Last weekend I worked the Michigan Bluff aid station at the Western States 100 Mile Run. The 2011 running of this amazing footrace over California’s High Sierras was different for several reasons.
This was a huge snow pack year, resulting in many runners with wet feet and footwear for long periods of time. The temperatures were particularly mild, resulting in the highest finisher rate since 1993.
As I worked the medical aid station, feet were my first responsibility. Somehow that’s the assignment I draw, and the rest of the medical staff are quite happy to let me do my thing. I don’t mind, it’s what I do. Push come to shove, many of them could do an acceptable job of patching a blister – but they are not knowledgeable with the best techniques.
So I set up my canopy, two chairs, stool, a card table with all my gear, my foot care kit, and several containers of extra supplies. I was ready. Over the course of the front-runner to the last runner, there was about an eight hour spread.
I didn’t count runners that I helped. I never do. I just move from one to the next as they come in for help. Strangely, this year I might have had one time when I had two runners in at the same time. Most years, there are runners waiting. And the runners I treated had less serious problems. So what did I see?
Two runners come to mind. I was amazed at how these two runners treated their feet. The first runner had come in for some minor blister repair. After I checked his feet and made a few minor repairs, I asked him whether he had clean socks. He pulled a pair out of his drop bag and handed them to me. One was fine. The other had a hole over the tip of the big toe. He laughed and told me they were his lucky socks, and asked whether I could put a Band-Aid over the hole. Really!
The second runner came and complained of heel problems. One heel had a quarter-size blister directly on the bottom and I cleaned and drained it, and then applied tape side to side under the heel. The other foot had no identifiable fluid or blister. I asked about clean socks and he said he didn’t have any. So I powdered his damp socks and put them back on his feet. When I picked up his shoes, I was amazed to see that both insoles were worn through in the heels – exactly where he was having problems. The insoles had essentially fallen apart in the heel, creating a hole into which went the flesh from his heel. No wonder he had heel problems. I added an Engo Blister Patch on top of the indentation on each insole. After I had him set to go, he remembered he had extra socks in his drop bag, which he had forgotten about.
I saw several other things that could lead to problems.
For one thing, a majority of runners were not wearing gaiters. Those who know me have heard me preach the benefits of gaiters to keep junk out of shoes. Don’t use them and you take chances with small rocks and debris getting kicked up into the shoes, which can lead to hot spots and blisters.
Another huge issue was runners with wet socks. Failing to change socks for 65 miles leads to softened and macerated skin. More than one runner saw their day end because of this problem. When your feet hurt because of maceration, you slow down – and that leads to longer times between sia stations, and ultimately leads to missing a time cutoff. Some of these had gone through aid stations and not changing socks. Taking five minutes at an aid station to change socks can save you from slower and slower times when feet turn painful. Knowing ahead of time that snow would be an issue, failing to plan with additional socks, and even shoes, is puzzling.
Working at Western States is always an experience. I always come away having learned something new. This year I learned that no matter how many people I think I have reached and influenced with good foot care tips, there are still many who need to hear the message.