Last week I worked the Gold Rush Adventure Race. We had 11 teams working their way through paddle, trek, bike, trek, bike, trek, ropes, raft, and finally a last trek. The full course was 285 miles, although some of the teams were short-coursed because of time.
I started at TA2 (transition) where racers went from trek to bike, then TA3 – from bike to trek, TA4 – from trek to bike, and lastly, TA5 – from bike to trek. I saw the same teams, TA after TA.
I did not count the number of racers on whose feet I worked. I didn’t matter. My goal, as always, is to get the racer back in the race. I worked on some of the racers feet multiple times.
I quickly noticed a problem.
Racers would come into the TA and remove their shoes. They needed to change footwear – from bike shoes to shoes for trekking and visa versa – and change clothes too. TAs also meant dismantling and packing their bikes, or unpacking and assembling them. This was often done in the sun – and it was hot.
We had tarps set up for the teams to change on. It kept some of the dirt off their feet – but not all the dirt. The tarps were dirty and there was small twigs, bits of leaves, pinecone pods and seeds, and small stones. A lot of stuff to be walked on and stick to socks.
I usually patched blisters and applied tape as a preventive measure. I advised them to keep the tape as clean as possible and not get it wet.
Then I watched as they worked on their bikes, walked around, and sometimes went down into the river. They walked as gingerly as possible over the rocks and sticks. I don’t fault them; they did what needed to be done. I would have done the same.
The problem I noticed was that racers were compromising their feet, and any patch or tape job, by walking around without anything on their feet.
They had bike boxes for their expensive bikes and large gearboxes for their footwear, clothes, food, and whatever gear they wanted to pack. Of all the racers, I remember only a few who had the foresight to pack flip-flops. An inexpensive set of flip-flops might cost $5 – that can easily help your feet.
So here’s my recommendation. If you are involved in a multi-day race, any race with transitions, or even a one day event where you will have rest times, invest in a pair of flip-flops to protect your feet and any patch job or tape on them.
The same goes for hikers and backpackers. Lightweight flip-flops weigh next to nothing. Another option is to wear Crocs. They provide protection of one’s toes and tops of the feet, which flips-flops do not offer.
There is something to be said for taking your shoes and socks off when resting during a race, multi-day run, or long hike. Your feet like to be aired and if there is macerated because of water, airing them will help dry out the skin. But do yourself a favor and pack a pair of flip-flops or Crocs.
Lightweight, breathable, flexible, gripping, durable, and stable are a few words that describe today’s trail shoes. By far, today’s shoes are better then shoes of years ago. Technology has made great strides in how shoes are designed and made. I love all the above features. They’re good. Trail runners have it made. Almost.
Last weekend I patched feet at the Western and I quickly realized many trail shoes have a huge flaw. Let me qualify my statement. When I look at footwear, my view is that of someone who repairs damage done by the shoe, socks, the trail, and other factors. Sure, I look at stability, fit, comfort, mid and outer sole design, the lacing system, and more. But put me out on the trail where I have runners coming to me for aid, and I look at the shoe a bit differently.
What I saw at Western States is the amount of dirt that gets inside the shoe. Even the runners who wore gaiters had dirt inside their shoes. Where did the dirt come from? It was easy to see. It came through the shoe’s mesh. On some shoes this was concentrated in the forefoot. Other shoes also have mesh around the midfoot and heel. All that mesh creates the flaw.
I understand that the mesh is designed to make the shoes breathable. This helps keep the feet cooler and weight down. It makes sense. But, Western States is a dusty trail. All that dust has to go somewhere. And it does – inside the shoe – through the mesh. Then the dust and grit goes through the sock and onto the foot. Sweaty feet and feet coated with lubricant attracts the dust. This leads to dirty feet and an increase in friction, hot spots, and blisters.
I still believe in gaiters for trail runners – but even with them, the mesh in the shoes give the dust and grit an entry point.
When you buy your next pair of trail shoes, look at them in this perspective. Some brands have more mesh than others. Maybe go for a pair that has a few mesh panels on the side, rather than over the whole forefoot.
I have been on vacation the
past two weeks. During our road trip, my wife and I golfed, did sightseeing,
shopping, and the usual vacation stuff.
I was appalled by the number
of people who wore flip-flops and sandals – with feet that looked like they
belonged in the garbage. Their feet were caked in dirt and grime. Their toes
usually showed untrimmed toenails, and sometimes cases of toenail fungus. Most
often their flip-flops were worn and past their shelf life. In reality, I found
flip-flop wearers had the worst feet of the bunch.
It was painful. Maybe I just
notice feet more than the average person. I have nothing against flip-flops or
sandals, but I dislike dirty feet.
It reminded me of the April
post I wrote titled, "Embarrassed by Your Feet” It said that. “… many [people] are embarrassed by the appearance of their
dry heels or discolored toenails, causing them to avoid activities such as …
the cooling freedom of wearing sandals or flip-flops."
I would like to
think most of us shower or bathe daily. If so, many are not washing their feet.
The dirt gets caked on and is hard to remove. Take a few minutes and wash your
feet, using a scrub brush if necessary. Then spend a minute and clean and trim
your toenails. Really, it’s easy. Your feet will be happier.