Paul Butzi |||

I’ve got blisters on my soul (and other interesting places)

I’ve always had trouble with blisters on my feet when doing long runs - runs longer than, say, 40 miles or so. I suspect part of the problem is that at the longer distances I end up doing a fair bit of walking, and there’s something about the way walking imposes shear stresses on the soles of my feet that creates the blisters. But that’s mere speculation on my part, I don’t really know.

The problem

Last year at Hamster Endurance, I ran 101.4 miles. For the last 40 miles, my feet were an utter disaster, and when I look at the post run photos of my feet I wonder how I persisted. Some photos of the carnage after the blisters were lanced, for reference:

left foot

This was taken a day after the race. The discoloration shows the extent of the blister which covers the entire forefoot.

right foot

And that shows a similar view of my right foot. Again a big blister that covers essentially all of the forefoot.

left foot small toe

That’s what the small toe of my left foot looked like. I had the 3rd and 4th toes on that foot buddy taped together because the 4th toe on that foot is arthritic or there’s some neuroma or something, and that toe often causes a lot of pain. Anyway the tape from the buddy tape job apparently just rubbed the skin raw on the adjacent smallest toe. The photo doesn’t really convey the carnage, beyond mile 70 that smallest toe was just a raw bloody mess. I remember pulling the shoe off that foot around mile 70 and being shocked to see a bloody sock. (side note: dried blood washes out of Drymax socks surprisingly well)

Beyond those big blisters and the toe turned into hamburger, I also had blisters on the sides of both big toes and some ugly ones on the ends of various toes. An example of that:

end of toe

Part the anguish of big blisters like this is that healing takes a surprisingly long time, and while they heal you go through all sorts of nastiness: nastiness

Things that didn’t work.

Obviously I’ve been pretty highly motivated to find a way to prevent blisters on my feet.

Things I’ve tried, some of which helped and some which didn’t. None of them were close to a solution to the problem.

  • various anti-blister powders - there are various powders you can apply to your feet which claim to prevent blisters. They claim to keep your feet dry (they don’t), they claim to reduce friction (maybe they do), they claim to make blisters a thing of the past (they don’t).
  • Chafe-X anti-chafe - Chafe-X is a cream that you rub into skin where you expect chafing (under your arms, thighs) and it sort of infuses your skin with toughness, and makes it smooth so that you don’t get chafing. It’s a wonder for chafing. It also claims to help with blisters, and in my experience it prevents blisters for a while, but in the end the blisters form anyway but the skin cap over the blister is thicker.

What I did this year, which worked pretty well

In 2018 I ran Badwater Cape Fear, 51.4 miles on Bald Head Island. We had a roommate in our rental house who covered the soles of his feet with kinesio tape, and claimed it prevented blisters. I was skeptical this would work. But this year, during training, I gave it a try, figuring I’d try it on some long training runs and if it didn’t actively cause problems I’d give it a try at Hamster. I didn’t get any problems on runs as long as 27 miles, and I left the same tape on my feet during a 60 mile week and the tape held up fine, so I decided to try it at Hamster.

left foot

right foot

Those photos were taken the day AFTER I ran 67.6 miles at Hamster Endurance. You can see on my right foot there’s a little patch of skin on my heel where the tape shifted to the side and exposed the skin.

When I pulled the tape off just after taking those photos, my feet looked great. No blisters on the balls of my feet. No blisters on the sides of my big toes. One teensy blister, hardly worth mentioning, on the end of one of my middle toes. I hardly even have calluses.

Some observations:

  • KT Tape comes in 4″ wide rolls, which would mean I wouldn’t need to lay two pieces of overlapping tape. Next time I’ll use that.
  • KT brand tape seems to have an especially slippery surface texture because it’s apparently polyester, not cotton. Tape brand might make a big difference, and I would hesitate to use tape that had cotton in it.
  • You can’t just lay the tape on the sole of your foot, because apparently stretching the tape is what activates the adhesive. I’ve been sticking the end of the tape up close to my toes, then stretching the entire piece by perhaps an additional 25-30%, and then sticking the whole thing to my foot being careful to avoid wrinkles and running the tape past my heel and up my Achilles tendon so that heel striking doesn’t try to peel the tape off my foot.
  • the trick to getting the backing off the tape is to stretch the tape near one end until the backing tears and then peel off the backing near the end. Then you can stick the end to your foot, and peel the rest of the backing off, and then stick the rest of the tape to your foot.
  • Cut round corners on the tape when you cut it shorter. If there’s a sharp 90 degree corner the tape will peel up at that point. Round corners solve that problem.

In addition to the tape business, I also went wild on foot care in the 2-3 weeks before the race. I put anti-fungal cream on my feet every morning. Hand lotion on most nights. Toenails were filed very short, with attention to sharp corners. I filed calluses down so that my feet were soft skin everywhere.

One puzzle for me is how this prevented blisters on the sides of my big toes and on the ends of my toes. I was prepared to slap patches of KT tape over hot spots in those areas as they cropped up during the race, but didn’t get any hotspots. I don’t know if that’s a result of the tape, or a result of some subtle change in the shape and fit of the Altra Lone Peak’s I run it. Last year I ran in Lone Peak 4’s, this year in Lone Peak 5’s. I like the Lone Peak 5’s a lot better, they seem cooler and also have just a bit more room in the forefoot. They also look like they’d drain a lot better, which wasn’t an issue for this race but if you had to do stream crossings or run in the rain, it would be a big help.

If you give this a try, let me know how it goes regardless of whether it works or makes things worse!

Up next Hamster Endurance Runs 2022 Race Report I'm not OK... I have a marathon left to go, and 10 hours to do it in. My feet are pretty beat up. But… the rest of me feels kind of OK, uh, so I’m just going to
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