Lisa de Speville, who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, is a close friend who often emails with insights on blisters and foot care. Yesterday I received the following email and asked whether I could share it with my readers. Her email contains insights on little toe blisters, issues with minimalist shoes, and fit of shoes modified with gaiters.
Here’s her email.
Last week I ran in the 5th edition of the Namib Desert Challenge. I had the pleasure of running in their inaugural event back in 2009 and so it really was a treat to return. Great event, well-organized, wonderful region of Namibia and a lovely warmth and hospitality from the organizers.
Since about June last year I’ve been running in more minimalist shoes. I’ve always enjoyed a softer, more tactile shoe and I took to the pair of Asics Gel Fuji Racers that I won at a race immediately. I liked them so much that I was even running them on road. I like to keep trail shoes for trail and road shoes for road so in about August I bought a pair of Inov-8s. The brand is relatively new in SA so I thought I’d give them a try (my road shoes have been Addias Response or Supernova for more than 10 years). Let’s see… I’m in the Men’s Road X 255 (6mm lift), which is not flat as a pancake. Both the Asics and Inov-8 are quite roomy and my feet enjoy this.
Certainly over the past three months I’ve felt a change in my soles – more firm and muscular, which stands to reason if they’re strengthening and working harder. It is muscle after all. Before I started adventure racing and running ultras my feet were 1.5 shoe sizes smaller and I have a feeling that my feet are another half-size bigger in recent months.
So, the time comes for the Namib Desert Challenge and I get my favorite race shoes stitched with Velcro for my desert gaiters. Everything is ready. I hadn’t worn these shoes for a while. They were still relatively new – perfect for going into a multi-day race - as I’d bought two pairs of the same at an end-of-range special many months ago. I’d flattened the first pair so they were in no condition for this race.
When I put my foot into the shoes in the days before the race to get a feel for them again they felt a little tight, especially across the width of my forefoot. And more than just newness. This is why I figure my feet are a certainly a half-size bigger. Nothing that some lace-loosening wouldn’t sort out.
I started to develop what I call ‘triangle toes’ almost immediately. This is the one thing I avoid like the plague because I hate having sore little piggies. Triangle toes is where the underside of the little toe – and sometimes the neighbor next door – becomes pointed. A blister forms here and can result in a ‘toe sock’ – where the skin of the whole toe comes off, almost like a sock. It’s nasty and I not very fondly recall some incidents of almost toe sock about 10 years ago in adventure races. Since then I take special care pre-race to make sure my little toes stay ’rounded’ and that any harder, potentially triangular skin, is filed off regularly.
I dealt with the resulting blisters – stage 2 or 3 they came up on both little toes - by draining, leaving overnight to dry and then added some tape for the stages. I tried to flatten the triangle under the tape, but it ended up triangular again at the end of the stage. For the most part they gave me little trouble.
At the start of the 55km ultra stage on Day 4, I was debating whether to remove the inner soles for give my feet more room so that the little toes would have more width. It felt odd so I started with them in and my laces not too tight. By the first waterpoint I needed to change something so I took out my innersoles. I had to re-tape a toe a little way further because the change in space altered something. After this, no problem.
I’ve never run in shoes without innersoles and it really changes the feel of the shoe. The Adidas Response TR shoes really suit my feet – I’ve been running in them for 13 years! Taking out the innersole changes them to the Inov-8 feel. Flat and bland inside, which isn’t a bad thing – just different. It also makes the sole feel so much more flat and less cushioned – I felt like I was running in a non-cushioned shoe… for 47km!
Fortunately I was none the worse for wear but, for sure, if my feet hadn’t been conditioned from 10 months of running in ‘flat’ shoes my feet would have felt it. I ran the 5th and final stage without the innersoles too.
Aside from the triangle toes, my only other foot ailments included an injured big toenail on my left (not sure why? perhaps from a kicked stone?). The toenail developed a blister underneath, which was easily solved by drilling into the nail to relieve the pressure. I only discovered this one after the second stage when inspecting my feet. The other blister came up on the long stage under the ‘joint’ of my left big toe, where it connects to the foot. I have some scar tissue there from when I sliced my toe open many, many years ago. It occasionally twinges and at this race, on the long day, I caught exactly this spot so many times on rocks – prodding in. I couldn’t have purposefully aimed as many times in that exact spot! Again, not a bother (fortunately!) and easily solved by draining. On the final stage I didn’t hit it once and so it didn’t flare up again. For the rest, beautiful feet after 230km.
