Careful foot preparation is ABSOLUTELY essential. After dehydration, foot problems are the main reason for failing to complete.
There are two schools of thought on foot preparation in advance of the race: the first is to harden the feet and the second is to keep them soft and supple. Ideally you want tough, supple feet. Do NOT have a beauty-type pedicure just before the race but it is a great idea to visit a proper podiatrist and have your nails properly trimmed and your feet looked at. We would advise you do this twice – once in the middle of your training and once just before the race. Learn how to tape your feet. Also learn how to drain blisters and keep them clean. Shoes two (European) sizes larger and with a wider fitting at toe level will be more comfortable when your feet swell from the heat. Also factor in that your feet may be heavily bandaged by the end so you will need more room in your shoes. Injinji toe socks are brilliant for helping keep bandages on. As to your feet, there is nothing better than training beforehand to ensure the good condition of your feet during the race. They will carry you throughout the race if you take good care of them. During the race they will be subject to constant friction and blister treatment at night is the “daily routine” of the medical team. Keep in mind that throughout the race the medical team is there for your safety. Throughout the course of the race they will be there at each checkpoint and at the bivouac each evening. Do not hesitate to consult them – a small health problem treated in time will not turn into something more serious that could stop you from completing.
FEET – Your ultimate training weapon
90% off all dropouts and visits to the medical tents are because of foot problems and hydration issues. We will focus on hydration separately. Here we will deal with feet and their preparation.
This simple guide has been prepared by “Doc Trotters”, the medical team in attendance at the Marathon Des Sables.
If there was a single thing you could do to ensure that your feet remain intact throughout the event, then DocTrotters, thanks to 10 years of observations, suggests this instant recipe.
We have found no single solution and the development of blisters depends on several factors, which can vary. Each competitor is different and the degree of race difficulty, climatic conditions and appropriate biological factors (nutrition, metabolism and skin hydration) all play a part – even to the point where the solution may not be the same for the same competitor, from one year to the next. However best practice is generally acknowledged and it is possible to make some suggestions, which competitors can adapt to their preferences and experience.
1/ Preparation of feet for the MdS is practiced by the vast majority of participants requiring between 5 and 60 days to get them properly race ready. The most common practice involves a process, similar to the tanning of leather, where the structure of the skin is transformed to be durable yet supple.
A list of available products used would be extensive; it often depends on availability, legal prescription and commercial distribution.
Anti-friction creams prove very effective, preparing the skin well (such as Prodexine, Nok). Also, substances employed by veterinarians for the toughening of animals’ feet pads are also used to great effect. Preparations using Formalin, Picric acid, Salicyli acid, benzoin, alcohol, white spirit, talc, henna, shea butter and curry. We really recommend that you take advice on which of these to use and start trying them well in advance of committing yourself to one particular treatment.
Choice of running shoe is hotly debated by competitors. The choice evolves every year with new designs and modifications, where manufacturers develop and learn from each other.
However, shoe sizes should always be at least one (metric) size larger than normal, and usually two sizes due to elongation of the foot when racing beyond 30 km and swelling. And… of course it is best if the shoes have already been well broken in before the MdS.
Use gaiters – they are absolutely necessary to keep the sand in. These (or their Velcro attachment) should be stitched just above the sole. Don’t just glue them, it will melt, take them to a professional cobbler to get stitched on. Raidlight gaiters are excellent
Naturally, wearing of socks is essential, again try these and select the sets that best work for you long in advance of the race. Remember your feet may get bandaged during the race.
3/ Looking after your feet during the race
To prevent the appearance of blisters two words are appropriate: HYGIENE and DRYING.
Upon finishing every day, clean your feet rigorously, dampen a tissue with few CC’s of your water and clear away sand trapped around nail edges and between the toes. It is not recommended to soak feet, even less to submerge them in water, which would weaken the skin and increase the risk of softening and infection.
Now this but is really important. Dry your feet rigorously. Spread your toes so that the air and sun can get to them – Damp feet promote the development of infection. Furthermore, the medics won’t even look at your feet unless they have been disinfected and dried.
Aerate your socks and your shoes. DO NOT walk barefoot around the Bivouac area. Do bring a pair of slip on sandals so that you have something to walk around in. Doc Trotters put your feet in little plastic bags so thongs between the toes are not a good idea.
The last words of advice we would like to leave you with could be the most valuable, the single most common point of failure during the race will be your feet – it is essential that you start preparing your feet for the MdS at least 6 months before the event. If you get your feet into good shape (tough, supple and healthy) before the event, they will last you well and you will be able to grin at those unfortunates who hobble around – you CAN control this and should take every opportunity to prepare your feet as if it was a religion starting as early as possible.
www.runultra.co.uk has an absolute wealth of information about everything to do with MdS from how to train for it to how to pack your bag, to stories from past competitors. Check it out, and become a member for all the latest updates.
You will be invited to join a closed Facebook group for your specific race – don’t miss out!