How Can A Runner Protect Their Feet?

by Jim Richardson | Last Updated: April 28, 2020

It was an early Half Marathon that taught me that a runner needs to think about how they can protect their feet. I’d had the odd blister before this, but had shrugged this off as the cost of running.

At this Half Marathon I was enjoying a pain free run, in fact I was flying along and set a new PR/PB. It wasn’t until I got home that I discovered that one of my toenails had gone black, bruised by the pressure of being squeezed against the front of my trainers.

Photo by Kristian Egelund on Unsplash

In the come days the nail would come off and I decided that I had to be more careful with my feet if I was going to be a runner. In this article I share some of the tips that I’ve learnt about how a runner can look after their feet from covering thousands of miles in training and races since that first ‘injury’.

I’m not a podiatrist but I think most people can probably take something from this advice.

1. Trim Those Nails

My error in the Half Marathon mentioned above was that I’d not trimmed my nails enough. In my experience as a runner, it’s essential that you keep your nails trimmed short.

Long nails pushed against the inside of a trainer can create blood pooling under the nail, sharp nails can cut neighbouring toes or catch on socks.

Trim your nails on a regular basis, cutting straight across and then using a nail file to smooth the edges and make sure that they can’t catch on your socks or trouble the toes around them.

2. Get The Right Shoes

Runners are like kids in a candy store when they go shopping for trainers. With so many brands, styles and colors to choose from, perhaps its natural that how they fit isn’t our first thought.

But it’s important to get a shoe that fits you properly to protect your feet from running injuries. Don’t assume that the size that you’ve had in the past is the right fit when buying new shoes.

A specialist running store should be able to help you with this, but here are six things to look out for to get the right fit for you :

1. Length
A runners feet will swell and lengthen up to half an inch during training or a race, so it’s important to get shoes which give your feet ‘room to grow’. Make sure that there is a thumbs length between your longest toe and the front of the shoe and that your shoes can wiggle freely.

That tells you that you have enough room to avoid your toes pressing against the front of the shoe.

2. Width
Your foot width will grow 15 percent under the load of running so again you need to allow room to grow when choosing shoes. If your shoes are too tight then you can get blisters on the sides of your forefoot or cut the circulation to your toes off.

The actual width of a shoe will vary a bit from brand to brand and shoe to shoe. The most accurate shoe fit, including width fit, is measured using a tool called a Brannock Device. Most specialist running stores will use this tool to determine the size and width shoe that will work best for you.

3. Instep
Instep or arch soreness or pain can range from a nagging problem when you run to a disabling injury that will stop you from running. To avoid this it’s important to have shoe’s that a shoe’s upper feets snug and secure without being too tight.

4. Heel
Your running shoes should feel snug but not tight on the heel. Try walking around in the shoes to check that they aren’t rubbing up against your heel.

5. Flex
Check the shoe’s flex point – where it creases when you press the toe into the floor. It should bend at the same place as your foot to ensure a natural stride.

6. Feel
Different runners will feel more comfortable in different kids of shoes, so take time to assess how the shoe feels on your foot. Many running shops have running machines to allow you to try the shoe out.

Your running shoe should give you support without being too tight.

The easiest way to ensure that you get the right trainers for you is to go to a specialist running store, this is especially important if you’re new to running and your don’t have experience of buying trainers.

Once you find a show that works for you, stick with it. For me that means Nike Zoom.

3. Get The Right Running Socks

Picking the right shoe won’t save your feet from running injuries if you have the wrong socks. This is something that is often overlooked (especially by beginners), but having the wrong socks can lead to problems ranging from minimal discomfort to painful blisters.

You should avoid wearing 100 percent cotton socks, these absorb and hold moisture, and wet socks can quickly lead to painful blisters.  Instead look for running socks made from synthetic materials such as acrylic, polyester, or other quick drying, sweat absorbing, technical materials.

These materials will quickly move moisture away from your skin and help to prevent blisters.

If you’re running longer distances like a marathon, you might want socks which offer more cushioning, while if your running shorter distances you might prefer light weight socks.

I’ve found these Hilly Lumen socks to be excellent, I actually bought ten identical pairs so I never run short. If you take nothing else from this article, remember not to wear cotton socks to run.

4. Use Lubricant

Experienced runners know the importance of lubricant to reduce chaffing, but few think to apply this same thinking to their feet. If you’re prone to blisters or running a longer distance lubricate your toes, the bottom of your feet and your heal. This will reduce the friction that causes painful blisters.

5. Chill Out With An Ice Bath

As we’ve mentioned above, a runners feet tend to swell under the pressure of a run. If you’re new to running you might find the aches and pains especially noticeable as your body adjusts to your training (don’t be put off).

One way to help reduce the swelling is to immerse your feet in ice water for 15 minutes. This helps to constrict the blood vessels and muscle fibres, which reduces the swelling and soreness.

For the best result you need to do this immediately after a run, but don’t keep your feet in the ice water for more than 20 minutes or you could get frostbite.

Another option is cold water, I live next to the sea so will often end a run with a soak.

6. Strengthen Your Toes

Modern shoes are designed to protect our toes, but one of the effects that this has is that they don’t get the chance to strengthen as they would if we ran barefoot.

Just as with muscle groups in the rest of your body, the toes can be strengthened through exercise. When you think of the pressure that runners put on their toes it makes sense to do this.

A few exercises to try are:

1. Towel Scrunches
Place a towel on the floor and stand on it with one foot. Use your toes to scrunch up the towel, repeating this 15 times for each foot.

2. Pencil Lift
Put a pencil on the floor and pick this up with the toes, hold it for a count of six and repeat this ten times per foot.

3. Walking On Toes
Simply walk around on your toes (without shoes). Aim to do eight sets of 20 seconds.

Do these exercises once or twice a day to increase the strength of your toes.

Bottom Line

Runners put in a lot of training to get their best performance on race day, but all this hard work can be wasted if a runner doesn’t take care of their feet.

Over the years since I lost a nail in that half marathon I’ve run thousands of miles and run in all kinds of conditions, and thankfully I’ve had few problems. That is probably in part because that minor injury made me consider how I look after my feet as seriously as I take other parts of my running.

And judging by the number of runners I’ve seen limping towards a finish line or stopped at the side of the course with their trainers off, more runners should be doing the same.

How do you take care of your feet when running? Have you any tips for avoiding running related foot injuries?

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