants.
How about being nice to your feet this Christmas and giving them a gift. In fact, be nice to a freind and give them a gift for happy feet. Here are a few suggestions. These can easily be found through a Google search—but many of the items are available at ZombieRunner.com (marked with an *).
A copy of the 4th edition of Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes. If you have the 1st, 2nd, or 3rd edition – you are out of date.
A copy of my Happy Feet booklet. A short 36 page booklet for those who don’t need the full book.
* A tube of BodyGlide
* A container of BlisterShield Powder or Roll-On
A pair of Smartwool socks
A pair of Dirty Girl gaiters. Lightweight gaiters made in a multiude of patterns and colors. Unisex.
* A pack of Spenco Blister Pads
* A pack of Spenco QuikStik Adhesive Blister Dressings
A callus file from your local drug store. Use every few days to control those pasky calluses.
A good nail file, not the throw away kind, from your local drug store
A pair ShockDoctor insoles
* A gift certificate from ZombieRunner.com
Blisters are very predictable. Take three elements, moisture, friction, and heat, common to your feet when you run, and the likelihood of a blister appearing is high. The longer these elements exist on the feet, unattended to, the greater the risk. So, what can we do to reduce one or more of these elements?
Proactive or Reactive
You have the option of being proactive or reactive in managing
blisters. The proactive runner chooses to take steps to prevent
blisters before they develop. The reactive runner treats the blisters
after they develop. Many reactive runners simply think blisters are a
normal part of running. Wrong! Working with the blister prevention
options below can help eliminate one of the most troublesome problems
in walking, running, hiking–any sport that stresses your feet.
The first order of business is to recognize that you, and you alone, need to find what will work on your feet. Others can give suggestions, but what works for another may not work for you. What follows is a synopsis of options you need to consider….