Foot Care for the Badwater Ultramarathon

By Gillian Robinson and Don Lundell, Badwater finishers

Read their 2006 article, "Getting Your Feet to the Starting Line"

ZOMBIERUNNER.COM, OFFICIAL HOSTS OF THE BADWATER STORE

Special thanks to Gillian Robinson and Don Lundell of ZombieRunner.com ("Stuff For People Who Run") for their support of the race, their donation of foot care kits to all race entrants, and for hosting the Badwater Store where you can buy shirts, Moeben Sleeves, hats, DVDs, posters and essential technical gear from, and/or for, The World's Toughest Foot Race.

ZombieRunner is going to be out in the field again to provide mobile blister care for runners in the Kiehl’s Badwater Ultramarathon. While fixing many feet during Badwater last year, we saw some trends in the types of foot trouble that runners encountered. Also, we learned that some methods that work well for runners in 50 mile races, and even 100 milers, fail under the extreme conditions of Badwater.

The biggest problem area for Badwater runners is the ball of the foot. Some runners we treated had blisters in this area that were large, painful and deep. There are two major factors contributing to this: people who run a lot tend to get very tough, thick skin in this area and the heat of the road is in contact with this area the most. When the skin is callused, blisters underneath cannot be lanced to relieve pressure and pain. The best solution during the event is to almost literally tape the skin back on the foot. We tend to use Elastikon tape for this because it is a very durable tape and sticks very well, especially with the additional use of an adherent, such as tincture of benzoin. Once it is stuck on, it will stay. Tincture of benzoin is used as an adherent to ensure the tape doesn’t slide or come loose. The tape must be applied in a single layer and brought up over the sides of the foot to be most effective.

Another problem area is toes. Toes are difficult to treat, but many runners have found success with Injinji toe socks. The individual gloves for the toes prevent toes from sticking together and curling underneath each other. The CoolMax fabric also helps keep feet a little drier. If you do need to tape your toes to prevent blisters, Use a stretchy tape and don’t apply it too tight or in too many layers. Toes that swell typically will blister underneath the toenail.

Additionally, runners who decided to tape their feet didn’t always use the best technique. Tape should be applied carefully and in a single layer. Extra layers (the mummified foot effect) provide no additional benefit. This will contribute to overheating of the feet and cause big problems when the feet swell. And, layers of tape are difficult to remove to treat blisters.

Here’s another thing to think about. If you tape your feet, you might run into a situation where you need to remove the tape. How does it come off? Make sure to pack some kind of de-adherent. There are specialty products you can purchase, or you can use rubbing alcohol or baby oil.

We noticed what socks runners were using. Many runners have heard the trick of bringing extra shoes that are sized one or two sizes larger than normal. But what about the socks? If your feet swell, your socks can be constricting as much as your shoes are. In particular, socks that contain a high percentage of spandex materials can be constricting. Also, consider that tape on your feet would require a larger sock. Socks that have a natural give to the fabric will work better.

Shoe surgery is another trademark of Badwater. Cutting pieces out of the shoe can relieve pressure spots. But have you ever tried this with normal scissors? You’ll need some good shears for the job. Bring some along, or consider getting some running sandals as an alternative. Make sure they have good cushioning because regular non-padded sandals will be tough on your feet during miles of pavement.

Can you train your feet for Badwater? There are two approaches to foot preparation: softening or toughening. As a blister care provider I recommend the method of keeping the feet soft. Use a callus reducer regularly, rub lotion on your feet every night, and trim away dead, tough skin. The skin will be smooth and supple by the start of Badwater, and much easier to treat should blisters occur. Runners who take this approach most likely will want to tape their feet, or at least experiment with taping before the race and be prepared to tape if hotspots occur.

The toughening method involves applying skin tougheners regularly and working on calluses as a good thing. Calluses shouldn’t be ragged, but the skin will be thick and tough by the start of the race. This may make the feet less prone to blisters, but should blisters occur, they are more painful and difficult to treat.

Finally, one of the most neglected areas is the toenails. The feet take a beating during training and so do your toenails. As some runners run farther and longer than ever before, they experience new toenail problems such as blisters under the nail, black toenails, and lost toenails. The initial advice is always larger shoes is. For some runners, this doesn’t solve the problem and it doesn’t mean you can ignore your toenails. With perseverance, you can greatly improve your chances of keeping your toenails. Keep toenails trimmed. Cut them straight across and file rough edges. File them as close as you can. Additionally, you can file across the top of the toenails to make them thinner. This way they’ll be less likely to catch of the roof of your shoe, one of the causes of blistering under toenails. Also, if you’ve lost toenails previously, the new nails often grow back thickened. Filing the top (when the nail is dry to avoid making the nails ragged) will help the nails fit better in your shoes and prevent them bumping the shoe and turning black again. Another solution that helps with this process is tea tree oil. Apply it to the toenails after soaking or after a shower. It works as a disinfectant and an antifungal. As a fixer of feet, one of the worst things to see is neglected toenails! If you can afford the time and money, a series of pedicures is a great idea for foot health and is a luxury you deserve after all your hard training.