Footcare Tips

Foot Care Tips for Marathoners
by John Vonhof

No one attempts a marathon without proper training and conditioning. Conditioning is multi-faceted. The body needs power and strength. Legs are strengthened for climbing hills, arms to provide pull, and the gut and back for support. But conditioning means more than getting your body in condition. It also means getting your feet into the best shape possible for running a marathon. Although no one chooses to run a marathon in poorly fitting shoes, many do. The most overlooked factor in foot care is shoe fit.

Conditioning and Training

As race day gets nearer, train for race conditions, in the shoes and socks you will wear in the race. Your feet must be conditioned for 26 miles of running, maybe with occasional walking spells. If you have never run a marathon before, you will not have a fun time when your feet revolt after 20 miles because you have never run further than 16 miles before. Put enough miles and hours on your feet to help them adapt to the stresses of a marathon.

Successful ultrarunners know the importance of at least one long training run per week. Add a long session to your weekly routine. As you get closer to your event, make the session longer and more closely resemble an actual race. This will help condition the feet for long hours of a race. Teaching your feet how to adapt to long sessions, on consecutive days, will further your odds of success.

The Importance of Fit

The fit of your shoes is the most important factor in keeping your feet healthy. When shopping for shoes, try to shop later in the day when your feet have had a chance to spread out more than in the morning. Try on several different pairs, by several different companies. This will help you identify those that feel good initially versus those that just don't feel quite right. Knowing how different shoes fit your feet will help in the final selection. When going to buy new shoes, you may have a preferred shoe, sometimes based on magazine ads or on the recommendations of others, but buy only those that fit the best. Whichever type of shoe you wear, be sure to train in them. Never wear a new pair in a race. Always break them in before the race.

Inside Your Shoes

Remember that your footwear must work with your socks and insoles. As much as possible, buy shoes that conform to your feet. Do not expect your feet to conform to the shoes. When buying shoes, remember to try them on with the same socks you wear in races. If you favor certain insoles, take them along to the store and replace the usually flimsy insoles that come in new shoes. If you wear orthotics, take them along too. Be sure to allow enough toe space when buying either shoes or boots. Make sure you can wiggle your toes. Allow about an inch space between the end of the longest toe and the front of the shoe. When the foot is in the shoe, the arch naturally flattens. Since the heel is held in place by the heel of the shoe, the foot can only move forward. If the shoe does not have this bit of extra space in the toe box, the toes become cramped. Toenail problems, blisters, and calluses may develop. This important consideration is the fit problem most often overlooked.

Insoles

Shoe inserts deserve special mention. It can be to your advantage to buy new insoles with the shoes. They usually offer better support and more cushioning than the kind that come in the shoes. If the foot does not fit the insert, then the shoe will have to stretch to accommodate the difference or there may be excessive room in the shoe, which can lead to blisters and other foot problems. To check the fit of an insert, place your heel in the depression made for the heel. There should be an inch to an inch and a half from the tip of your longest toe to the tip of the insert. None of your toes or any part of the foot should lap over the sides of the insert. If they do, is it because the insert is too narrow or is it because of a curved foot and straight insert or vice versa? The foot should not be more than about a quarter inch from the edges of the insert either. This includes the area around the heel or the shoe may be too loose. Check to see if the arch of the insert fits in the arch of your foot. Finally, if all the above criteria are met then try on the shoe with the insert. Remember that if changing to a new type of insert, be sure they fit with your old socks.

Socks

Socks vary in thicknesses and changing socks can change the way your feet fit inside your shoes. Wear the same socks when trying on shoes as you wear during races. When buying new socks, be sure they will not alter the fit of your shoes. If your new socks make your shoes fit tighter, you may be able to fix this with new slightly thinner insoles. Turn your socks inside out to check for thick seams. Wearing socks inside out may eliminate potential toe blisters. On race morning, be sure there are no folds in your socks, which may also cause blisters.

Lacing Your Shoes

Shoelaces are fairly basic but can cause problems. Sometimes a shoe will lace too tightly over the top of the foot. If so, they usually can be laced in some other way. Learn how to lace your shoes to accommodate your unique feet. Lacing your shoes differently can help relieve problems associated with hammer toes, Morton's toe, bunions, calluses, and loose heel fit.

Work Out the Kinks

Work out the kinks by finding the best footwear for your feet and getting rid of pre-existing problems. Invest in the best shoes and insoles for your feet. Buy moisture-wicking socks. Additionally, learn how to trim your toenails, soften and get rid of calluses, and strengthen your toes and ankles. Running a marathon with properly conditioned feet and comfortable well-fitting shoes will increase your odds of finishing well.

John Vonhof
Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes; Second Edition
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