Pre-Marathon Foot Care Tips for Runners

Between marathon training and race day, your feet take a beating. Even if you are wearing the most comfortable and supportive pair of running shoes, utilizing orthopedic aids for your feet, and taking special care between runs to soak and massage your feet, chances are they have incurred some type of injury during the year, i.e. a blister, nail damage, etc.

While typically harmless, common foot ailments can quickly develop into something more serious that can threaten your marathon success. If you are planning for an upcoming marathon, keep these important foot care tips in mind:

Callus and Corn Care

A runner’s feet naturally toughen up throughout the course of training and may even develop calluses or corns as a way of protecting sensitive skin. Calluses are rough, thickened patches of skin that result from frequent rubbing. They are painless but if they get large enough, they may need to be filed down to ensure that your socks and running shoes fit properly.

Similar to calluses, corns feature a raised, hard patch of dead skin, however, they have a visible central core that can be quite tender. Corns can form around points of pressure on the feet, like the heel, or in softer spots like between the toes. If an abrasion opens skin on a corn, bacteria can get in and potentially cause an infection.

Ailments like bunions, bone spurs, and hammertoes may increase the amount of friction your feet experience in your shoes and socks putting you at higher risk for developing corns and calluses. If your running routine is causing an existing corn or callus to become irritated, red, and inflamed, it’s worth a trip to your doctor or podiatrist before your marathon. They can help treat it and minimize the size to make running comfortable again.

Skin Care

You might not think of a marathoner runner as having the smoothest, silkiest, most supple feet, however, skin care can play an important role in warding off unwanted problems for runners. 

Because your feet toughen up the more you train, you may notice changes in your skin over time including increased dryness, flakiness, and waxiness. To prevent that skin from cracking and leading to open fissures in your feet that can get infected, it’s important that you cleanse and moisturize your feet regularly.

Ditch the fragrant soaps and fancy lotions that are chock full of perfumes and other ingredients that actually dry your feet out and opt instead for foot-specific moisturizers that have ingredients in them like shea butter, glycerin, and petroleum jelly.

The conversation about skin care wouldn’t be complete either without discussing blisters. If you experience recurring blisters from running, it’s time to start thinking about updating your footwear. For the occasional blister, however, cover it with a blister pad or Band-aid and let it drain and heal on its own time. Popping a blister yourself can increase your risk for a painful infection.

Nail Care

If you have experienced some toenail damage during the course of your training, you’re not alone. Many runners even go through the experience of losing an entire toenail from running and then waiting 6 months for it to grow back. The truth is, this doesn’t have to happen to you.

Why do some runners lose toenails? Experts chalk it up to the constant contact with inflexible footwear. This recurring pounding and inevitable friction with the shoe eventually causes the nail to separate from the nail bed and fall off. Blood blisters can also form under the nail cutting off its oxygen supply which also causes the nail to die.

If you notice nail damage during your training, experts recommend taking extra caution to disinfect and protect your feet. Never pull a loose nail off. If anything, clean and cover it with antibiotic ointment and then wrap with a sterile bandage. If there is any pain, discomfort, leakage, or swelling associated with a damaged nail, show it to your doctor right away.

To prevent nail damage when running, make sure that your running shoes afford you plenty of space in the toe box. A good rule of thumb is to measure at least a thumb’s width between the tip of your shoe and the start of your toes inside it.

Final Thoughts

In the days leading up to your marathon, give your feet a thorough check-up. Inspect your nails for any damage and then trim them straight across (think square edges). Wash your feet, dry, and moisturize them – even sneaking in a mini foot massage if you have time. File down large calluses and cover existing corns or blisters with appropriate pads. And make sure your socks and shoes are up to the task of carrying you 26.2 miles to the finish line!

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