As a runner, your feet are precious. You care for them when they ache, you treat them to the most comfortable and durable footwear and you may even pamper them on a spa break. But they are arguably one of the most underappreciated body parts. When people exercise they will spend what seems an age carefully stretching out their hamstrings, quads and other muscles. So why shouldn’t your feet get the same due care and attention?
This care has never been more important than before running a marathon, it is the ultimate test of strength and endurance. Running and training for a marathon can bring out the worst in your feet, leading them to peel, blister and ache. Here we are informing you on how to take care of your feet before a marathon, so you can put them up and relax.
When buying running shoes you should go back to how your parents made you try on your new school shoes when you were a child. Forget online shopping, drop into your local store and try on a pair yourself. Once you have whittled it down to the final few candidates, slip on both shoes and parade up and down the store.
This is a point that Nick Knight, BSc (Hons) MChs, a sports podiatrist at NK Sports Podiatry echoed: “Always buy your shoes in a shop, try them on, running shops will have treadmill you can use, you will know when you find the shoe for you. Don’t worry about what your feet look like in the trainers when running.”
Everyone has different needs when it comes to training and running. You may be someone who prefers to get outside and run along footpaths, through woods or in the park and therefore you’ll need a different type of trainer that will be better suited for trail running.
Bear in mind the surface of your marathon and try to incorporate that not only into your training, but also into your choice of footwear. Nick Knight understands that choosing the right footwear is vital for any runner: “This is one of the most important items for a runner, and it is a very personal choice; what works for a friend, may not work for you.”
It is vital to feel the trainer, ensuring that it is indeed comfortable, suits your gait, fits correctly and even doesn’t weigh too much. Nick agrees that there are many things to consider before you buy, he told us what to look for:
“Ensure they fit, most people I see in the clinic, wear shoes too small. Remember we want a fingers width between your big toe and the end of the shoe and make sure that when you are standing, there is some width left.
“Base your footwear selection on comfort, there is very little evidence to support choosing a shoe based on your arch type i.e., using a support shoe for a flat foot. However there is evidence to base your footwear selection on comfort.”
On average you should expect your running shoes to last for approximately 300-500 miles, but this can be dramatically increased depending on how you care and maintain them.
One of the most common mistakes when it comes to caring for your trainers is how you let them dry out. Many people will place them on top of a radiator or even in the tumble dryer to help speed along the process and be ready for the next day’s run. However, this can cause them to shrink. This alone will lead to potential injuries and serious discomfort, while reducing their life expectancy.
Similarly, leaving them anywhere cold could result in the midsoles becoming hard and mean that they lose their cushioning qualities. Always let your running trainers dry out naturally in a cool place.
If you are at a vital stage of training and can’t afford to wait on your trainers drying, then you should always have at least one spare pair, but do listen to Nick’s advice: “Remember - don’t change your footwear within 4-6 weeks of race day.”
Stretching should not be overlooked at any point in your marathon training. It is actually very beneficial in your day-to-day life, even if you are not a runner or athlete.
Ensuring that you stretch well before and after exercise will keep any aches and pains at bay and can even prevent the onset of cramp. Stretching will help to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of your muscles, allowing them to move more freely. You will notice stark improvements in your stamina and speed by doing this regularly, whilst improving your form if you are doing any weight training. However it is easily neglected and even if you do bring yourself to stretch after a run, you may focus your efforts on your hamstrings, quads and calves rather than your feet.
Don’t let your feet suffer, try out these three simple foot stretches.
This can be done on a step, curb or any raised surface that you can stand on. Standing with your heels off the edge, slowly lower your heel and hold for 10 seconds before lifting back to the starting position. Aim for 5-10 sets.
This stretch is perfect for the arches of your feet. Just like the classic calf stretch, stand with both feet facing forward whilst bending the knee of your front leg. Keeping your feet planted to the floor, drive your back knee forward and hold for 30 seconds. You should begin to feel it in the arch of your front foot. If not, reposition and ensure your feet are flat. Repeat this 3 times.
Using a tennis ball (or similar), place the arch of your foot on top and roll it back and forth from your heel to toes. This is a great stretch that you can do at any time of the day to help relieve any aches and pains. Aim to keep going until you can’t feel any soreness in your arches on both feet.
Your feet go through an awful lot on a daily basis. If you are reading this then you are clearly an active and healthy person and sadly your feet may be paying the price.
The skin around your big toe and heel are particularly susceptible to developing thick, dry skin. This is something that must be addressed, as it can lead to heel fissures – when the skin begins to crack and bleed – while the repetitive nature of your training can lead to infections developing in these cracks.
Moisturising is a simple method to prevent dry skin. Softening the skin on a regular basis can help to keep these problems at bay. Rubbing a silicon-based lubricant on your feet in the morning and evening, as well as before and immediately after training will make a great deal of difference.
