Our poor little feet. Our feet endure so much pounding from running, especially if we’re training for a half or full marathon or running high mileage. Each step pounds our body weight onto a single foot, and the impact can be up to three times that if when running downhill.
It’s an all too common caricature that distance runners have disgusting, deformed feet with missing and/or black toenails, gnarly calluses, and painful blisters. Like many caricatures, there is a basis of truth in this – the feet of many runners are rather repulsive and atrocious in appearance.
A commitment to running long distances needs not be a commitment to painful and battered feet. In fact, you can improve your performance and increase your enjoyment of running by taking care of your feet. For no more hobbling to the finish line, no more bloody socks, and no more achy feet, follow these 5 tips on how to take care of your feet.
Wear the Right Shoes When You’re Not Running
Most runners understand the importance of wearing the proper running shoes. With the proliferation of speciality running stores, most runners have easy access to free gait analysis and advice on how to pick the proper running shoe that provides enough room to keep all of your toenails and the right stability to smooth out any problems in your stride. (Need some help in picking the right running shoe? Check out this informative guide on how to pick the best running shoe for you.)
The shoes we were in the other hours of the day matter just as much as the shoes we wear for the 2 hours or less a day we spend running. Flip flops and other shoes that don’t provide arch support can cause us to adjust our gait for the worse. If you’re prone to plantar fasciitis or other foot-based running injuries, unsupportive footwear is a recipe for training-derailing injury.
High heels claim the spot as the worst offenders for healthy and happy feet. High heels push your center of mass forward, which throws of the alignment of your hips and spine. Many running injuries are due to poorly aligned hips (IT band syndrome, for example), which means that frequent heel wearing can increase your risk of injury. 3 inch heels increase the pressure on your feet by 76%, thus causing significant foot pain while wearing heels and in the hours after. The narrow toebox of many heels can cause numbness and thickened nerve tissue between your toes and the distribution of your body’s weight in high heels can lead to pain in the balls of your feet. High heels will not lead to many happy miles; in fact, they may even lead to an injury that will sideline you from training.
Invest in High Quality Socks
Ill-fitting and non-wicking socks are one of the top causes of blisters. A poor fitting sock will allow your shoes to rub against the back of your ankles and these blisters can cause a significant amount of pain during and after your run. Non-wicking socks do not permit your feet to breathe and thus can create a wet environment when you sweat that can lead to athlete’s foot and foot fungus.
Thankfully, many brands sell high quality, proper fitting, and wicking socks developed specifically for running. I personally love the Smartwool brand, which works well for both humid summer running and cold winter running. Look for brands made with acrylic or other wicking fabrics and a high back or blister tab. Just say no to 100% cotton socks!
Go Barefoot to Strengthen Your Feet
I’m not talking about barefoot running here; yoga, Pilates, and weight lifting can all strengthen the muscles in your feet if you don’t rely on restrictive footwear. For weight lifting, you probably want to wear shoes to stay sanitary in a public gym and to protect your feet from any mishaps, so aim to wear lightweight shoes that allow your feet to stabilize and move freely. This will help you engage the muscles in your feet, ankles, and calves. Think of how you push down into your heels during a squat or stabilize with your feet during a lunge. These exercises can create strong, powerful, injury-proof feet, so don’t miss out on those benefits by wearing thick shoes.
Yoga and Pilates can stretch and strengthen the feet, especially if you perform the poses in socks or completely barefoot. As you hold a difficult yoga pose, your foot muscles contract and stabilize to provide you with a solid base. Over time, this will give you stronger feet, which means less discomfort during long runs and a more natural, stronger stride.
Roll Out Your Feet
Most of us runners have fostered a rather intimate relationship with our foam roller. Rolling out our glutes, hamstrings, quads, and calves feels rejuvenating after a hard run or a challenging week of training. Rolling out our feet will have a similar effect, as the pressure from rolling releases any adhesions in the fascia on the bottom of our feet.
To target specifically the muscles of your feet, opt for a foot-specific roller, a frozen water bottle, or a tennis or lacrosse ball. You want an object hard enough to apply pressure and small enough to fit into the arch of your foot. I actually used one of Charlie’s neglected toy balls to roll out my feet for a while until he got jealous and hid it from me.
Several miles of pounding your feet against the pavement will alter your circulation and cause swelling to occur in your ankles and feet. This swelling can be uncomfortable, especially if you spend the rest of your day on your feet. To alleviate swelling, immediately elevate your feet above your heart after a run. Legs up the wall yoga pose works wonders for your circulation and will return your feet to normal in no time! You can also use an epsom salt bath or a cold shower for additional relief.
Questions of the Day:
How do you keep your feet healthy and happy during training?
What piece of running gear has made the most difference in your training?