Billy Troland, an emergency room MD and adventure race medical advisor, is amazed that so many adventure racers “… spend vast amounts of money, time, and thought on training, equipment, and travel, but little or no preparation on their feet.” This statement is true for adventure racers, ultrarunners, and other athletes, who when their feet go bad, find all their work has been ruined because their primary mode of transportation has broken down.
Foot Care Basics
Every athlete, from the first-timer to the experienced, must make the choice to be either reactive or proactive. Being reactive means taping hot spots and fixing blisters when they develop. It can mean making fixes under less than idea conditions, with less than adequate materials and in a manner does not work for your particular foot problem. Being proactive, on the other hand, means discovering before an event, what works for your feet and knowing how to treat any potential problems before they develop. This means knowing what resources are available to use, trying out blister fixes before an event, and pre-race taping of your feet where hot spots and blisters typically develop.
It is essential for extreme athletes to have shoes that fit properly, are broken in, and are appropriate for the terrain and weather you will encounter. Find the best socks for your feet, preferably that wick moisture away from the skin. Some athletes prefer single-layer socks, others like double-layer, and still others use a two-sock combination. Gaiters can be important to prevent grit and debris from getting into your shoes and causing irritations that cause blisters.
Your training should be done in the gear you typically use in your sport, even down to the weight of the fannypack or backpack. This avoids subjecting your feet to new stress on race day. Whenever possible, during training or an event, take off your shoes and socks and air out your feet.
Preventing hot spots and blisters requires knowledge of what is best for your feet. Some feet respond well to lubricants while others are best when powders keep them dry. Ten hours into a 72-hour run, with bad blisters, I wiped off all the lubricant and learned how to duct tape my feet. I completed the run with any additional problems. There are several types of tape to use on the feet and there are several combinations of products that make the feet more resistant to blisters. These must be tried before a race.
Fixing blisters can be an art. Anyone can slap on a piece of moleskin and slather on the Vaseline and hope for the best. But knowing how to really fix a blister so you can continue running for another day or even a few more days takes practice. You want to know how to fix your blisters and not be forced to rely on someone else’s treatments.
Bad feet can quickly ruin a race. By educating yourself about foot care options and methods; you increase your likelihood of finishing an event successfully. Spend the same amount of time on learning about foot care as you spend on learning the disciplines of the sport and you will enjoy adventure racing even more.