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, Footwear, Health, Sports, toenails
Which is more important, blister prevention or blister treatment?
For more than 17 years, I’ve taught foot care techniques to anyone who will listen. I have taught classes at running stores, REI stores, events, and more. In addition, I have worked medical at many races, helping provide foot care to participants. These races have been in Death Valley, Chile, Costa Rica, BC Canada, Colorado and Washington, and many in California. This year I will be at Western States 100, Badwater, the Gold Rush Adventure Race, the Jungle Marathon in the Amazon, and hopefully at races in Colorado and Namibia.
I have never counted the feet I have worked on but I would put the number well over 3000. I remember one race in Colorado in 2010 when I saw the same lady 10 times. It was a six-day stage race and she’d come in every evening and morning! I’d patch her feet in the evening and she’d take it off when she went to bed in her tent. She had foot wear issues that gave her blisters on top of blisters. She was never into prevention mode – only treatments.
In this picture, taken from the cover of the 5th edition of Fixing Your Feet, we see treatment taking place. I love the picture. I even know whose foot it is. What I can’t tell you is what he did for prevention. I wish I knew.
My question in this blog post is what should we spend more time on, blister prevention or blister treatment?
Prevention can take many forms: good choices in footwear, the right socks, lubricants and powders, toenail care, skin care, taping, Engo patches, correct lacing, the right insoles, and training and conditioning.
Treatments likewise offers many options: blister draining, many different types of patches, taping, ointments and salves, a multitude of tapes, wraps and straps, silicone pads, Engo patches, toe caps, and lubricants and powders.
So here are a few questions:
- Does prevention last only until the race starts?
- What are your best prevention options?
- How much do you count on aid station personnel to manage treatments?
- Do you know how to treat your feet?
- Do you carry materials to treat your feet?
- What are your best treatment options?
- How well do you understand blister formation and prevention?
For 17 years, athletes have had Fixing Your Feet as a resource to learn important information about foot care. As I patch feet at races, I try to educate the athletes about what I am doing and why, and what could have helped in their feet. If crews come to me for advice, I try to help them too. I have watched athletes and crews work on feet with materials and using techniques I have long preached.
In general, foot care has advanced over the years. Shoes, socks and insoles have become light years better. Lubricants, powders, blister patches, and our tools are better. People interested in foot care are trying new blister patching techniques.
All this is good because every day there are new athletes coming into running, adventure racing, hiking and thru-hiking, walking, and other feet stressing sports. Let’s make sure they understand the importance of prevention before treatment.
Filed under: Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footwear Products
What better time of the year to pamper your feet than Christmas. Our feet are encased in heavy socks and footwear. We take them for granted. Here’s a look at my favorite things for your feet this year. My suggestion is to check out these items at Zombierunner.com. Don and Gillian support athletes with great service. You can click on their link and at their website, click on Foot Care or any other items. Zombierunner has everyone of these items, except a callus file.
Engo Footwear Patches – these slick patches go in your shoes to reduce friction. A must for any foot care first aid kit.
Drymax Socks – my favorite socks that hate moisture. Their micro-fiber technology is a sweat removal system to keep your feet dry.
Injinji Socks – the original toesocks that are perfect for many sports, and a must for those who are prone to toe blisters.
Sportslick Lubricant - Prevents blisters, chafing and skin rash during sporting activities. This skin care product also cures jock itch, athlete’s foot, and other skin conditions.
Stuffitts Portable Drying Solutions – for shoes, gloves, helmets to defeat wet and stinky gear. Their soft, lightweight forms combat moisture and kills odor in personal wearable gear.
BlisterShield Powder – a great powder, especially for those who prefer powder over a lubricant.
Kinesio Tex Tape – a great tape that breathes and conforms to the shape of any part of your feet. 1, 2, and 3 inch widths.
Leukotape – one of the stickiest tapes available. 1 ½ inches wide.
Superfeet Insoles – one of the best insoles for support. They are available in a number of options.
Toenail Clippers – everyone needs a good clipper to tame their toenails.
Callus File – a callus build-up can lead to problems that can result in blisters underneath this hard layer of skin.
Natural Running – this is a great book that teaches you to run the way nature intended, mimicking the healthy, efficient barefoot style you were born with, while keeping feet safe from rough modern surfaces.
Fixing Your Feet, 5th edition – my best-selling book that covers all aspects of footwear and foot care.
Here’s the Amazon link for the Fixing Your Feet print edition.
Here’s the Amazon link for a Fixing Your Feet Kindle edition.
I hope you’ll consider one or more of these as gifts either to yourself or a friend.
Disclaimer: I am an affiliate of Zombierunner and make a few pennies when you buy through my link.
In choosing footwear, fit is everything. You may buy a new pair of shoes, not get a good fit, and use them for short runs or races without much problem. But the longer you’ll be wearing them at a time, the more important the fit.
Here’s a trick to help get ensure a good fit.
