Updated: Jul 25, 2019
I am not a feet lover. Let’s be real. Feet are ugly. They smell. Even in shoes, they get grimy. I shudder when my husband tries to play footsy with me in bed. I am not one for pedicures and, in all honesty, liken it to putting lipstick on a pig. I don’t like feet.
But I do like what my feet can do and where they can take me. And having had a history of “bad feet”, I appreciate how important good foot health is.
My feet ain’t always been my best friend.
Believe me, I’ve had it all. Born with flat feet. Plantar fasciitis so bad that I was hobbling every morning. Haglund’s deformity on my left foot that regularly ached. Constant black or fallen off toe nails. Blistering and callouses.
Now I am not qualified physiopherapist or podiatrist and have no medical authority. But over the past 12 months, I’ve made some small changes which have had a massive impact for me.
Rule #1: Wear the right sized shoe
For many years I wore a shoe size too small. In fact, I am certain my Haglund’s Deformity was caused by a pair of ballet flats that were way too small for me but I stubbornly wore for 6 months until I couldn’t bear it.
I always considered myself to be a size 8.5/9 and subsequently all my shoes, including runners, were that size. As soon as I started running marathons, I started losing toe nails. When I moved to trail running, I lost even more. After one particular event, I lost all bar one!
After getting sick of having to paint on a fake nail, I went up a size. I started wearing a size 9.5. OMG. The difference has been dramatic. I haven’t had a single black toe nail, and blister and callouses are much less frequent.
Rule #2: Get barefoot
I have worked in the corporate world for 10 years.
Which means I have worn corporate shoes for 10 years.
Which means my toes have been squashed together for 10 years.
When we moved to Bright and started working from home, I no longer needed to wear shoes. I spend my days padding around the house barefoot which allows my feet and toes to splay naturally. The lack of constant support also means the muscles in my feet have gotten stronger plus my stability has improved. I also do my strength sessions barefoot to further increase strength and stability (however not all gyms will allow this).
My feet are so used to being in this state that I now really notice how cramped my feet are in corporate shoes. The first thing I do after a day in the office (and work shoes) in Melbourne is the hand-foot shake – interlinking my fingers with my toes to spread them back out.
Rule #3: Strengthen those tootsies
As a runner, you probably do some sort of strength work. Bet you mostly focus on glutes, calves and core, right? Well, what about those little things at the end of your legs that are hammering the ground during each run. Yup, you could probably benefit from doing some foot strength.
I have incorporated specific exercise into my strength program:
Hopping: Forward, backwards, left and right. Try 5 in each direction without stopping. Great to strengthen feet and calves, plus also improves stability
Stone pick-ups: Get some small stones and a cup and spread them out on the ground. Pick each stone up with your toes and place into the cup. Repeat for each foot. Great to do in front of the TV!
Toe curls: Place a tea towel on the ground and place the toes of one foot at the end. Try to grasp the towel between the toes and pull it towards you. Do this 5 – 10 times on each foot.
Spikey ball roll: Not really a strength one but rolling your plantar fascia with a spikey ball helps relieve tension. And it feels awesome. Another great one for TV watching!
Rule #4: Choose your shoes wisely
As well as having the right sized shoe , it is pretty darn important to get the right shoe.
A few years back, after reading Born To Run, I decided to move from a highly cushioned shoe (Asics Nimbus) to a minimalist shoe (Inov-8 Talon). The result? Shin splints.
There is nothing wrong with minimalist running shoes. You just have to make sure you transition across to them slowly to avoid injury.
You also need to make sure they are right for the terrain and the distance. Minimalist shoes on a rocky terrain doesn’t work for me. Nor do they work for distances over 60km or multi-day adventures as my feet need more protection. Personally, I wear a more minimalist style shoe for shorter races (up to 21km). For training and longer runs, I now stick to a cushioned neutral shoe.
The other important thing is the toe box. I think the wider the better because, like getting barefoot, it allows your toes to splay and limits risk of blisters on or between toes.
I have tried and tested so many shoes in the past and found that it is best to have a roster of shoes in rotation. My go to shoes are:
Easy trail running: Hoka One One Challengers or Torrents
Longer and more technical trail running: Hoka One One Torrent
Short race (up to 21km max): Hoka One One Torrent or La Sportiva Helios
Road running: Adidas Boston