Looking back on my running ‘career’ to date, I can easily pinpoint the single most important improvement I’ve made. No, it’s not taking 15 minutes off my 10k PB, or finishing 69 mile ultramarathons, or even just being able to run a mile without stopping (in the early days, that was a huge improvement and achievement!).
No, the single most important improvement I’ve made is in my foot care. So I’m here today to talk about the dreaded F word that brings revulsion to any runner (or walker, for that matter)… Feet! And more specifically blisters. Warning – those of a sensitive disposition may be easily offended by some of the images in this blog, so proceed with caution.
I’ve been running since 2016 and, in that time, I’ve gone from suffering indescribable blisters that stopped me walking for day, to being virtually blister free. Notice I say virtually, because that’s the thing with blisters is that you just don’t know when they are going to strike.
Sadly, there is also no one size fits all strategy in dealing with blisters, but I hope by sharing what I’ve learned along the way, it may help some of you stop getting blisters too.
First of all, what is a blister? Blisters are bubbles or fluid-filled lumps that form under your skin, typically when it is damaged (for runners, it’s normally friction that causes this damage).
Blisters can be filled with blood, pus or a clear-ish fluid called serum that is part of your blood. Sometimes, the entire top of the blister is worn off (called de-roofing) exposing the skin underneath.
Blisters when running are caused by friction, either between your skin and your sock or your skin and your shoes. To make matters worse, we are more susceptible to blisters when our skin is wet so those sweaty feet you get from running, just add to the problem.
Treating blisters is a whole blog post on it’s own, so today I am going to focus on prevention. What steps can runners take to prevent blisters, as much as possible, in the first place?
It’s worth stressing here that it really is trial and error with blister prevention. What works for me, might not work for you. Equally, what works for me now might not work for me 6 months down the line. Or might work at some events but not others. It’s a constantly evolving process.
With that in mind, what are some of the anti-blister tactics you can use?
Don’t focus on your feet in the week or two leading up to a race – by then, it may be too late. I’ve learned to make looking after my feet a year round endeavour.
It’s important to stay properly hydrated and consider your electrolyte levels as these will affect your skin and it’s propensity to blistering.
If you do get a hot spot, which is that warm feeling you get as a blister begins to form, it’s important to stop and take care of it immediately. This might be cleaning the area, replacing socks or shoes, applying tape/plasters/Compeed/etc. Better to spend five minutes applying some preventative measures that should stop the blister forming than leave it and be limping in agony further down the line.
If you suffer from blisters or foot problems and want further and more comprehensive advice, I’d strongly recommend reading John Vohnhof’s Fixing Your Feet. I have a copy and it’s one of my most thumbed running books as I refer back to it time and again for ideas, hints and tips.
It’s not an exact science, and John’s book proves that with over 350 pages of really useful information.