Rich Schick, a physician’s assistant and ultrarunner, shared that he believes the key to getting the proper size shoe is the insert – often called insoles. “If the foot does not fit the insert, then the shoe will have to stretch to accommodate the difference or there may be excessive room in the shoe, which can lead to blisters and other foot problems.” He thinks there is too much confusion about straight lasts, curved lasts, semicurved lasts, and so on.
Rick suggests, and I agree, that you don’t need to know any of this if you use the insert to fit your shoes. The same holds true for the proper width of shoe. Simply remove the insert from the shoe and place your heel in the depression made for the heel (in the insert). There should be an inch to an inch and a half from the tip of your longest toe to the tip of the insert. None of your toes or any part of the foot should lap over the sides of the insert. If they do, is it because the insert is too narrow or is it because of a curved foot and straight insert or vice versa? The foot should not be more than about a quarter inch from the edges of the insert either. This includes the area around the heel, or the shoe may be too loose. Check to see if the arch of the insert fits in the arch of your foot. Finally, if all the above criteria are met, then try on the shoe. The only remaining pitfalls are tight toeboxes and seams or uppers that rub.
Remember to take into a account the type and thickness of socks you’ll be wearing. If you are going to replace the stock inserts that come with the shoes, make sure to follow this tip.
I have held a pretty firm position on moleskin for many years – I don’t like it and I don’t use it.
Here are my reasons. It doesn’t stick. It doesn’t shape to the foot’s curves. And it’s too thick.
I have no objection to other athletes using it, but I don’t touch the stuff.
Several years ago, I worked provided foot care at the 3-day Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Walk in San Francisco. They had a pretty good supply of powder and Vaseline – and boxes of moleskin. Everyone sat around and cut the stuff into small, medium and large ovals. Hundreds of moleskin ovals. It didn’t take long for the rest of the medical staff to figure out the stuff sucked. They quickly learned that I had my own supply of tapes – and they wanted some.
Well, even an old dog can learn new tricks. Pamela Cress, the VP of Marketing for ProFoot (New York), emailed me about trying a pair of their insoles. I agreed and when the package arrived, inside I found a packet of their “special” moleskin. It’s called “VelvetexTM Moleskin.
Reluctantly I took it out of the packet. I my mind, it was moleskin – pure and simple. But I wanted to give it a fair test. I cut an oval, peeled off the backing, and applied it to my heel, right over clean skin without any tape adhesive. It stuck extremely well and stayed on for two days. It’s not thick and is very soft so it formed itself to the curves of the side of my heel.
This evening I took another piece and put it on my heel and a piece of a different manufacture’s moleskin on the other heel. The ProFoot moleskin was superior and stuck better than the other brand. The ProFoot moleskin is shown in photo #1. It is softer than any other moleskin I have seen. It’s stickiness is better than everyone else’s too. After wearing it for two days I found it did not stick to my sock. It stayed in place.
The other brand is shown in photo #2. It’s much coarser in feel and easily comes off. If you look closely, you’ll see the far left edge lifting off the skin. That comes from it’s inability to form to the curves of the foot.
Here’s what ProFoot’s webpage says about their moleskin: “Velvetex is a unique breathable material that is softer and more durable than ordinary moleskin, it also performs better under pressure. The unique Microfiber texture moves with your foot to help reduce friction, further protecting your sore spots. It soothes, relieves, and prevents blisters, calluses, corns, sore spot, and red tender skin. It’s also latex free.”
I can honestly say I like ProFoot’s Velvetex Moleskin. I will be purchasing some to keep in my foot care kit for cases where I want something thicker than tape – probably for the balls of the feet and heels. I will use Compound of tincture of benzoin to help it stick even better. ProFoot has a winner in their moleskin. You can easily add a strip to your kit.
The Velvetex Moleskin is packaged with two 3.25” x 5” sheets to a pack. The ProFoot web page has a button to buy from Amazon, Walgreens, and other online websites. Amazon has it for $3.11 per pack.
Fair disclosure: ProFoot sent me their Moleskin to test. I have no financial investment in the product or company.
Ball of the foot blisters are quite common. Often they are more common when runners change to walking. Let take a look at these blisters.
Challenges with Ball of the Foot Blisters
There are three problems with ball of the foot blisters that make them more problematic than blisters elsewhere on the foot. Look at the image and you’ll see the large amount of area it covers. And yes, there’s blood in the blister section between the big and first toe.
- They often extend up into the skin between one of more toes
- They can spread out to cover a large area side-to-side and further down to the mid-foot
- They can easily tear at the front most area at the base of the toes
Preventing Ball of the Foot Blisters
I have learned several things about preventing ball of the foot blisters
- Keep your feet as dry as possible.
- Pre-tape if you are prone to these blisters
- Check your insoles for rough surfaces and change to a smoother insole
- Make sure your shoes fit and you don’t have a lot of movement of the forefoot inside the shoe
Patching Ball of the Foot Blisters
- Drain any blister, with a slit cut where ongoing foot pressure during the foot strike will expel extra fluid out
- Patch the blister with your favorite product and tape
- Apply tape from up one side of the foot to up the other side – not too high but over the edge
- Use one or more strips to cover the problem area
- Cut a figure 8 out of a piece of tape and apply it first to the forward edge of the tape between two of the toes, and pull it between the toes, securing it on the top of the foot.
