The most important part of any runner’s body is our feet. If our feet are not in good condition, we may not be able to run at all. While trail running is easier on the joints than road running, running on trails can present some specific hazards. Here are some foot care tips, so your feet will be up to encountering whatever the trails may bring.
Foot Care at Home
Whether you are a road runner or a trail runner, foot care starts at home. Inspect your feet regularly. File down calluses before they become problematic. Keep toenails trimmed, making sure to cut the ends fairly square and not too rounded, so you avoid ingrown toenails. Make sure your feet are clean and dry before putting socks on, as wet feet are the perfect breeding ground for infectious fungi, such as the fungus that causes “athlete’s foot.” If you do find signs of fungal infection (red or itchy or flaky skin, crustiness between toes, hard cracked skin at the heels), treat it promptly with an anti-fungal cream available at your local pharmacy.
Many runners choose to book a regular pedicure to keep their feet in top condition. Equally, you can care for your feet yourself by purchasing a pumice stone to file calluses and tough spots, a sturdy pair of toenail clippers, and booking yourself a weekly date with your bathtub.
Protect Your Feet and Ankles
Irregular trails can present physical hazards to feet and ankles. Make sure that you wear trail running shoes when running on trails! Not only is the tread on trail runners more aggressive, so you are less likely to skid out and twist an ankle or fall – but trail runners are built with added foot protection compared to road runners. The sole of the shoe is stiffer, so you are less likely to injure the bottom of your foot by stepping on sharp rocks. The front of most trail running shoes is reinforced, to keep you from stubbing your toes, and the sides are more sturdy too, both to protect the sides of your foot and for added stability and support. If you are veering towards minimalist shoes, get shoes that are designed for trails. Although minimalist trail runners do not have much added protection on top, they still have sturdier treads that will help keep you from slipping.
Keep Your Toenails On
Not usually a problem on shorter runs, losing toenails is a common issue for long distance runners. It usually occurs from running downhills – but it is quite preventable. Losing toenails can be a result of two different things: the ends of your toes jamming against the front of the shoe, or your foot rolling forward in the shoe.
In the first case, the damage to the toenail comes from the toenail hitting the front of the shoe. This is easy to avoid! Make sure your shoes are big enough (and remember, feet can swell after a couple of hours of running, so you may have to size up for long runs). And keep the toenails trimmed, so they don’t touch the front of the shoe.
In the second case, even if the shoe is sized correctly so that the toes do not touch the front, the top of the foot may move forward as you run downhills, while the sole of the foot remains stuck to the bottom of the shoe. This rolling-forward action can start to separate the toenail from the toe. (Try it now: push your foot firmly down on the ground then slide it forward.
That rolling-forward motion, repeated over many footfalls, can start to pull your toenails off). You can avoid this by lacing your shoes specifically for the downhills, using the two little eyelets at the top of the shoe (they are made specifically for this!). If you don’t know how to do this, ask the staff at your local running store to show you.
Although blisters are more often a problem on long runs, they also can appear even on short runs. They are a result of repeated rubbing which detaches the skin layers: the skin layers then may fill with fluid. And they hurt! To prevent blisters, you must prevent that rubbing.
First, always wear new shoes for at least several hours of walking before you run in them, so they shape to your foot. Some types of socks may help to prevent blisters, too. I like to use Wrightsocks on my shorter runs, because their double layer system means that the rubbing occurs between the sock layers rather than on my skin. For my longer runs, or on runs where I know my feet will get wet, I use Injinji toe socks – no more blistered toes! Each person tends to blister in different places, so experiment with different socks to see which work best for you.
If you have continuing problems with blisters, take a look at your shoe sizing – maybe you need to go up a half-size. You can also tape problem areas in advance. Any First Aid tape will do, provided there is no pre-existing blister there – or use a Band-Aid if there is already a blister. Apply the tape to dry feet at least half an hour before the run, to give the adhesive time to set.
Taking care of your feet is a commitment. But so is running. The best kind of foot care is preventative. A bit of thoughtfulness and attention, and a few minutes from time to time, will ensure that your feet are healthy and pain-free, so you can enjoy your time on the trails.