It doesn’t matter how fit a runner you are, what your resting heart rate is, how well kitted out you are – if your feet suffer then so will you. For shorter events like half marathons you can get away with the odd blister, although these shouldn’t happen, but start entering marathons and progress to ultra’s and stage races then the one thing which will ruin your race, and maybe end it, is foot problems.
I see some horrific pictures of competitors feet, usually taken at the Marathon des Sables, with many runners having problems from day one and either dropping out or spending the rest of the race shuffling through stages and having medical treatment each evening from Doc Trotter. The race is expensive to enter, expensive to prepare for and after months of training and selecting kit the last thing to go wrong should be your feet.
The high temperatures and sand combine to make foot problems hard to avoid and if, like the majority of entrants, you live in a cool, wet, climate (eg UK) then you are going out to the desert on the back of many months of Autumn and Winter training with no real experience of heat or sand running in your preparation.
There are many races similar to the MdS, races in Egypt, Tunisia, Chile/Atacama desert, Namibia, Kalahari, Gobi desert, the Australian Outback plus Jungle races like Brazil or Costa Rica which present further opportunities for trashed feet with high humidity and river crossings a general feature. There is also my own promotion Al Andalus Ultra Trail which takes place in Andalucia in July, covers very mixed mountain terrain, desert, surfaced roads, stream crossings and all in very high temperatures. As well as stage races there are numerous Ultras covering 50km to 160km or even more such as Badwater, Western States, Spartathlon, UTMB and in every case foot problems can be the reason for defeat.
Before I go into more specifics as regards Al Andalus I suggest that, if you haven’t already got a copy, you buy ‘Fixing Your Feet’ by John Vonhof, as this is probably the most comprehensive guide to athletes foot care you will ever find.
Al Andalus has quite a good record as regards blisters, runners do get them but generally they are not too bad and don’t cause a non-finish, much of this is down to good advice via the race website articles, good care by the race staff and medical team and plenty of after stage opportunities to clean up and check your feet. This year we also have a number of race sponsors amongst which is a group whose combined products should also ensure a blister free race:
Eletewater. (www.eletewater.co.uk) Eletewater are again providing what we consider to be the best electrolyte product on the market. Proper hydration, as against being ‘well hydrated’ is important and being hydrated with just pure water is a big cause of blisters. You can be well hydrated but missing the important sodium content gained by adding Eletewater or other brands of electrolytes. The extra fluid accumulates in the tissues of the feet causing swelling and then blisters. This is the third year they have supported us and once again every competitor will have enough provided for the entire race plus it will be available in the race shop.
Injinji. (www.injinji.com) The Tetrasock; 5 separate toe sleeves mean a healthier and more comfortable sock. Moisture and friction free. Performance toesocks will be for sale in the race shop. My personal preference is for the wool version but synthetic ones are also available. Injinji are also returning for a third year.
TEKO (www.tekosocks.com) I like Injinji as a liner but for longer races I also recommend you wear a wool sock over them. TEKO make an excellent Merino wool sock using certified organic wool farming, chlorine-free treatment and the USA factory is wind-powered. The socks have seamless toes, ‘strike-zone’ cushioning, a fitted arch, heel, ankle and cuff, recycled polyester heel and toe for durability and ‘tekoMerino’ wool wicks moisture and regulates body temperature. These excellent socks will be available in the race shop and as prizes.
UKGear (www.ukgear.com) UKGear produce very specialized footwear for the armed forces. This includes the PT-03Desert, perfect for desert stage races, a Winter version for very cold/wet conditions and the PT-1000. This shoe is the toughest, most hardwearing shoe I have ever used. The 1000 refers to the 1000 mile minimum life that these shoes are built to cover and from personal experience I know they will do much more than this. This is an ideal shoe for this race and this year UKGear are providing over 1200 euros worth of shoes as prizes.
Suecos (www.suecos.eu) Having the best hydration, socks and race shoes is one thing but being able to relax and recover after a stage without having to wear your race shoes is very important. Suecos (Swedish company with base in Barcelona) produce a range of ‘clogs’ using a technologically advanced material. The ‘clogs’ are widely used in hospitals and in the ‘hospitality’ trade and benefits include, they mold to feet, absorb weight, are ultralight, stimulate the flow and circulation of blood, they are antibacterial, breathable and easy to clean. Suecos will be contributing their excellent sandal to every runners and will also available in the race shop for souvenirs for friends and family, and as prizes and should become a permanent addition to any runner’s race kit.
Formthotics (www.formthotics.com) An excellent ‘modification’ product which can work in any shoe. The normal insole supplied with a shoe is often the least technical item. Formthotics are customized flexible foot orthotics which can be heated and molded to your individual feet and then continue to mold as you use them. They provide total contact stimulation to sensory nerve endings to improve reflexes, balance and posture. It takes 3 to 7 days for your body to adapt as they have a significant effect on body alignment and the function of nerves and muscles so fitting them immediately before the race may not be the best idea but once you have adapted you won’t want to use anything else.