As I haven’t had triangle toes for years, this confirmed for me that width-ways just-that-little-too-tight squeezing of the forefoot is almost guaranteed to cause triangle toes and the resulting underside blisters, with the potential for toe sock, somewhere you do not want to go. In fitting shoes we tend to focus on the amount of space at the front of the shoe but definitely need to pay attention to left-right wiggle room.
Finally… one of the runners had really badly injured toenails (most of them) and the tops of his toes. The reason… too small desert gaiters for his shoes! I don’t know what kind they were (not mine) but they were Velcro attached (around the shoe) and pulling at the top and front of his shoe and causing toe injury. Live and learn.
Lisa de Speville
Johannesburg, South Africa
Adventure Racing: www.ar.co.za
Some of you may have heard of Kickstarter.com. Kickstarter is a crowd funding website where people pitch ideas and others pledge to fund them. I follow the ideas and have pledged on a number of ideas. Yesterday I found Lace Anchors 2.0.
Lace Anchors are a plastic strip that goes onto your shoelaces and secures them so you don’t have to tie them. No bows means no laces coming untied.
Here is some of the text from their Kickstarter project.
Are you tired of your shoelaces? It seems as if it’s a never-ending cycle of tie and untie. How about those of us that double knot, that makes for some fun challenges sometimes doesn’t it? Usually it’s my kid’s shoes. Shoelaces also have a mind of their own, coming undone at some of the most inconvenient times possible. It’s fun to know that you can cheat the system of tying your shoes and never have them come undone again. You may be thinking I can just tie a knot and slip my foot in and out without untying my shoes every time, while this is true, you won’t have the same consistent solid fitting shoe day after day that Lace Anchors 2.0 provides!
It seems to never fail. Just when you get warmed up and your going strong, it happens, your shoe comes untied! I may have put on a few pounds over the winter so far, but I’m a fairly frequent runner. I have put over 250 miles on a pair of my running shoes with Lace Anchors installed and the results are flawless. Your shoes always have the same consistent fit and your laces never come undone!
Installation is so easy! Our packets will include step-by-step instructions with pictures on the back, or to make it even EASIER just watch the video below! Make sure to install the Lace Anchors 2.0 with your foot in your shoe as shown in the video, that will allow you to find the perfect fit that your looking for. This is the type of product that you will use not even realizing how simple and comfortable they make everyday life with your shoes, until you go without them. Once you use them in one pair of shoes, you’ll be hooked!
Two questions in their FAQ section are important. First, can I run with Lace Anchors 2.0 installed? Absolutely, I ran 2-4 miles everyday for 2 months straight with my Lace Anchors 2.0 installed. For those of you that have struggled with heel slippage problems throughout your life, watch the “another option” video in the above section.
Second, are Lace Anchors 2.0 adjustable? Yes, they allow you to find the sweet spot when installing. This means you will be able to find the fit you desire and how tight or loose you decide to make your slip-ons. For my regular everyday use, I like my shoes to slip on and off extremely easy, for my running shoes I prefer a snug fit.
Whether for you or your children, check out this Lace Anchor Kickstarter project.
The Washington Post article caught my eye, “Minimalist running style may be undermined by new findings from Kenya.” The January 21 article by Lenny Bernstein on the web was about a new study published at PLOS One.
Bernstein starts the article with a figure that catches your attention, Americans spent $59 million on “minimalist” running shoes last year, on the premise that the most healthful way to run is the way people have done it for thousands of years: barefoot.
Years after runners everywhere were introduce to running barefoot in 2009 in Born to Run and a 2010 study of Kenya’s famous Kalenjin distance runners, the new study may cause some to rethink how they run.
In the new study, a group of George Washington University researchers tested a different population of barefoot African runners and determined that most of them naturally strike the ground with their heels.
The study at PLOS One is Variation in Foot Strike Patterns during Running among Habitually Barefoot Populations.
The study measured subjects running along a trackway at least three times at their self-selected (comfortable) endurance running pace, and three more times at a faster pace. The track had a plantar pressure pad placed midway along its length.
The article quotes Kevin Hatala, a doctoral student in anthropology at GWU, and how they expected the group’s study of 38 Daasanach subjects of northern Kenya to support Harvard researcher’s Daniel Lieberman’s conclusions about the Kalenjin. Hatala said, “Instead, we found the opposite to be true. In the group we were looking at, the majority of them were rear-foot striking at their preferred endurance running speed.”
Bernstein wrote, At higher speeds, some of the Daasanach switched from a heel strike to a forefoot strike, but even then, heel-striking was more typical. Hatala was reluctant to speculate why his findings differed from the prevailing wisdom. In addition to the effect of speed, running style could be the result of information that is culturally transmitted from generation to generation. Or it might have something to do with the predominant surface where each group lives. Hatala and Lieberman are at the early stages of comparing their data.
