August 27, 2019

Put Your Best Foot Forward

Podiatrist, Tim Maiden, discusses the three most common concerns he hears from runners in his clinic and shares strategies for looking after your feet.

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This post was originally written for The Straits Times as part of a 16-week column preparing runners for The Straits Times Run 2019.

As you can imagine, your feet play a significant role in your ability to run fast and injury-free.

My feet have taken a beating over the years due to my love of running. In the New Zealand triathlon championships many years ago, a race official moved my shoes, and as I hopped off my bike and entered the transition area, I couldn’t find them.

With little choice left, I ran the remaining 5km run leg barefoot over a rural New Zealand road. By the end of the race, I was in excruciating pain, and both my feet were covered in blood blisters. I spent the next 3-days on crutches, visiting the hospital each afternoon to have them drained.

Thanks to the excellent work of the doctors and my podiatrist, I was back running on day-4.

I’ve suffered cuts and bruises. Had sprains, heel pain and tendonitis, but overall, I’ve treated my feet well, and they’ve returned the favour.

To discuss the importance of your feet and how to care for them, I reached out to my friend Tim Maiden for advice.

Tim is a senior podiatrist at The Foot Practice, a podiatry clinic offering a range of foot care and podiatry services to athletes, diabetics, children and anyone experiencing lower leg and foot problems.

Here’s What Tim Has To Say…

The average person will take 216,262,500 steps in their lifetime. That’s a big number.

When you consider that your feet absorb around two times your body weight when walking and up to ten times when running, you can understand the stress that you are putting on them each day.

As a runner, who will likely take more than that number, you must respect your feet and treat them well.

Here are the three most common concerns I hear from runners in my clinic.

Cut Race Times, Not Corners.

Racing at your potential and enjoying training is easy when you’re following the right programme.

Picking The Right Shoes

When Podiatry UK surveyed 2,000 adults in 2014, they found that one-third of the men and nearly half of the women were shoving their feet into shoes that didn’t fit them.

Shoes are made identical, but our feet are not, so you need to choose wisely. When buying shoes, try on models from a range of brands. Try different sizes too and find one that you find comfortable. Purchase your shoes at the right time of the day when your feet are at their largest. Late in the day or after exercise is when this typically happens.

Comfort is the single most critical qualifying criteria when buying your shoes. Don’t purchase shoes with the idea that you will get used to them. You may get used to them but wouldn’t it be better to enjoy the ride from the start?

If you have already purchased your shoes and you don’t like how they feel, you can change your socks, insoles or lacing technique to improve your level of comfort.

Avoiding And Managing Blisters

Blisters are one of the most common causes of soft tissue injury in runners, and I treat them regularly. They’re the accumulation of micro-tears under the skin surface (between the layers of the skin) which form a fluid-filled bubble.

They’re caused by shear, and the three main reasons behind it are:

  1. Biomechanics – the way you run and your feet hit the ground.
  2. High pressure – a part of the shoe or sock pressing onto the foot consistently for a period of time.
  3. High movement – sliding within your shoes.

The good news is that blisters are 100 per cent preventable. My favourite blister prevention techniques are:

A simple search in google for the above terms will bring up a collection of sites where you can learn more about each one.

Black Toenails

You can often recognise a runner by the state of their toenails (or lack thereof).

Black toenails are caused by several things, the most common being trauma or fungal infection. Because trauma is the leading cause in runners, I’ll focus on that.

Trauma comes in two forms. The first trauma is caused by the top of your shoe rubbing against your toenail. The second is the result of your toe slamming into the end of your shoe or dropping something heavy on your toe.

Making wise equipment choices is the best prevention for this condition. Buy the right size shoes (see above). Choose socks that are thin and have minimal seams as thick socks may place too much pressure on your toenails.

Use lock lacing techniques and experiment with other devices such as toe taping techniques or silicone toe protectors.

By applying these strategies, your feet will have room to breathe and will treat you well for years to come.

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Ben Pulham

Ben Pulham is the founder of Coached, a personalised training programme that helps runners & triathletes optimise, track and enjoy their training.