ASK THE GOAT: Foot work
Goat: “After increasing mileage in my runs, I am beginning to have foot/feet issues....mainly a few blisters and a callus here and there. No bruising or loss of toenails yet, as I so often hear from runners who log surplus miles. What foot care advice can you offer?”
Fannie: You would be astounded by some of the remedies, home brews and rituals I have seen out on the trails. Here are some of the most memorable.
The “Lubri-sock” - Quite simply, this is one sock (or two doubled up on a single foot) filled with a lubricant. I have seen Neosporin, Vasoline, car grease, Crisco and homemade concoctions that smelled like raw animal fat cooking in the sun. Feet are liberally coated, and then are encased in a sock. The theory is a slick foot gathers no wounds.
The “Powder Tube” - The antithesis of the Lubri-sock. Keep it dry, pull moisture from the skin, and roll with it. These runners fill socks with everything from corn starch and Gold Bond to baking soda and graphite powder. Moisture-free is their mantra and they will change socks multiple times throughout a race to ensure that each step is dry and blister-free.
The “Mummy” - I know you know some of these folks. Have tape, will travel. These are the folks who have suffered greatly from blisters in the past. Fear of a recurrence has led them to adoption of the mummification routine of taping every exposed “hot spot” with an adhesive strip. They use duct tape, surgical tape, electrical tape, Mole Skin, blister tabs, Fake Skin and even spray adhesive to cover damaged, or formerly damaged, areas of the foot. Some are more extreme than others. I tape my fourth toe lightly when I run off-road in my trail shoes. But I go light with the encasement.
“Flaying the Demon” and the “Rock Cooker” - These are the Yin and Yang of foot conditioning to avoid blisters. The theory is toughen the foot beyond the need to blister.
Flaying the Demon is running literally barefoot on tough surfaces to gain the advantage of thick sole skin and tougher, seemingly impenetrable, foot armor. It's kind of risky because a single puncture can end your running for quite some time.
The Rock Cooker stands, walks or runs over flat, steaming asphalt to heat-harden the soles of his/her feet. There may be less chance of a puncture injury but it's very painful and still an unconvincing approach to foot fortitude.
So, Fannie, here are my opinions on the above techniques to foot care. Buy shoes that fit. Wear toe-socks that keep friction down. Minimally tape where you know rubbing happens, and soak tired feet after difficult runs.
There is no magic cure, and although these “home remedies” must work to some degree for those who partake in them, I have only suffered blisters in one race in the last 80 and that was by testing new shoes on an unforgiving course.