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 a nasty blister, plantar fasciitis, or possible stress fractures, any one of these can stop you 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 is not bad for your feet if you look after them appropriately!
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 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, 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 acute and long-term injuries to 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.
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 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 had it since I can remember, and definitely before I even owned a pair of running shoes. Running hasn’t made the hard skin on my feet get worse or better, 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
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 reduce 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. Our feet have different shapes and ‘heights’ – and 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.
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 the 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
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 helping them to recover after intense training sessions. You can even combine the massage with the moisturiser you may need to help with that hard skin 😉
I like to massage my feet in two ways – firstly with my hands, and secondly 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 (pain from inflammation on the bottom of your foot).
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 include 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.
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.
If you’re interested in more advice for trail runners, including overcoming injuries, training, gear guides and more, click the buttons below to head over to the relevant sections of our website: