Smarana Puntigam has been running multiday races for over 20 years, including the 3100 mile race eight times. This is the first of a series of articles on dealing with common issues that crop up during multiday races...
How to avoid blisters? - that is a big one for a multiday runner. If you do shorter races, blisters are inconvenient, but easy to deal with because you do not have to run on them the next day. However, once you have blisters in a multiday event they can really influence your performance a great deal. Depending on the area the blisters appear in, and whether they get inflamed, the range of pain goes from hardly-felt to “I think I have to stop, I just can not take the pain.“ So, the best thing is always to prevent blisters in the first place.
Here are the main issues to deal with:
1. Wet feet
One of the most important things is to keep your feet dry - if there is a lot of moisture, the skin gets very sensitive and prone to blisters.
- If you know there will be rain, you can apply oil to your feet before the downpour, so that your skin is less soaked with water and does not crumple so much. Once the rain is over, change your shoes and socks immediately. For faster drying, apply baby powder.
- There are runners whose feet simply sweat more than others and who have always wet feet. Many runners cut open their shoes to let the steam and heat out of their shoes.
- Powdering your feet several times a day can help you to reduce the friction in the shoes and to keep your feet dry.
2. Choose your socks wisely
- Don't use cotton socks - they get soaked with sweat and moisture, which does not go away, and can make your runners life miserable...
- Use socks that are not too thick and are made of a fabric that does not store water (i.e. coolmax)
3. Narrow shoes
When you are running ultra distances your feet keep swelling, and you may need extra wide shoes. The first day you can still run in your usual running shoe, but as the race progresses, your feet keep changing. A shoe that perfectly fit on the third day in the morning, might not fit any more in the evening.
- Also, you may need a different insole, or to cut the one you have. The insoles that come with the shoes are not flat in the heel area, but have edges that bend upwards. As your foot swells, the heel doesn't fit any more into the area of the insole and the edges can cut into the heel and sites of the shoe, creating blisters.
- Blisters or potential blisters on the toes or sides of the feet might be alleviated by cutting away the part of the shoe that is rubbing against it, as long as it does not affect the shoe's stability. You will probably need to cut down all the way to where the top of the shoe joins the sole to remove the friction.
4. Hot feet
Where there is friction, there is heat.
- Some use creams to reduce the friction, but on the long run from my experience powder is the way to go, since it keeps the feet dry and reduces the friction.
- Again, cutting your shoes reduces heat as well as friction.
- There are creams that help to cool down your feet and the skin absorbs the cream so that you can take powder after some time.
- During breaks, put your feet into a plastic bag and put them into icy water to cool them down and reduce the swelling.
- Keep changing your socks and shoes, so that you can get rid of moisture and heat, that are stored in the shoe.
5. Taping 'hot spots'
- As a runner you most probably know your 'hot spots' - areas of the feet that very easily turn hot or red during a run. If you don't know them yet, check your feet after a longer run and try to locate them. Once you do know them tape them before ultra runs. You can use paper tape or very thin tape, but do not use kinesiology tape - it creates a lot of heat and you will get blisters right there.