“I guess what we found really interesting about this is it directly shows that there is not one way to run barefoot,” Hatala said. “We have a lot more to learn about how people who are barefoot run and what might be the best way to run barefoot.”
The abstract for the study says, “Our data supports the hypothesis that a forefoot strike reduces the magnitude of impact loading, but the majority of subjects instead used a rearfoot strike at endurance running speeds. Their percentages of midfoot and forefoot strikes increased significantly with speed. These results indicate that not all habitually barefoot people prefer running with a forefoot strike, and suggest that other factors such as running speed, training level, substrate mechanical properties, running distance, and running frequency, influence the selection of foot strike patterns.”
Sales of minimalist shoes are up 303 percent between November 2010 and November 2012, compared with a 19 percent increase in running shoe sales overall in the same period.
Are you a barefoot runner? If so, what is your foot strike pattern when running – forefoot, midfoot, or rearfoot? And importantly, does your foot strike change as your pace changes?
Whether you are a runner, ultrarunner, adventure racer, thru-hiker, casual walker, or something in-between, you are probably always on the lookout for the right shoe. Maybe one of the magazines you subscribe to has a shoe issue, or occasional shoe reviews. Or maybe you scour the Internet reading reviews or pay close attention to what is written in email forums to which you subscribe. It’s the elusive search for the perfect shoe.
Can there be more than one shoe that is right for your feet? Are there perfect shoes? Christopher Willett went through four pairs of shoes on his 2003 Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike (2600+ miles) and bought them as he went. Wearing size 15 running shoes, he didn’t really have the option of buying from an outfitter along the trail. He would call or use the Internet from various towns along the way and have new shoes and socks sent up trail. He started in Brooks Adrenaline GTS and liked them in the hot 563-mile Southern California section. He wished the next shoe, the Asics Eagle Trail, had a more protective sole but liked the tread. While the New Balance 806s were structurally good, he felt they had a poor tread design and they are the only shoe that he would not wear again. He finished the last 670 miles in the Asics Gel Trabuco V and liked their durability and tread. Would one of the shoes have worked for his whole thru-hike? If they had been the NB 806s, the answer would be no. Probably any of the other three would have worked the whole way, but Chris might have had problems sticking with one shoe given the varying weather and terrain of the trail. Even the most perfect shoe can have small issues: breathability, tread design, cushioning, sole protection, and so on. Each of these issues can make them perfect for one set of conditions and wrong for another.
In reality, there is more than one shoe that is right for your feet. What’s important, regardless of which shoe you choose, is that the shoe fits.
Note: The photo shows part of the display of shoes at Zombierunner, Palo Alto. They have a great store.
I suspect some of my readers will love this and others won’t.
The actual title is: Free Your Feet – Why Running Shoes Do More Harm Than Good
It starts out like this.
Since you were a baby, you’ve worn shoes. You might remember your first Nikes or Adidas, too: a nice thick sole with padding up to the base of the ankle. In a few remote parts of the world, though, nobody ever wears shoes, and evidence shows they’re in much better shape because of it.
I received an email from one of the creators of this work and was intrigued. It’s done by people at XRayTechnician Schools.net. Melanie wrote me and said,
I work with a team of designers and researchers who have put together a graphic that talks about how running shoes do more harm than good.
The image below is taken from the start of their work.
Here’s the link to see the full screen. You have to go to the Free Your Feet webpage on their website because the image is long and cannot be easily embedded inside a blog post.
They make some good points: 9 out of 10 runners sustain injuries while training for marathons; Achilles tendon blowouts have increased 10% since the 1970s; and then states facts about common injuries caused by traditional running shoes.
Are they right?
Again, here’s the link: Free Your Feet webpage. Go to the link and read it through. Then come back here and comment on what you think.
I think they have made a great graphic that draws attention to a problem that some people want to ignore. Importantly, they also draw the conclusion that many runners are interested in transitioning to minimalist shoes and even barefoot running – and need to do so gradually.
Having worked in a number of hospital settings, including emergency rooms and trauma centers, I have a great deal of respect foe X-Ray technicians. They know their stuff. My bet is they decided to take on this controversial subject and see what they could show. They work in a setting where they see X-rays of feet, knees, and hips, and take X-rays of many people where they see things we don’t get to see. I think they have done a fine job.
Thank you Melanie and your fellow X-Ray technicians. The full graphic is credited to the XRayTechnicianSchools.net.
Yesterday I volunteered at the Northern California Survivor Mud Run. I spent seven hours manning the cargo net with Omar, another volunteer. We managed over 5000 runners as they went up and over a 14-foot high cargo net. Runners wore running shoes and a lot had Vibram Five Fingers. Only one guy was barefoot.