The larger these blisters, the harder they are to patch. Try to patch them before they grow into monster blisters.
Here’s a link to a page on FixingYourFeet.com about Taping for Blisters.
These photos are courtesy of Ron Jones and were taken as I patched a runner’s feet at Badwater.
Filed under: Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footwear, Footwear Products, Health, Sports
I often look for products to review. Sometimes I contact a company and get a sample, other times the company sends me a sample. A while back I was sent some new insoles from Sorbothane.
I gave one pair to Will, a friend who has been battling plantar fasciitis. He still wears them and likes them. He told me they were, “Soft and cushy with good support. I haven’t seen a nicer insole.” He also said he liked them because they don’t soak up water and sweat.
Another pair went to Denise Jones. She has problems with cushioning on the bottom of her feet and welcomes the insoles to try. She reported back, “The two pair of Sorbothane Insoles you sent me have been the most comfortable inserts I have tried thus far. I wear them every day in my work shoes (after they were trimmed). They are the ‘Sorbolite Comfort Soles’ in my work shoes. I love them. Sadly, they have not cured my feet, but they do make them more comfortable during my long workdays. I finally got rid of the gel soles I used to wear and now wear the Sorbothane. For the record, I have always been impressed with Sorbothane insoles. Ben used them for years in his running shoes.”
I have been wearing a pair of Sorbothane insoles in my golf shoes for months. I can honestly say my feet are more comfortable than before with other insoles.
Sorbothane is a proprietary material, which has superior dampening qualities and has been scientifically proven to have the finest cushioning material available. Its memory allows it to return to its original shape, even after repeated compressions. It is the only insole material that absorbs up to 94.7% of impact shock – month after month. An added benefit is that they are antifungal and they also breathe, making them cooler than many other insoles.
If you are used to your shoes’ cardboard style insoles and know how light they are, these will feel heavier. Yes, Sorbothane is a heavier material, but most of their insoles have it in the heel and under the forefoot, rather than the whole length. The little bit of added weight is well worth the Sorbothane absorbing properties.
If you have problems with foot pain, a loss of cushioning from the fat pads on the bottom of your feet (common as we age), back pain, or impact related injuries like shin splints and knew pain, give these Sorbothane Insoles a try.
Disclosure: Other than the Sorbothane insoles I was sent by a representative, I have no financial interest and was not compensated for this review.
Most athletes buy shoes or boots and use the standard insoles that come with the footwear. Some may know these as inserts rather than insoles. Either word is Ok. Unless there is some reason, the insole is often never removed.
I recently started an interesting experiment. It is unscientific, but it is relatively straightforward. I was sent two pairs of replacement insoles to try. The one pair is made for people who stand for long periods of time, especially on hard surfaces. The other pair is made for general use. The insoles were from MEGAComfort.
My stock of insoles includes SuperFeet, Spenco, Montrail, ShockDoctor, and more. Last November I started playing golf. My wife and I usually play 18 holes each weekend—walking, with a pushcart. Each time I play, I wear different insoles, and sometimes use different insoles in each shoe. So far, I have used three different insoles. I have found the insoles often feel quite different. In the weeks ahead, I will continue this little experiment and report on my findings.
I will give you a heads up, in case you are still using the insoles that came with your shoes, there can be a huge difference in how insoles feel.
Over the past 10 years, I have written extensively about foot care and footwear—but it has been in the context of running, triathlons, hiking, backpacking, adventure racing, and fastpacking. Feedback from readers of my book Fixing Your Feet, my Fixing Your Feet newsletter, and this Happy Feet blog has shown me that many readers are not athletes in those sports. They may be walkers, soldiers, dancers, climbers, golfers, or play field or court sports. The one common denominator is they too rely heavily on their feet.
A few years ago I played soccer and found that today’s soccer shoes are very uncomfortable. They have poor and almost useless insoles. I changed them immediately. Then two months ago, I started to play golf. Many of the golf shoes I tried on were the same way. Poor insoles. I ended up buying a pair of Nike golf shoes, which have a great insole that is molded to the shape of the average foot. It cups the heel and arch, and offers support and padding. I bought the shoes because they felt comfortable and they fit well. Many other pairs I tried on but discarded because they were uncomfortable and did not fit well. I preach comfort and fit—so that’s what I choose when shopping for personal shoes.
Whatever your sport, you are entitled to comfortable shoes that fit well. When you shop for your next pair of shoes, remember that comfort and fit are key. Here is a suggestion. When you shop for your next pair of shoes—regardless of the sport, take along a pair of your favorite insoles. Try on shoes like you normally do. Then swap out the insoles and see how they feel. You may be surprised at how much better they feel.
And if you have ill-fitting shoes, or buy a pair that when you get home become uncomfortable, swap out the insoles. If you don’t have good insoles, your favorite runing, walking, camping or sport store usually carries a good assortment. Keeping your feet happy is important—whatever your sport.
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