by T.J. Murphy
A few weeks ago, a running buddy of mine treated himself to a "reflexology" foot
massage. He was doing some serious marathon training, running upwards of 80 miles per week, and
figured that it was a smart move in preventative foot care. When I asked him how it went, his
eyes glazed over, like spinning pinwheels, as he rapturously described the 90 minute session of
having someone attend his feet and his feet only. It was as if he was telling me about two
weeks spent at a luxury resort in Maui.
It's remarkable how well our feet carry the load of running, considering both the complexity of
the foot (a symphony of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments, and 19 muscles and tendons in each)
and the force demands of the assignment (words like pounding, shearing, friction, wear and tear
all apply). Yet, we all know it takes just one blister or irritated nerve to render our morning
run a miserable experience.
A host of flaring ailments that dog a runner's dogs can be prevented and handled with a few
minutes a day spent attending smartly to your own feet.
Trim Your Nails
You can't appreciate the joy of not having an ingrown toenail until you get one. Should you
fail to properly trim your toenails, such a predicament may be your fate when the nail
punctures the skin. Especially vulnerable to this malady are the big toes.
To prevent ingrown nails, clip the nails straight across rather than in an arc. Don't cut them
too short. Both practices invite an ingrown nail.
While it's smart to cut your nails before a race (usually prompted by an experience with a
black toenail), cut them the night before rather than the morning of the race.
Maintain a Dry Environment
Blisters are nuisance number one when it comes to problems that can nag you. They are best
prevented by vigilantly keeping your feet as dry as possible when you run and by wearing shoes
that fit the shape of your foot well.
Fungal and bacterial foot problems are also a result of a damp and warm foot environment. To
ward off fungus, change your shoes and socks often and keep your feet clean and dry. Pay
special attention to the spaces between your toes. If fungus is a chronic problem, consider
using a foot powder on a daily basis.
While sweat around the foot increases the likelihood of a blister through increased friction,
so too does dry skin. By daily massaging your feet with a lotion you'll not only benefit from a
good rub, but also keep the skin moist and free from itching and burning.
Don't Skimp on Socks
It's healthy for a runner to develop a fetish for good running shoes, and for good running
socks as well. It's a wise investment to take on a search for the perfect sock. Avoid cotton,
as cotton will soak up your sweat and keep it, creating the moist environment that should be
The American Podiatric Medical Association recommends using a sock like Thorlos running socks,
which are reinforced with cushioning pads and use acrylic fibers that wick away moisture. To
further reduce blister-causing friction, experiment with dabs of petroleum jelly or Body Glide
on your foot's hotspots.
You probably select running shoes according to your biomechanical needs and preferences on
cushioning. As vital as any shoe technology-and probably more so-is the fit of the shoe on your
foot. Make sure the heel counter fits comfortably yet snugly enough that there's no slippage,
and that the shoe grasps you securely around the mid-foot but not so tight that your foot
bulges over the sides of the midsole. A key mistake in fitting is often made with the toe box.
If you don't provide a little breathing room for your toes-about 3/8-1/2 inch of space from the
end of the shoe-then you expose yourself to irksome troubles like hammertoe, black toenails and
Be careful not to cram your foot into shoes too small, and conversely, you also want to avoid a
shoe that fits too sloppily. A shoe too wide or long will spark a fresh crop of blisters and
render the shoe's stability properties worthless.
First Aid for Blisters
As far as dealing with blisters when you get them, the standard recommendation for a small
blister is to fit a piece of moleskin around it. Cut a hole in the moleskin, like a donut, and
center it around the blister. This will give it air and keep it from chafing, so that it will
dry out and go away.
For a large blister, scrub up your hands with soap and water, lance it with an
alcohol-sterilized needle, drain the blister, then apply a fresh bandage. Diabetics should have
a doctor handle this procedure.
A few simple exercises will help strengthen and protect your feet. The first three are easy and
convenient enough to be performed daily.
- Marble grabs.
Spread a handful of marbles on the floor. Use your toes to pick them up and slam dunk them into
- Arch massage.
Using a golf ball, a rolling pin, or, even better, one of the specialized logs or wheels for
runners, spend a few minutes each day (while watching TV, for example) to roll out the stress
in your plantar fascia.
- Towel curls.
Drop a towel to the floor and use your toes to pick it up and curl the towel inward. About five
to 10 curls a day is a good way to prevent toe cramps.
- Beach stroll.
When at the lake or the ocean, go for a barefoot walk on the sand. It's a good way to
strengthen toe muscles and also a therapeutic measure.
- Water running.
Using an Aquajogger, add some toe pointing and foot flexes-holding each position for about 10
seconds-to your water run for some extra hydrotherapy.