The Long Run, Part I: Preparing Your Feet for a Marathon
Posted by Jenn F. on Monday, October 8th, 2012
With so many people preparing for autumn marathons, I think it’s a good time to take a look at how you can get your feet ready. Yes, your feet–not your diet, conditioning, or hydration schedules. According to the website for the Marathon des Sables, a staggeringly difficult multi-day 150 mile run across the Sahara Desert, carrying a backpack, in 120 degree heat (very useful training if you’re a survivalist or planning a career in counter-terrorism, but pretty much a sign of insanity in anyone else), 90% of people who drop out or visit the medical tent do so because of foot problems. So let’s see how can you make sure that your feet don’t fail you during your nice little 26.2 mile race on civilized paved roads.
Shoes Many, many marathoners have a moment as the race approaches when they start to ask themselves, “Are my shoes too worn out? Should I get new shoes? Or is it too close to race day?” While everything is a little different for everyone, there do seem to be some general rules of thumb (or big toe) about this issue that can help you make a decision:
- Running shoes are generally officially worn out between 300-400 miles (if you’ve been training for a marathon, then you know how many miles you’ve been putting in). If you’re at that point, then you definitely need new shoes. You probably shouldn’t have more than 150 miles on them at marathon day.
- If you do need new shoes, the latest you should wait is two weeks before the marathon. Ideally, you should have them in time to wear them for one of your last long runs.
- Buy the same brand, model, and size shoes you trained in, unless you’ve decided there’s something really, really wrong with them. Don’t let the salesperson persuade you with “This is the latest, improved version,” or “This is much better for marathons.” No. If you like your shoes, stick with them.
Socks I can never emphasize the importance of good socks enough. I have a particular type and brand of running socks that I always wear and absolutely love, and I’m assuming most people are the same way. Make sure you don’t choose a pair that’s been too favorited, though–they shouldn’t be so worn that they sag or have holes in them, or holes developing. On the other hand, I probably wouldn’t break out a brand new pair on marathon day, just in case you happen to have gotten the one pair where the thread is a little weird or is slightly misshapen. Plan to wear a pair that you’ve worn and washed at least a few times.
Shoelaces Know how to tie your shoelaces. I know you think you do, but do you really? So they won’t come untied over 26.2 miles or so they don’t irritate a tender area of your foot? Read about shoelace tying and you may learn something.
Toughen Up As you progress through your training, your feet will naturally toughen up and develop calluses. Some people suggest soaking your feet in strong tea several times a week so the tannic acid can help toughen up your skin. I’ve never personally tried this so I don’t know if it helps; I doubt it hurts, though.
If you have calluses or corns that keep rubbing in your shoes and are getting red and sore, try putting corn pads on them to protect them. If they’re becoming really painful or problematic, though, you should see a podiatrist at The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine (212.996.1900) to have them checked out and trimmed.You also need to figure out what’s causing the problem–for example, your shoes might not fit or your socks might be wrong for you.
Soften Up Of course you want your feet to be tough for your marathon, but if you see cracks or dry skin on your foot, most likely your heels, then make sure you apply moisturizer regularly. Cracks can split open severely and become bloody, painful fissures. Try to take care of them before they get there.
Right Before Do a thorough foot check a few days before the marathon. If you see particularly thick calluses, you may want to file them down a bit. If you have blisters, put blister pads or band-aids on them (and bring extras if you can). Trim your toenails straight so they are square across the top, no higher than the tip of your toe. Keeping your toenails this length can help prevent the dreaded “black toenail” that comes from your nail repeatedly banging against the tip of your shoe.
Following these steps will help your feet help you get through your marathon. Good luck, and have fun!
If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine. Dr. Josef J. Geldwert, Dr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.