Once they passed us, they went through a water station before making their way through an irrigation ditch filled with muddy clay. I watched some of them coming through the ditch and took a few pictures.
Look at these pictures and see if you can find the shoes! Our area has great soft dirt. Five miles down the road where the race was held, was muddy clay.
The end of the 3.47-mile course was totally mud. The runners were immersed in mud up to their necks as they crawled through mud pits.
So, back to the shoes.
The runners could hose off at the end of the race. And if they wanted, they could toss their shoes in containers where they would be cleaned and donated to a shelter.
So imagine the shoes pictured here were yours.
How many washings would it take to get rid of the mud? Would the washing and mud adversely affect the integrity of the shoe and its stitching? These types of events are becoming more and more popular. People love the challenge of an obstacle course run with friends. They have fun.
My advice if you are going to run one of these – wear old shoes and toss them in the bucket afterwards.
Source: SportsOneSource Media
According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Colorado in Boulder, running shoes make running physiologically easier than going barefoot. The study, published online in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, began by recruiting 12 well-trained male runners with extensive barefoot running experience.
The New York Times indicated that a few previous studies have indicated that it’s easier to go barefoot in terms of physiological effort since more effort is required to handle the extra weight of a shoe.
In the new study, runners were asked to run multiple times on treadmills while either wearing shoes (the Nike Mayfly at 150 grams) or unshod. When unshod, runners wore thin yoga socks to protect them from developing blisters and for hygiene purposes for the treadmills. Next, according to the Times’ article, 150 grams’ worth of thin lead strips were taped to the top of runners’ stockinged feet. Adding an equal amount of weight to the bare foot promised to reveal whether barefoot running was physiologically more efficient than wearing shoes.
Researchers found that when barefoot runners and shod runners carried the same weight on their feet, barefoot running used almost 4 percent more energy during every step than running in shoes.
“What we found was that there seem to be adaptations that occur during the running stride that can make wearing shoes metabolically less costly,” Jason R. Franz, a doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado who led the study, told the Times. The researchers believe that when barefoot, forces generated by the collision of food and ground shift to the leg muscles absent the cushioning provided by shoes.
Moreover, the study found that even when unweighted barefoot running was compared foot-to-foot with running in the Mayflies, 8 of the 12 runners were slightly more efficient wearing shoes, even though they added more weight.
The study only looked only at the metabolic efficiency of wearing shoes, versus not. The scientists didn’t evaluate whether barefoot running lowers injury risk.
The Times article concluded, that “serious racers might want to mull over the trade-off between having less mass on their feet when barefoot versus having greater potential strain on their leg muscles.”
But for the average runner, Dr. Franz recommends that a more lightweight model might be better for many given that some cushioning spare leg muscles from extra train yet avoids the metabolic cost to wearing heavy running shoes.
Related Links: Making the Case for Running Shoes
Taken from an article, Less shoe for the money, more bang for your buck? by David Kumagai
From Monday’s Globe and Mail - Published Sunday, Feb. 05, 2012
For runners, the trend away from tricked-out, uber-supportive shoes and toward minimal footwear has taken off in the past few years, turning a fringe product into a roughly $2-billion annual cash cow. The New Balance Minimus, Nike Free, Reebok RealFlex and Vibram FiveFingers are among the slew of stripped-down shoes – flexible enough to be rolled, scrunched and squeezed at will – praised for triggering small, neglected foot muscles.
Now shoe companies are targeting the gym, hoping the success of minimalist running shoes, Footwear readers’ 2011 trend of the year, will translate to the workout crowd.
But as the buzz builds and the industry pitches the shoes as a muscle-building fix for many foot and ankle injuries, there is some debate as to whether it’s a biomechanical paradigm shift in shoe design or a cleverly engineered cash grab.
Proponents of the footwear often compare ultra-supportive shoes with wearing a cast that prohibits muscle growth, while skeptics say there hasn’t been enough research.
Mark Verstegen, who trains some of the world’s top athletes as the president of Phoenix-based Athletes’ Performance, helped design Adidas’s Adipure Trainer, billed as the first minimalist shoe designed for working out. It’s the latest entry into the booming market for footwear with a less-is-more kick. “The shoe offers an almost sock-like environment that gives great mobility so you can turn on all the muscles and joints in the legs,” he said.
Mr. Verstegen holds a master’s degree in sport sciences and said he’s long believed in barefoot workouts. He credits the 2009 book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall for pushing the barefoot-minimalist movement into the mainstream.
