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 day. 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?
Never is this care more important than before running a marathon, the ultimate test of strength and endurance. Running and training for a marathon can take its toll on your feet, leading them to peel, blister and ache.
Julie Weiss and David Levine, who is a Level 2 USAT&F & USAT Certified Coach and Author of Complete Idiot's Guide to Marathon Training and head coach of USA Marathon Training, tells us about the importance of looking after your feet.
“How important is it to look after your feet? Your feet carry the weight of your entire body throughout your entire race. They help propel you forward and give you stability. So, yes, it is enormously important to take care of your feet, as a runner. On the other hand, a lot of things that go wrong with feet begin in tight areas all the way up to your hips.”
Here we tell you 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 echoes: “Always buy your shoes in a shop and try them on. Running shops will have a 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 and 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 tells us that there are many things to consider before you buy:
“Ensure they fit. Most people I see in 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 the potential for injury and serious discomfort while reducing their life expectancy.
Similarly, leaving them anywhere cold can 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.
Knee to wall stretch
This stretch is perfect for the arches of your feet. Just like the classic calf stretch, stand with both feet facing forward, 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 stretch 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. Here are some tips you can follow to help take care of the skin on your feet:
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 first 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 food 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 are a master of persuasion you could have your partner gently treat your feet as best they can after you have trained, or the morning after. 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.
If you are suffering from injuries to your feet before your marathon, then it is important to give your feet the chance to rest properly and if you are suffering from foot pain it is essential to see a professional and get it checked out.
Dr Riccardo Di Cuffa, the Founder & Managing Director of Your Doctor, tells us why you should see a doctor if you are getting foot pain ahead of your marathon.
“It is important if you are getting foot pains to get them assessed by your doctor or a physiotherapist. It could be due to a number of causes. You can get a gait analysis and measures can be taken to improve your symptoms.
“It is important to see a GP if you have itchy, scaly redness on your toes and soles. This can be a sign of a fungal skin infection, which like moist, warm and dark areas, and may need treatment. They can be difficult to treat so make sure you thoroughly wash your socks after every run or replace them frequently.
“It is very important that you look after your feet. Half your weight goes through each foot and that is not including the extra impact of running. If you have poor foot health, you will develop walking or running issues very quickly. Interestingly, each foot is the same length as your wrist to your elbow!”
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 several 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 toenails, it is a myth that friction causes blisters, they are formed by sheer pressure. Like black toenails, blisters can be caused by poorly 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.”
The London Podiatry Centre says there are some things runners can follow to reduce the likelihood of them suffering from blisters and other injuries.
“Tips on reducing the risk of blisters include wearing two pairs of socks or looking for anti-shear/blister socks, on areas of the feet where you are prone to blisters. Consider using Vaseline and then taping over the area (this would require some specialised advice from a podiatrist) and ensuring the fit of your shoes is correct. These are all very important for foot health.
“To prevent slippage in your shoe, which can lead to blisters, losing toenails or developing ‘Joggers toe’, use the locking mechanism on your trainers (the extra eyelet on the top of the trainer) to anchor your laces securely. This will prevent shearing forces in the shoe and slippage into the toe box. Making sure that your footwear has adequate room in the toe box, not only in length but in width and depth, which are also important to allow the digits unrestricted room to extend and flex, with minimal contact on the upper of the shoe. The fit of the shoe is also key. Footwear too small will increase pressure in the toe box and increase the risk of nail injury. In terms of nail care, cut your nails straight across and not too close to the skin as there is a protective seal in-between the nail plate and the nail bed which is best left intact. Also, managing any hard skin that might develop with gentle filing and using a non-perfumed emollient will help to maintain a healthy skin barrier.”
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.
As well as following our tips above about looking after your feet before a marathon, it is important that you don’t just forget about them after you’ve crossed the finishing line.
Here, David Levine and Julie Weiss share their thoughts about what you can do to ensure your feet are healthy after you’ve run a marathon.
“After a race, your feet will be inflamed to some degree. Icing for a few minutes can help. Wearing more comfortable open sandals or shoes can be a plus for swollen tired feet. Oofos are great shoes for recovery after a race. If you get a blackened toe, do not fear losing a nail. It is quite similar to losing a baby tooth, another will appear underneath it. Consider it a badge of honour.”
Finally, here are our tips on how to take care of your feet before a marathon:
•Look after your skin - daily moisturising.
•Trainers - make sure they fit and are comfortable
•Get niggles checked out
•Stick to your training plan, don’t do too much too soon
•Get running strong
•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.