Ultramarathon Foot Care
There are many different issues an ultra-runner and their crew needs to consider during an ultramarathon. The key to avoiding most issues is being proactive and focusing on prevention rather than waiting until a problem arises. Preventing gut-related issues during an ultramarathon is primarily determined by preventative measures. So is the case with ultramarathon foot care.
In this blog, we will talk about the best ways for ultra-runners to prevent foot issues during an ultramarathon.
Foot care in the weeks leading up to an ultramarathon
One of the most neglected aspects of ultramarathon foot care is the preventative measures an ultra-runner should take in the few weeks leading up to an ultramarathon.
- Moisturize – Contrary to popular belief, calloused, leathery, dry feet are not resilient to blisters. The opposite is actually true. For optimal blister prevention, the feet should be soft, pliable, and well moisturized.
- Don’t allow any hot spots/blisters – If you start to feel a hot spot during a run, walk, or otherwise, stop and take care of it immediately. Do NOT go into an ultramarathon with foot issues already present!
- Protect your feet – To be safe, it might be best to wear shoes rather than sandals the week before an ultramarathon.
Foot care the day before the ultramarathon
- Moisturize feet
- Trim toenails – Cut nails in a straight line rather than rounded. More information for runners who suffer from frequent toenail issues.
Blister prevention products
There are way too many blister prevention products on the market to name and compare, but here are a couple of my favorites. Which one I choose depends on the conditions I’m running in.
Blister Shield – This is my “go-to” blister prevention product. I like that I can put it in all my socks before race day and not worry about applying anything during the race. I typically only use it for races, but if you’re having issues in training, it would obviously work great for that too.
I put about 1-2 tsp in each sock that I will use on race day. Remember to close the open end of the sock and shake it, so you coat your entire sock with powder.
BodyGlide Foot Anti Blister Balm – I like this as an extra layer of defense when conditions are wet since it is water and sweat-resistant. It comes in the form of a stick (like a deodorant stick) that you rub on your feet. Obviously, this requires that you apply it on race day and, ideally, reapply during longer ultramarathons.
Ultramarathon foot care during extended duration ultramarathons
During super-long ultramarathons (100+ miles), it’s a good idea to change shoes and socks. Whenever you change your socks, make sure to clean your feet. All those little dirt and sand particles cause friction and lead to blisters.
During the Moab 240, my father-in-law had the glorious task of being my “foot guy.” Whenever I stopped, he would take off my shoes, clean my feet, and put fresh socks (treated with Blister Shield) back on my feet.
This proved to be vital in such a long race. I also took all the necessary preventative measures previously mentioned. And, as a result, after 240 miles, I never had a single blister.
Tip – Have a foot guy (or gal) in a multi-day race.
Ultramarathon foot care in wet conditions
Wet conditions can wreak havoc on an ultra-runner’s feet. This is especially true when there is no escape or relief from the wet conditions.
In the case of a water crossing where you’re forced to get your feet wet, do your best to change into a dry pair of socks and shoes (if time allows) at the next aid station. Obviously, this takes some planning with drop bags and/or your crew.
There are ultramarathons that there simply is no relief from wet feet – be it because of rain, frequent water crossings, or generally wet conditions. A foot Gel/stick that wicks away water may be helpful in these conditions. Still, blisters may be practically inevitable depending on the length and other factors. Dry your feet during more extended periods of rest (if any) and do your best.
Taking care of hot spots during ultramarathons
Ultramarathon foot care requires that you be proactive in recognizing hot spots and take care of them immediately. For this reason, it’s prudent to carry blister/hot spot products with you. After all, you don’t want to notice a hot spot and still have to run 8 miles to the next aid station. In 8 miles, the problem has likely grown exponentially.
Blister care during an ultramarathon
If you get a blister during an ultramarathon, you essentially have 2 choices – tough it out and keep running, or stop and do your best to take care of it. Which choice you make will be determined by whether or not you want to sacrifice some time. The distance left to cover in the ultramarathon is likely the most significant factor when making this decision.
Should you choose to stop, follow the steps listed below. This is best done with a crew if possible.
- If possible, clean the blister with an alcohol pad.
- Poke the blister with a sterile needle, knife, etc. Your bib pin could work for this. Heating it up with a lighter can be an effective way to sterilize the pin.
- Drain the fluid from the blister
- Cover the blister. Gel blister patches work well. In a pinch, you can use tape as well.
Tough it out
When you can’t do much, do as much as you can.
Then grit your teeth and bear it. Your feet are going to hurt no matter what during an ultramarathon, but they’re going to hurt even more with blisters. Acknowledge that the pain is there and it’s not going anywhere, and move on.
Summary of ultramarathon foot care
Ultramarathon foot care is vital for ultra-runners who want to perform optimally and give themselves the best chance to cross the finish line. Foot issues are prevalent in ultramarathons but often avoidable. Ultra-runners hurt plenty without unnecessarily adding to that discomfort by neglecting their feet.
That being said, there will likely come a time when every ultra-runner will suffer from trashed feet in an ultramarathon.
When that time comes, an ultra-runner must do what endurance athletes do best – endure.