Let’s talk about a runner’s most essential body part to keep happy: your feet. With each foot strike producing 3-5 times your body weight in force through your foot, it’s easy to have issues with sore feet after a long run, especially those double digit mile ones!
On a recent training run, I had a conversation with another runner who was struggling with foot pain. I asked her when her feet hurt: first few steps in the morning, during a run, or throughout the day? Where does it hurt?
We were able to figure out a few things. First, her feet didn’t hurt first thing in the morning. This is good news, because I knew that we were not likely dealing with plantar fasciitis. Her feet only hurt after running a few miles, and pain wasn’t really localized to one point or one foot, just general foot pain on the bottoms of her feet. Now we were getting somewhere.
Next question: How old are your shoes? Bingo. She’s been running in the same shoes since her last fall training cycle. With a new pair on the way, there were some things I could share with her to help with this general fatigue her feet were screaming about.
When you run on “dead” shoes, that is, shoes that have well over 300-400 miles on them, you’ve worn out all the supportive foam helping to mitigate some of that force you produce while pounding the pavement. That can make your fascia and intrinsic muscles in your feet very unhappy. Of course, as the miles pile on in marathon training, general foot fatigue will be an issue even if your shoes are fresh!
So, what are some things we can do to keep our feet happy?
- Retire old shoes. Make sure you are not running in shoes with high mileage. I used to not really track the miles on my shoes, but go by feel. When my feet start complaining, I know it’s time for a new pair. Fortunately, I upgraded to a new to me Garmin a while ago, and with the app, it’s been super easy to track the mileage on my shoes. I’m already over 100 miles on a pair I bought last month!
- Mix it up! If you can afford multiple pairs of running shoes, it’s nice to be able to rotate types of shoes for different purposes. You may choose a more cushioned pair for your long runs and a lighter pair for speed work, for example. Your feet may appreciate the change in support. I generally can’t afford multiple pairs of road shoes at one time, but I do have dedicated trail shoes.
- Use a ball to massage your feet. A tennis ball works well. If this isn’t enough pressure for you, try a lacrosse ball. Essentially, you stand with one foot on the ball, rolling back and forth with as much pressure as you can tolerate, spending extra time where needed. This is a good video about the technique, but the plantar fascia is not a muscle as she says!
- Stretch. I recommend calf stretches to make sure your Achilles is not tight. My favorite to hit the bottoms of your feet, too, is the curb stretch. If your Achilles tendon is tight, your body has to find the mobility somewhere, and sometimes it’s your plantar fascia, the supportive web of connective tissue under your feet.
- Stretch some more. To really get the supportive structure of your feet, try sitting with your feet folded under you with your toes tucked under. Try to hold it for 30 seconds.
- Try a massage gun. If you’re lucky to have one, try using it on the bottoms of your feet. It feels amazing! I like to think I’m breaking up any adhesions that might be forming. We have a Hypervolt, but there are many brands on the market.
- Tape it! Sometimes, when I’m waiting for new shoes, I will tape the bottoms of my feet using either KT tape or athletic tape, depending on how much support I feel like I need. Not a solution; just a way to buy some time. This link offers two different techniques that work. I tend to use a variation of the first technique shown with half a tape strip cut into 3 sections with an anchor at the bottom.
- Wear supportive “recovery” shoes after your runs. In my running crew, we love Oofos. They are super comfortable and squishy! Sometimes they offer really great sales on their website. Other friends swear by Crocs. Hoka also makes a line of recovery sandals.
Bottom line is that there are some very simple ways to keep your feet happy! Especially as running miles increase while training for fall marathons, even if we will be running them “virtually” this year, it’s important to take some time each week to care for your feet. It’s so much easier to prevent problems than it is to fix them!
Do you use some of these tricks to keep your feet happy? I’d love to hear about it! I’m providing this information to you as a courtesy and assume no responsibility for injury sustained by taking my advice. As always, I hope you all are safe and healthy!