Several months ago I had the good fortune to work on the medical team at the Jungle Marathon Amazon. My specific role was foot care of the 78 runners and to work with the others on the medical team to teach them good foot care techniques. I learned some things that I am calling, Your Event Homework…” By that I mean, your homework is to consider these five things that, if you learn them, can help you be more successful in the event.
Over seven days, I got to know most of the runners. The race offered a one-day, four-day, or seven-day event, and runners were required to carry all their gear and food in a backpack. Hammocks were mandatory and everyone had to carry a mandatory kit of emergency supplies. Because of all the gear and food, some runners limited their medical supplies to the most basic (read: as small as possible). Others had large plastic bins or bags of their mandatory gear. Most had planned well.
As runners came through the pre-race check-in to have the mandatory gear inspected, I talked to a lot of them about their shoes, socks, and – their feet. While doing this, I applied ENGO Blister Prevention Patches into many shoes. While I had a good supply of the patches, this would be the only time to get them into runner’s shoes. Once the race started, their shoes would be wet and the patches would not stick. I noticed that there was a good mix of shoes even though the runners were from around the world.
Then the race started.
Three miles into the race, there was a stream crossing. After that, their feet were almost always wet or full of sand or grit. Here are the five main things I saw.
- At the end of day one, one runner asked for help with his insoles. The sand and grit had worn holes in both heels. I could tell, however, that they were well worn even before he started. We dried out the insoles and I cut away any rough edges. Fortunately, the sun had dried the insoles enough to apply ENGO patches over the holes.
- Some runners had chosen shoes that were minimalist in design, and some did not hold up well in the rough trails in the jungle, where rocks, roots, and plants tore at the shoes’ uppers. Two runners’ shoes were shredded at their sides. The handiwork of one of the runners saved the shoes as he sewed the uppers back together with dental floss.
- Several runners had made bad choices in socks. All cotton socks have no place in any athletic event, much less anything over a 5km race. One runner in particular had low-rise cotton socks suitable for walking in the park, but not a seven-day race in the jungle. Another runner had only two pairs of socks, and the first pair had holes in both heels at the end of the first day.
- Some runners experienced problems with toenails that affected their race. Long nails, untrimmed nails, and nails with rough edges cause problems, which can lead to toe blisters, and black toenails.
- While some of the runners managed their feet by themselves, many came to the medical team day after day. While we were there to help, time and supplies were limited – especially time. Runners that can patch their own feet are ahead of the game. Some had the right supplies, while many others with small mandatory gear kits, did not have the necessary equipment. The medical team worked hard to patch feet as we could. Whenever we could, we made sure the runners saw what we were doing so they learned how to do it themselves. By the end of the race, I saw more that a few runners that were working on their feet and helping others.
Lessons to Learn:
- Make sure your insoles are in good shape. Many runners fail to remove their insoles and inspect they – to see if they need replacing. Most standard insoles are flimsy and should be replaced after several hundred miles. For a $25-$30 investment of new insoles, you’ll gain support and comfort. Investing in a marathon, ultramarathon, multi-day race, can be costly. Yes, there’s the money side, but there’s also the gear required, time spent in training, and travel. This is not the time to skimp on footwear. Chose good, high-quality shoes – preferably a design you have worn before and know works on your feet. And whatever you do, don’t wear old shoes that have seen better days.
- Invest in good, high-quality socks – new socks – not some dug out of your socks drawer that are threadbare. Find the right socks for your feet. Try Injinji socks if you have toe blister problems. Try a thin liner with a bit heavier outer sock. Try several types of socks to find the right amount of cushion and support.
- Learn how to care for your toenails. That means how to trim them and file them smooth so they don’t catch on socks or hit on the top or front of the shoe’s toe box.
- Runners can help themselves by learning how to manage their feet and treat any blisters that might develop. While some events have medical personnel and staff experienced in foot care, many don’t. Or they don’t have the best choices in supplies. Better to be prepared and know what your feet need – and how to manage your own feet. Then if there are people providing foot care, you can use them, and tell them if you need or want certain things done.
In the same way you train for an event, and invest in clothes and packs, and food, you must invest in your feet.