It may seem less important than the right stretching, training or equipment, but as Nick says, taking this extra precaution is vital when training for a marathon:
“Moisturising your feet daily is essential, though be careful not to moisturise between the toes as you don’t want to get athletes foot. You want to look for and use a cream that has a high urea content. From a personal point of view, I like to use Allpresan Diabetic Foot Foam Cream Intensive. As this product is a foam, it doesn’t leave the greasy feeling and essentially you can still apply tape after using it. Don’t worry the cream is suitable for non-diabetics as well. Just make sure there is time for the cream to dry before going for a run, you don’t want to give yourself a blister.”
If you notice that you have already developed heel fissures or a similar condition, it is advisable to firstly clean them out thoroughly before moisturising and having an extended break from running, while continually washing and moisturising.
Top tip: Apply moisturiser to the outside of your socks. This will help you reduce any unnecessary friction that can result from sweaty feet, the wrong socks or trainers. This will also help fight off blisters.
Runners feel the effects of exercise differently. Some people may maintain dry feet when running, others will sweat and develop fungal problems like athlete’s foot.
Keeping your feet dry is not easy. Each foot can produce roughly four ounces of moisture a day from the 125,000 sweat glands. Therefore it is important to have lightweight, moisture-wicking socks.
People reward themselves with a massage to relax and refresh their body, but few choose to treat their feet.
Runners should visit a spa hotel or a specialist to soothe their muscles and any potential injuries.
You should consider massaging as important as stretching. No one in their right mind will go out and run without warming up properly, nor would they allow themselves to not cool down correctly. Massages will give you instant relief from your rigorous training and can also help to prevent the onset of any long term issues.
For the very best treatments you should see a specialist, but there are a few alternatives for those who do not have the time or capital to do so.
If you are very lucky and master the art of persuasion you could have your partner gently treat your feet as best they can after you have trained, or the following morning. If you aren’t so fortunate you can give yourself a relatively thorough massage with a tennis ball.
Standing or sitting, place your foot over a tennis ball so that it is in the arch of your foot. Begin to roll the ball along your arch applying more – or less – pressure as and where it is applicable. It is important that you don’t just ignore the pain in any particular area, the more you focus on that the better you will feel.
Blisters are an occupational hazard for runners, but these little things can develop into a very big issue.
Ensuring that you take proper care of a blister can mean that you manage a very minor irritant, rather than being side-lined for a number of weeks. You should never pop or pierce a blister. It is one of the hardest things to resist, but there a few things you can do to prevent further damage. We asked Nick what to do when a blister develops:
“Unless it is painful, we tend to leave them. Just protect the area with a dressing, compeed or 2nd Skin and monitor the blister. If the blister has popped then dress it and you can use iodine spray - make sure that you are checking for infection daily.”
To quash any temptation that you may have in poking and prodding it, you should wrap the blister with a thick pad – this will decrease the pressure.
You should also regularly clean and wash the blister, being careful not to puncture it. Any experienced runner will echo this advice, as many can tell you horror stories of a neglected blister or the effects the pain can have on your training.
“Blisters are just as common as black toe nails, it is a myth that friction causes blisters, they are formed by sheer pressure. Like black toe nails, blisters can be caused by poor fitting footwear and even socks. I would recommend getting fitted. Ensure you are using the correct size and breathable running socks, you don’t want your socks sliding around.”
On average you can expect to take between 30,000-40,000 steps during the course of a marathon, while the impact on your feet can equate to almost three times your body weight. This just heightens the importance of a thorough and disciplined training plan, something that Nick says is vital for any runner:
“Apart from keeping yourself strong and flexible, it is wise to stick to a training plan, as this will make sure you do not increase mileage too quickly as most injuries we see in clinic are training errors, i.e. running too much too soon, or increasing pace or hill work too quickly.”
A good training plan will not just set your body up for the forthcoming marathon, it will also help to strengthen and develop your muscles. Starting calmly and methodically is essential to prevent any injuries.
However, at some stage you are likely to experience an injury or pain and Nick says this is something not to be ignored:
“If you start getting any niggles in the feet and ankles, it is best to see your local Sports Podiatrist to get on top of the problem, the sooner the better.”
Even the smallest of twinges or pains can develop into something very serious further down the road. It is always worth bearing in mind the complexity of your anatomy. Everything is delicately intertwined and for instance, if you have a minor injury to your foot but decide to continue, you will affect your knees, hips and back.
To counteract the injury, your body will subconsciously try to compensate, avoiding the area of discomfort as you continue to train through your problem. This can be detrimental and can lead to more serious injuries.
Finally, Nick Knight gave us his overall 6 top tips for anyone who is wondering how to take care of their feet before a marathon:
•Word Look after your skin – moisturising daily
•Word Trainers - make sure they fit and are comfortable
•Word Get niggles checked out by your local Sports Podiatrist
•Word Stick to your training plan, don’t do too much too soon
•Word Get running strong
•Word Listen to your feet, they will tell you if there is a problem
Training for a marathon may be the hardest thing you will ever do, but the rewards are massive. You will forever be able to say that you have completed a marathon and that feeling as you cross the line will instantly make you forget about all of those early morning runs in the cold, the aches and pains, the countless pairs of socks you work through and even the blisters.
But if you follow our advice and understand how to take care of your feet before a marathon then you can at least enjoy the thrills of running in comfort.