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Foot Care for Trail Runners: 8 Ways To Look After Your Feet

As runners we ask a lot of our feet. They are expected to sit inside socks and shoes and carry us for many hours and miles a week, and more often than not they are not pampered or inspected with the same level of attention as we give to other, less-crucial parts of our runners’ bodies.

It’s not surprising that many running-related injuries involve the feet – whether it’s foot pain as a result of a nasty blister, plantar fasciitis, or possible stress fractures, any one of these can stop you from running if you suffer from them.

This is why foot care for runners is so important, and especially for us trail runners who are also asking our feet to take us over uneven, slippery, and wet terrain – for hours and hours at a time, if you have a penchant for long-distance and ultra running.

Running itself is not bad for your feet if you look after them appropriately and run with a good running form! If you want to improve or get stronger at a sport (or anything in life) then you should be thinking about starting with a solid foundation to build upon, and in this case, that’s having good running form!

Proper running form will help you keep most running injuries at bay, including a popular one among new runners, which is lower back pain while running.

That said, if you experience sore feet from running and the foot pain stops you from getting out there, this is less than fun, so hopefully, the advice in this foot care for runners post will help you get back out on the trails quickly.

In this post we cover the main ways we care for our runners feet, before, during, and after running, to help recovery, reduce the chance of injuring our feet and getting foot pain when running, and look after them so that they will hopefully carry us for many more miles to come.

We also share our thoughts on some common questions on foot care for runners – while we are not professionals in foot care, we have run many trail miles on our own feet, have experienced our fair share of sore feet from running, and have our own views on the best way to look after our feet for the long run (pun intended :-)).

1. Wear the right trail running shoes

Where to start… there is so much choice out there when it comes to running and even trail running shoes that it can be hard to know where to start, especially if you are relatively new to running.

Wearing the right trail running shoes is a fundamental MUST for any trail runner, whether you’re new or experienced if you are to get the most enjoyment out of your time on the trails, and to reduce the possibility of foot pain resulting from acute and long-term injuries to your feet, as well as generally from not running in shoes that are the right fit for your feet.

Our guide to the best trail running shoes is a great place to start, and it’s regularly updated including many brands and styles of trail running shoes that we have personally tried, tested, and reviewed.

2. Wear the right running socks

Even if you have an awesomely well-fitting and comfortable pair of trail running shoes, they need to be paired with an equally great pair of sweat-wicking, blister-preventing, comfortable running socks in order to stop you getting blister-related sore feet from running.

Stance Aspire Tab - Stance running socks review - Trail & Kale-14-min

A good pair of running-specific socks will stay put once on, wick sweat away from your feet, and help pad them (a little bit – not too much) to reduce the chance of any foot pain from hot-spots where they touch the inside of your running shoes.

We like no-show running socks for everyday runs – here is our list of five of the best.

3. Keep your feet dry

Keeping your feet dry when trail running is super-important, but that doesn’t mean don’t get them wet!

It means that if you get them wet, whether from sweating a lot or wading through a river, make sure they can dry as quickly as possible, to reduce the chance of issues such as blisters and sore skin.

The best way we have found to keep our feet dry when trail running is to wear breathable running socks and shoes.

We do wear waterproof trail running shoes, but typically only on very cold days when our feet are unlikely to get wet… this is because waterproof shoes are designed to keep water out, and do less of a good job when it comes to letting water escape!

4. Manage hard skin on your feet

Hard skin on the bottom of your feet seems to be something that is a big issue for some people, and a complete non-issue for others.

Alastair does not have this issue, but I have always periodically experienced foot pain as a direct result of hard skin on the soles of my feet.

Running hasn’t made the hard skin on my feet get worse or better since I started running, it is just the way my feet are!

There seem to be a few different schools of thought on how to deal with hard skin on your feet when you’re a runner.

I have heard from some sources that they recommend having the hard skin removed by a podiatrist, however, I have tried this and can’t say I recommend it (but each to their own).

It seems the hard skin is developing for a reason, and actually, I have found that it protects my feet and I get other foot issues if it has been removed.

The flipside of this is that you need to keep on top of it with a pumice-stone and the occasional moisturizing session if your feet also get dry, to reduce the risk of the skin cracking.

5. Cut your toenails to stop them from turning black / falling off

2XU compression tights review trail and kale web wm 46

Black and loose toenails are among the first things that spring to most peoples’ minds when they think about how you can get sore feet from running, although it is not an issue I have had personally.