The research has been playing catch-up ever since.
Scott Landry, an assistant professor of kinesiology at Acadia University in Nova Scotia who has studied minimalist footwear, has published articles that generally laud the shoes’ ability to strengthen smaller foot muscles.
Shoes with a lot of stability were first designed in the 1970s to reduce injury, but the belief is that injuries haven’t decreased, Dr. Landry said.
He wears minimalist shoes in the gym and explained how students in his anatomy and biomechanics class constantly ask him about the new footwear. “I always caution them, don’t make the sudden jump, introduce exercise gradually, “Dr. Landry said. “… If you’ve got a deformity in the foot, you might need an orthotic.”
Dr. Landry, Mr. Verstegen and Brad Gibbs, president of the Pedorthic Association of Canada, all stressed the need to take it slow.
“My immediate concern would be the lack of stability if you’re doing lateral or side-to-side motion – I think that’s where a minimalist shoe could be a danger,” Mr. Gibbs said. He suggested testing the shoes for “10 to 20 per cent” of your workouts initially.
“If you are starting to develop a small discomfort … go back to your old or conventional footwear.” he said, adding, “Don’t try to work through an injury.”
Mr. Verstegen adamantly opposes a full-throttle switch. “You wouldn’t do any other aspect of your life that way – you need the progressions.”
But even a measured approach has its doubters. Michael Mesic, a doctor of podiatric medicine at the Canadian Foot Clinic & Orthotic Centre in St. Catharines, Ont., is skeptical of the shift away from supportive footwear.
“Most of the hype is generated by shoe companies – they’re creating a new market,” Dr. Mesic said. “… There is that subset of the population with great mechanics who don’t need that extra support, but the average person needs support.”
And yet John Shier, a 36-year-old software engineer from Burlington, Ont., said that after years of suffering from plantar fasciitis, shin splints and knee pain, and throwing hundreds of dollars at orthotics, he hasn’t had “a single physical problem” since buying Vibram FiveFingers four years ago.
When he works out, whether doing squats or dead-lifts, Mr. Shier dons the shoes or opts to go unshod. “I found that wearing cross-trainers, with the amount of cushioning and height off the ground, I didn’t feel that stable.”
There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that echoes Mr. Shier’s experience, Dr. Landry said.
What’s your anecdotal story?
I started running in the early 80′s and bought my first pair of shoes from New Balance. They were a great company that made great running shoes. They still are a great company. The shoes worked and I bought more from them in the following years.
Back then the running footwear scene was dominated by the stalwarts: New Balance, Nike, Adidas, to name a few. The shoes were good, solidly made, and offered in a few different styles. They worked.
Now, we can choose from a bunch of footwear companies that a few years ago were non-existant. It has been interesting watching the new newcomers. My guess is that they saw the trends into running and other outdoor sports and decided to get on the bandwagon.
If you read the shoe evaluations in the popular running and outdoor magazines, these new shoes are quite good. Maybe not all of them, but a many get good write-ups. Runners must be buying some of them, because the companies are still around.
Some of these companies were already making backpacking boots and the expansion into running shoes was a natural move. Others made clothes and the entry into footwear was a bit of
But now we have shoes from Under Armour, a company that makes high end underwear. Here’s an image from their website. I’ll let you be the judge.
When I started running in the early 80′s, there were the usual “brand” name shoes. I remember buying my first pair, New Balance, and that they cost $45.00. Since then, I have owned many pairs of shoes. Some for road and many for trails.
In all that time, there have been only one or two pair that were bad choices. They simply weren’t right. The rest have served me well.
Now, shoes have become more complex. There are many more to choose from. Companies are coming out of the woodwork to get a piece of the running shoe market. They all have their acronyms and fancy names for the features their shoes offer. Some of this makes we wonder how different are some of these features? Many shoes seem to be so similar. Every company wants us to believe that their shoes are perfect for our feet.
Now the tide has turned.
Shoe companies have designed footwear that takes us back to our roots. Born to Run has inflicted athletes with a desire to run natural. In bare feet or something as minimal as possible.
So now one of the big sellers is Vibram’s FiveFingers. With their individual toes, many runners are trying them. People are finding FiveFingers help them walk and run in spite of old injuries that, with “normal” shoes, they could not do.
So, what’s next in footwear?
I found this photo and thought it was great. Maybe this is where we are going. Vibram will offer a new design in their FiveFingers line. You’ll be able to but the shoes in a variety of skin colors, with or without toenails, or with a few black toenails. Maybe even a fake blister painted on.
Would buy a pair. Just for fun?
As a disclaimer, I wish I knew the source of the photo so I could credit it. Sorry.