Blisters on the Move

pop-blisters

The sun is rising behind the mountains. It’s first rays touching the west side of the valley. Your feet move along the trail, a cool breeze brushes your cheeks. You’ve been training for this race for six months and know this is your day.

And then you feel it. A hot spot begins to develop on your forefoot. Just below your big toe, you know the spot. It’s been an issue in the past, but you haven’t had any problems for months. Since you changed the type of socks you run in. But none of that matters because it’s there now.

What do you do? If you wait you know it will become a blister. Blisters are not good, they can destroy your race, at a minimum you’re going to hurt.

It’s best to deal with blisters as soon as you feel the hot spot or as soon as you know a spot on your foot is going to be problematic. Prevention is the best solution to blisters, but sometimes, regardless of all the blister free socks, shoes, tape, powder, lubrication or whatever, you still get them.

If you’ve done all the prevention you can and know a blister is still a possibility (as it always is); be prepared for them. Take a small blister kit in your hydration pack. They don’t take up much space, well mine don’t.

A mini blister kit should include: a safety pin, alcohol pads, kensiotape and/or hepafix tape and second skin squares. If you get to the offending spot before a blister forms, clean the area with the alcohol pad and tape over it with one of the tapes. If a blister has formed, use the safety pin to drain fluid, after cleaning it and the blister area with the alcohol pads. Make sure the hole you make is in a place where the fluid will continue to be squeezed out as you run to prevent it from refilling. Once this is done, tape over it. If the roof of the blister has ripped off, clean the area with alcohol, put a second skin square down, and tape over it.

If prevention didn’t help and you didn’t come prepared, find something to put between your sock and your shoe to stop the rubbing. A gel wrapper works well or any piece of plastic. You can ask other runners if they have them, if you don’t. No plastic, take your shoe and sock off and see if rearranging things stops the rubbing. Doesn’t help, try running on your foot a little different, just don’t do this for long because it will screw up other things, cause you to fall, or pull some little tendon that will then hurt for the rest of the run.

 

Blister Prevention

taping-foot

Many ultrarunners tape their feet before races and even long runs to prevent blisters. There are different techniques for taping your feet and some tricks of the trade, which I’m going to go over, but I want to talk about why we get blisters in the first place.

Let me start with this, some people are just prone to blisters and try as they might to figure out what is causing them, they can’t. Blisters are caused by friction, cold and/or heat. The culprit during running is most frequently friction. When there is something rubbing against your foot over and over again in the same spot, it tears the top layer of your skin away from the layer below it. Fluid then fills the space and ta-da you have a blister, which continues to grow as the rubbing creates a bigger tear.

The way you prevent a blister is to stop the friction as soon as you feel it. This is usually a  hot spot on your foot. When you feel this, immediately stop, and take care of it. It doesn’t get better on its own. It gets worse. You can spend five minutes taking care of a hot spot or ten to fifteen dealing with a full on blister (possibly multiple times during a race). I’m going to cover the care of blisters in my next post (two days from now).

Okay so you know you get blisters, what do you do? First, make sure your shoes fit right and breathe. Second, make sure you have good socks, AKA not cotton. Socks that pull the sweat away from your skin. Try thick, thin and double layer socks. You can also wear two pair of thin socks and see if that helps.

Then comes the experimenting foot powder can keep your feet dry, which reduces friction. Sweaty wet feet hold onto the fabric of your sock. Wet skin is softer and more pliant making it more susceptible to blisters. A lubricant, such as hydropel, can help reduce fiction by allowing your foot to slide and not have the sock or shoe grip your skin. Hydropel, is waterproof. With both powder and lubricants you will have to reapply throughout the race.

Then there is pre-taping. You can tape the entire bottom of your foot or just the section that is prone to blisters. Note: if you only tape a section, you could get blisters at the edge of the tape (more experimenting). You can tape from one side to the other or from toe to heel covering the entire foot. Make sure the tape does not have any folds.

Tape that comes off during a run can cause blisters, surprise, surprise. Use Tincture of Benzoin to secure the tape to the bottom of your foot. I buy it on Amazon. It’s an adhesive. Apply the Benzoin with a cotton ball, let it dry, and then add the tape. Your tape should overlap a little. If you line it right up at the edges, you can get blisters at the seams (aren’t blisters great?).

There are three different types of tape I use when taping feet elastiskin, hepafix, and kensio tape. I buy I buy all my tapes on Amazon. Elastiskin is very durable and sticky. It has some stretch to it allowing your foot to flex and move as you run. It is rough on the outside so don’t use it on toes unless every toe is taped and no skin is touching the outside of the elastiskin. Hepafix is also a little stretchy. It’s a thin tape and fuzzy on the outside. It’s great for taping toes or places that are likely to rub bare skin. Kensio tape (the stuff they use to support injured tendons and muscles) is very stretchy and thin. It works wonders for preventing blisters and fixing hot spots. With the thin tapes, I find I don’t have to tape the entire bottom of the foot, just the hot spot area.

The Art of Taping Feet

blister

Blisters, not all runners get them, but those who do know that prevention is key. One of the best ways I’ve found to prevent blisters on my long runs and during ultra events is by taping my feet the night before the race/run.

If you can prevent problems, you should make every effort to do so when running ultras (good advice in general, but especially here). There are many types of tape you can use on feet. I use different tapes on different areas and various circumstances. Before I put any tape on, I use tincture of benzoin. This makes the tape adhere to my skin and not move around even if I cross a river or two.

Hepafix is a thin fuzzy tape without stretch that can be used on toes without the need to tape all other toes to prevent rubbing skin off. I have also used Hepafix to prevent chafing on my back from hydration packs or shorts.

Kensio tape, like Rock Tape or KT tape, is very flexible and stretchy and a little thicker than Hepafix. It is rough on the outside, so if you use it on toes you will need to tape all of them. I use Kensio tape on my forefoot for “shorter” long runs. It easily bends and stretches to the shape of my foot.

Elastiskin is a thick tape. It is not stretchy and restricts foot movement a bit. It is very rough on the outside. Tape all skin touching the outside of the elastiskin. I use elastiskin on longer races.

When taping your feet, you need to make sure that there are no spaces between pieces of tape or you will get blisters between the pieces. You also need to make sure that the tape is smooth on your skin so that you do not get blisters under the tape. Some people tape from toe to heel other’s tape across. Cover any exposed tincture of benzoin with a powder so that your sock doesn’t stick to it and create a blister. Some runners will put a lubricant over the tape and then put their sock.

Since we are talking feet here, I will also mention toenails and callouses. Short toenails cause less problems. I round mine out, so they are less likely to stab into the toe next to them. Other runners, square them off. I’ve never tried toe caps to prevent toes rubbing together, but they are out there as an option. Toe socks can help reduce problems, but keep in mind it makes your toes wider and may cause rubbing issues with your shoes and the outside most toes.

Callouses, some runners love their callouses and claim they prevent blisters. In my experience, the bigger the callous the more likely it is that I will get a blister under the callous. A blister under a callous is a major issue because it is difficult to drain the blister. A large callous makes your shoe fit differently as well, which is why you are more likely to get a blister underneath it. If you cannot bear the thought of parting with your callous, at least keep them to a minimum.