There are a few reasons why you may be getting black toenails or even to the point where you have lost a toenail from running, but the main one is quite simply because the toenails have been repeatedly hitting the end of your shoes and that has bruised and damaged them over time.

The first step to reducing the risk of black toenails from running is to make sure you keep your toenails short.

I cut mine once a week, or at least inspect my toes each week to see if the nails need a trim.

If you already cut your toenails regularly and still have this issue then perhaps it’s time to try a different style or brand of trail running shoe.

Wearing a shoe that is the wrong size or profile can be a major source of foot pain and sore feet from running, because our feet have different shapes and ‘heights’, which may not be appropriately supported by your running shoes if you wear a pair that isn’t suitable for your feet.

For example, as someone with very ‘shallow’ feet, I need to ensure that I wear running shoes that don’t have too much space over the top of my feet, otherwise, my feet may slide forward in the shoe and hit the end when I run.

As well as thinking about whether you need to change your trail running shoe style or brand to help with sore toenails and other types of foot pain, consider whether your shoes are ok but you would benefit from swapping out the running shoes’ foam footbed for some more supportive insoles.

6. Deal with blisters on your feet

If you get blisters on your feet I suggest you investigate why this is happening and try to solve the root cause of the issue to prevent you from getting them in the first place.

Sometimes the cause of blisters on your feet is not obvious, especially if you’ve already tried different running shoes and socks. Here’s how I solved the mystery of the recurring blisters I used to get on the bottom of my feet from running.

If you have blisters on your feet then the best thing to do is to keep them clean and try and leave them intact.

Well.. that’s what everyone says to do, and I do agree with that, but in reality, I’ve had to pop every blister I’ve had on my feet, to relieve the pressure and be able to walk again, so I have some good experience of doing so cleanly.

For more on that, read how to treat running blisters.

7. Give your feet a massage

Trigger Point Massage Ball Foot Care for Runners Trail and Kale

How good does a foot massage feel?? Aaaaand how often do you actually massage your feet? Thought so.

Massage helps improve circulation and loosen up tightness, so it can really help in the long-term care of your feet, as well as help sore feet to recover after intense training sessions and reduce foot pain you may be experiencing from running.

You can even combine the massage with the moisturizer you may need to help with that hard skin 😉

I like to massage my feet in two ways – firstly with my hands, and secondly by rolling the soles of my feet on a massage ball, which helps to relieve tension, especially on the bottom of my feet, and reduce the chances of me suffering from plantar fasciitis (that pain from inflammation on the bottom of your foot).

If you do get plantar fasciitis badly and keep getting it, read our Alleviate Therapy review to see if the Alleviate system can help you get rid of it – for good!

8. Help your feet recover after running

Other great advice when it comes to foot care for runners when it comes to post-run recovery includes icing them (I like to plunge my feet in a bucket full of iced water asap after a run), wearing compression socks, and keeping them warm.

The icing helps with reducing initial swelling, and then I find the combination of compression socks and some warmth like a heat-pack, a warm fire or my dog(!) helps to soothe achy feet.

Not at the same time as compression socks (although compression calf sleeves would work!), also consider getting yourself some toe spacers. These inexpensive soft gel devices can really help get your feet back into alignment and help your toes splay naturally, especially after a lot of time on your feet. To learn more, read our guide to the best toe spacers for runners.

I hope the tips above are helpful when it comes to thinking about foot care for runners. These have all really helped us look after our feet and reduce our chances of injury.

That said, it’s also important to know when to see a specialist, especially if you have foot pain or issues with fungal infections or really sore feet, as there may be more that you need to do to get them back in action and pain-free.

For example, if you’re really suffering from foot pain from Plantar Fasciitis, perhaps you should consider trying some insoles specifically designed to help relieve foot pain, which you can put in your existing running shoes, or better still, try out Alleviate Therapy’s plantar fasciitis recovery system.

If you’re interested in more advice for trail runners, including overcoming injuries, training, gear guides, and more, follow the links below to head over to the relevant sections of our website:

One of Trail & Kale's co-founders, a mom, and guardian of our resident trail dog, Kepler, Helen can be found trail running with Kepler and enjoying road runs with her mini in a jogging stroller, all while testing out the latest running gear for our readers.


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