The Little Mermaid, in love with a prince she rescues, makes a deal with the Sea Witch to exchange her intoxicating voice for a potion that transforms her fishy tail into legs. Little Mermaid drinks the potion, takes to land and meets the prince; mute, she dances for him, even though with every step it feels like she is walking on knives; a near-debilitating side-effect from the potion.
Adventure racing could be this crippling potion if you go into a race with your feet inadequately prepared and through inadequate maintenance during the race. Avoid “Little Mermaid Syndrome” with good pre-, during and post-race foot care.
Pre-race foot conditioning
Skanky toenails will jeopardise your comfort – and your race. Keep them short, trimmed straight across. Long toenails get slammed over-and-over against your shoe’s toebox, especially on downhills. This results in injury to the toenail bed, blackening, swelling and excruciating pain. Are your toenails crumbly, yellow or brownish in colour and/or thickened? This may indicate nail fungus; pay your podiatrist a visit.
Now that you’ve assessed your toenails, check between your toes for cracks and scales; these irregularities may indicate Athlete’s Foot. Next, visit your heels, checking for thickened skin, cracks (fissures) and calluses. Sandals and flip-flops are guilty of encouraging the formation of dry, thickened skin and fissures. Use a foot file and softening balms after showering to reduce and soften hard skin. Files and balms can also be used to treat calluses on the sides of your forefoot and balls of your feet.
If you suffer from blistering, try a skin toughening regime (read “Foot care for adventure racing”) and test out different types of socks (cushioning vs thin). Also learn how to treat your blisters efficiently with draining and patching techniques; and pack your repair tools (needles, plasters, tape, ointments) in your first aid kit.
Finally, in preparation for an event, spend time on your feet; walking, running and hiking. Mix up the activities and ensure, on a number of occasions, you spend four continuous hours (or more) on your feet on a number of occasions.
During the race
If your toenails are trimmed and you’ve dealt with hard skin and irregularities pre-race, then the most likely foot injury that you’ll encounter during a race is blistering. Blisters are a powerful force that sends grown men to their knees; crawling is only becoming to infants and leopards.
Blisters can occur on different parts of the foot at different times under different conditions. But there’s always a reason: shoes (old and new), socks (dirty, ill-fitting), lotions (lubricants and powders); a change in humidity, inadequate hydration and temperature (hot and cold); trail debris (sticks, sand, dust, grass seeds) and terrain (flat, uneven); mud and water; or even stiff mucles and tendonitis, which can alter your heel strike to toe off pattern.
With all of this variability, there is one similarity; hotspots, the precursor to blisters, are only a problem if you fail to respond immediately to the warning signs (pain, discomfort, irritation). Do not wait for the next checkpoint or transition. Deal with the hotspot immediately; your team mates should understand the urgency and the long-term benefit to the team’s success from early treatment.
After your race
While massaging your feet analyse what worked and what didn’t. What were the conditions? What did you do differently to other races? What was the outcome? What should you have done? What will you do next time to prepare your feet better?
Your feet are crucial to your enjoyment of a race; don’t be like Little Mermaid. Identifying techniques and products that work for different conditions takes a bit of trial and error and will be specific to you. Aim to prevent of foot injuries through sound pre-race foot care and practised maintenance techniques.
Seven foot basics
- Learn how to look after your feet
- Treat yourself to a pedicure at least every few months
- Buy quality sports socks and discard threadbare socks
- Wear shoes that fit properly; from the shoe bed (called the last) to the toe box, arch, ankle collar, heel cup to the thickness of the tongue. Don’t hope that wearing-in will make them fit better. Shoes today do not need to be worn in.
- Wear gaiters to prevent trail debris getting into your socks and shoes
- Massage your own feet after long training sessions and during races
- Subscribe to John “The Foot Guy” Vonhof’s FixingYourFeet e-Zine at vonhof.typepad.com/fixingyourfeet to keep in the loop about foot care techniques and products; and order his book “Fixing Your Feet” through Kalahari.net (R302.00)
Author: Lisa de Speville | Published in Go Multi Magazine, Oct/Nov 2008