“At GORUCK events, people’s foot care is surprisingly poor,” said the former ultra runner somewhere around Mile 20. I smarted at the comment, but I couldn’t deny it: the inside of my own boot was slowly grating my little toe like parmesan.
You meet a wide rainbow of fellow weirdos at GORUCK challenges with different athletic backgrounds, ranging from Crossfitters (the most numerous) all the way to equestrian gymnast(!). This was the first time I’d encountered a serious distance runner, though, and it became clear that that community was privy to an advanced science of foot health as foreign to the rest of us as architecture was to Visigoths and Huns.
At the moment, neither he nor I had breath for a long tutorial on the subject, but I resolved to study more after our team lost our second member of the night to foot injury and my own foot was being ground up into burger meat.
Here’s part of what I learned, most of it from Jon Vonhof’s Fixing Your Feet and friends like Scott H., Nick F., and Sgt. Šileika:
- Your shoes are probably too small. As I’ve related before, I was wearing a 9½ when I should have worn a 10½ Wide. Ideally, get your feet measured by someone at a specialized store, like REI or a running store. And when you take the insoles out of your shoes and stand on them, if any part of your foot overhangs (or even reaches) the edges of the insole, you need bigger shoes.
- Your feet get bigger with age, not least of all as they become more muscular with training! That seems strange–I always thought of my shoe size as an immutable given, like my height–but on reflection it’s perfectly intuitive. Feet are made mostly of muscle, and they respond to training like other muscles. If you start doing pull-ups for hours at a time, your back and arms will outgrow your shirts. Likewise, if you backpack for hours at a time, your foot muscles might well outgrow your old shoes.
- Keep your feet dry. I hate this rule because I like charging through streams and doing water PT and I hate halting afterward to change socks, but it’s helped me stop getting Burgerfeet™.
- Speaking of dry and happy feet, cotton socks are the devil. Wear wool or one of the new space-age moisture-wicking products. And it seems that most runners wear more than one sock layer.
- Socks are like holsters: You have to try a bunch to find the right setup. You’ll end up with a drawer full of rejects–live with it.
- And a sock setup that works with one pair of shoes does not necessarily work with another. (See “socks-are-like-holsters” above.)
- Moisturize your feet every day. Most of the pros also lubricate their feet before they put on their socks.
- Athletic tape from the corner drug store has been superseded by things like Leukotape and ENGO pads.
I think that the article I am about to link, and the second article in the series, are probably the definitive articles on the topic:
I’m not sure where we got the notion that our shoes should fit like gloves…maybe from climbing, maybe from socks, maybe from runners that wear their shoes for a relatively short period of time, usually–but 1cm minimum, 1.5cm ideally, seems to be the consensus if you don’t want to suffer permanent damage to your feet.
Now, of course, you wan to avoid heel-slip, where your heel is too loose in the boot/shoe, and you get blisters there, which in certain models, can be tough. In a pinch, and if you’re going for the win, duct-tape can save your heel when you have a blister so that you can finish the race, but it’s a b*tch to remove after. But if your *toes* are getting mangled, then the race might be your last, so it behooves one to be wary!