More on Blisters and Foot Care

April 4, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: blister care, Foot Care, Health, Sports, toenails 

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

FEAT: www.featsa.co.za

Blog: www.adventurelisa.blogspot.com

Rough Country Gaiters – a Review

January 6, 2012 by · 1 Comment
Filed under: Foot Care, Foot Care Products, Footwear Products 

For years I have been a strong advocate for gaiters if you are doing trails. In fact, it has been one of my “absolutes” – things I believe you must do. This post is a review of the Rough Country Gaiters. Most gaiters follow the same design. They cover the top of the shoe and go up to the top of the ankle. The

Rough Country Gaiters cover the whole shoe

Rough Country Gaiters covering the whole shoe

benefit of Rough Country Gaiters over the typical design is how they cover from the top of the ankle to the bottom of the shoe. The beauty of this design is how they cover the shoe’s upper. With so many shoes’ uppers being made of mesh, this design, when correctly applied to the shoe, will keep all dust, dirt, and sand out of the shoe. Period.

Jay Batchen, of Dream Chaser Events, recently talked about Rough Country gaiters. I had been set a pair to try and decided to ask Jay for his opinion and a few questions about the gaiters.

Jay responded, “Having done the Marathon des Sables (MDS) nine times, and volunteering at two others, I have seen many different brands and configurations of gaiters for the desert environment. Here’s a great recap a friend provided after using the Rough Country model at this year’s MDS; I ran with him for the better part of three days and heard many of the same things from others in our group.

The Rough Country Gaiters have the same basic shape as the Raidlight Gaitors. The material used by the Rough Country gaiters is thicker that some other gaiters and is more resilient to tearing as a result. The Rough Country gaiters have an additional seam around the bottom edge where the Velcro attaches. There is an elastic cord that runs through the seam and exits the gaiter through a metal eyelet on one side of the gaiter. The elastic can be pulled tight and run underneath the shoe and connect to a hook on the other side of the gaiter. If you are running on anything other than deep sand, however, the elastic under the shoe can be cut by sharp terrain (i.e., rocks).”

The Rough Country Gaiters are shipped with strips of Velcro that can be sewn or glued to the shoe’s sole. Jay says, “It’s best to have a shoe cobbler sew the Velcro strip along the perimeter of the shoe’s sole, where the sole meets the upper. The key is to make sure the Velcro is as low as it can be in this area so sand cannot get under the gaiter. Be careful that having the Velcro sewn on doesn’t change the fit of the shoe or pinch an area of the toe box so it chinches the area and causes fit problems.”

Another important key is to apply glue to the Velcro strip before sewing it to the sole. He stresses that sewing the Velcro to the sole is the most important point to making the gaiters work. Using glue alone will not work well, especially in a multi-day race. The constant daily abuse of rocks, shrubs, burrs, and sand puts more pressure on the gaiters than the glue will allow.

Jay is quick to point out that he tells people he knows to not just glue the gaiters on – and every year someone shows up whose has not had the gaiters sewn on. They always have problems as described.

Jay’s friend wrote, “The first day of the 2011 MDS was the dune day and I wore the Rough Country Gaiters. The sand would enter the gaiters through the metal eyelets on the sides, and fill the seams. The seams started to balloon out from the sand and it looked like I was running with small hula-hoops on the bottom sides of my shoes. Once the seams ballooned out, the Velcro under the seam of the gaiters started separating from the Velcro sewn on the shoes. This made me carry the extra weight of the sand in the seam through the run and I was constantly adjusting the gaiters through the dunes.”  

Jay said for this reason, he didn’t think the Rough Country design lends itself well to an environment with deep sand. It seems that it would perform better when the majority of the terrain is comprised of rocks and scree.

Rough Country Gaiter eyelet's

Sew a seam to isolate the eyelet's on the bottom side of the gaiters

I have provided foot care at several desert races and like the Rough Country Gaiters for the full-shoe coverage and sand control. So, I would find a way to make them work for these conditions. Here’s my suggestion to control sand going into the seam. The gaiters have a pair of eyelets on each side for the cord going under the arch of the shoe. As you can see in the image here, the eyelets are in the middle of about a 3/8-inch strip, which we will call the seam. My idea is really simple. Have a friend with a sewing machine stitch up and down on the outside of the pair of eyelets. Use quality thread and stitch up and down a number of times. Then run a dab of Super Glue over the threads on both sides of the gaiter. This effectively seals both side of the seam from sand coming in the eyelets.

Eric LaHaie, in a review on the Racing The Planet webpage for Rough Country Gaiters, gives a good suggestion for using the strap, “… when the elastic strap is pulled under the shoe, it tightens the cord that goes around the gaiter and can make the toe of the gaiter peel off the Velcro more easily. Therefore, I recommend using the strap only in emergencies, like if the Velcro starts to come off the inside sole of the shoe. Leaving the strap off leaves the metal eyelets even more exposed.”

I asked Jay about changing socks and whether it’s much of a bother to undo the gaiters on the shoe’s Velcro. He responded, “I don’t think it’s a big deal to work a sock change, but I’m used to the system. I believe it’s worth the effort since the design of the gaiters keeps the sand out.”

On the questions of whether the top could it be loose on someone with a small ankle/calf, Jay had this answer. “It’s possible that it could be too loose (or too tight) on some people. On average folks they should be fine. I’ve seen people add an additional strap if they’re too small.”

They are made of thicker material (80% nylon, 20% Spandex) then other gaiters so they may not breathe as well as lighter weight gaiters. If the temperatures are really hot, the heat buildup inside the gaiter could lead to heat rash on the foot and ankle, and even hot spots. The trade-off is lighter-weight material can tear or torn easier by rocks and branches.

In my opinion, gaiters are a “must” for those doing trails. Rough Country Gaiters would be my pick for an event where one needs protection from sand and dirt that get under most other gaiters. The usual style of gaiters that most runners use go from the ankle over the top of the shoe – but not down to the sole. That style allows sand and dirt, and trail dust, to get into the mesh uppers, which most shoes today are made of. It then gets inside on the socks – and then on the skin. The sand will lead to irritation of the skin as it rubs against the skin. Dirt will lead to the same thing, but not as fast. The best way to keep sand and dirt out of your shoes and socks is to wear a good pair of gaiters. Rough Country Gaiters will do that better than other gaiters.

Racing the Planet sponsors unique, rough country footraces that take place in remote and culturally rich locations around the world. The events consist of the 4 Deserts, an annual series of 250-kilometer footraces in the Atacama Desert of Chile, the Gobi Desert of China, the Sahara Desert of Egypt, and Antarctica, and a 250-kilometer roving footrace that moves to a new location each year. Previous year’s roving races have been held in Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, and Namibia. The 2012 roving race will be in Jordan. In 2004, I worked medical doing foot care at the Atacama Desert event. I know many athletes who have done their events and highly recommend them. Check them out at RacingthePlanet.com.

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