“After day one, my feet were cracked, infected and severely blistered causing immense pain. I was determined to do everything I could to avoid repeating the same mistakes for my next race.”
Foot care is important y'all!
Holly Weston is a keen adventure and multi-sport racer and was recently reminded the importance of good foot care during a harsh test of her own feet at the GODZone Adventure Race.
Here are the best ways to look after your feet, which she wished she had learnt beforehand, from experts with a lifetime of experience!
Plan on getting your feet wet!
The Fiordland GODZone Debacle: as told by 'Mikey of the Roving Truckies':
In the NZ adventure racing scene, the word ‘trench foot’ or ‘zombie foot’ is thrown around quite a bit. It has become a bit of a catch all phrase for fungal/bacterial infections related to feet. During the Fiordland GODZone (GZ), the Waitutu lodge became a triage unit for racers with varying degrees of zombie foot.
It was like a medical outpost on the western front, with soldiers strewn across the trenches, and two athletes faced the prospect of gangrene and amputation. Fortunately, no one lost a limb, but the rumours were that 2 more hours without medical attention would have resulted in a hoppy existence for a couple of unlucky blokes.
Mikey pondering if he followed his own advice enough...
Prevention and Maintenance:
What is trench foot and why are we so concerned about it in New Zealand?
I knew exactly the right person to talk to on this topic – Michael Mitchell (“Mikey” from above). This is what Mikey had to share about what he terms “footing the AR bill” -
Our team (the Roving Truckies) took our foot care at GZ Rotorua very seriously, and prevention began before the race. Here are some of the key steps we took:
Step 1. 10 days before the race there was application of antifungals (Lamisil or miconazole) each day. Lamisil is stronger, but more expensive. The purpose of this is to get on top of any fungus which was already living on our feet.
Step 2. 3 days before the race: daily application of betadine. This is to tackle the bacterial component of the dreaded zombie. If you do this before sleep, you will need a thin pair of socks so you don’t stain the sheets!
Step 3. Fungus lives in socks and shoes. If possible, wear new socks for the race. I wore Injinji toe socks. Some people like to wear a thin pair of merino/ synthetic socks to wick away the moisture and a second pair over top which ensures the friction is between socks as opposed to between skin and sock.
Step 4. Gurney Goo/Palmer Jizz (contact Shaun Palmer - DO NOT GOOGLE)/ Vaseline was applied at least 3 - 4 times per day during the race. This was timed with other tasks such as transition, redistributing weight, dehydrated meal etc.
This is applied over the whole foot and serves three purposes:
- It creates a moisture barrier and reduces pruning
- It reduces friction.
- Anti-bacterial properties in the product via tea tree and manuka.
Step 5. Minimize the hassle:
- Personal foot care pack with a small refillable pottle of Goo, compeed (blisters care), strapping tape. Keep this in an easy to access place (eg. hip belt). NO one should be saying “Who has the Gurney Goo?” you should have your own F@&*N Goo!
- Gaiters which don’t need to be taken off to take off your shoe.
- Quick lace shoes.
Step 6. Foot care in transitions:
- The best weapon against the zombie is dry feet. The best time to dry them out is transition/sleep.
- When coming into transition, get shoes and socks off and into dry sandals. A clean, dry rag (personal - do not share with teammates as this will spread germs) can be used to accelerate the drying process. Ideally the support crew have sprinkled a drying powder (Mycota or Talcum powder) in your dry shoes.
- Potassium permanganate footbath: Ideally 10-15 minutes. Be very careful with the concentration of the solution, too strong can be very dangerous.
- Before your dry and germ-free feet go back into fresh dry socks, lather ‘em up with gurney goo again.
There is never a wrong time to try and dry your feet!
Don't take our word for it! Here is some other Expert Advice:
Rosie Shakespeare (Freedom Fitness and Coaching) was one of the few I spoke to that would strap her feet prior to the race start. She said this was initially for her muscles to aid movement but realised it saved her feet from blisters.
Will Jones and Odie Reugg from the Further Faster Fledglings (2019 GZ Colts division winners) spoke of their team’s approach of applying Gurney Goo to their feet each day in the week leading up to the race. They turn up to expedition races with trimmed toenails, at least one pair of socks per day, and multiple trail shoes that drain well (using 2-3 pairs during the race to change pressure points).
Team Further Faster Fledglings are all about free flow around the toes post race!
Emily Wilson (A member of the 2019 GZ winning team) placed a lot on shoe choice, preferring cushier shoes like Hoka Mafates. Her advice was simple and clear: “Know your shoes, do enough time on your feet with weight, apply stuff (any kind of anti-bacterial petroleum based lube) early and often to keep those feet as dry and wrinkle free as possible”.
Ali Wilson (team Highland Events and 2x Coast to Coast podium getter) says she wore a pair of shoes slightly larger, would pre load all her shoes with athlete’s foot powder, and swap out for a dry pair at each transition.
Tim Farrant (adventure racing guru and Rogaine master) shared that during this year’s GZ, despite a very vigilant footcare regime, two of his teammates started courses of antibiotics mid race to deal with skin infections. Tim’s main advice was: Don't muck around too long. There is an inevitability of skin infections in a multi-day race-- chances are you will not recover or heal up mid-race. Rather, racing is about delivering four bodies in various states of disrepair as quickly as possible to the waiting ambulance on the finish line!
To finish up, I will leave you with the words of Sia Svendsen, our local adventure encyclopaedia, acclaimed multi-sporter and adventure racer.
"Our feet begin our journey whether it’s for adventure racing or trail running and are one of the most important links in successful training and racing. Too often we take them for granted and abuse our feet to the point where we might not be able to carry on. Only then do we remember how crucial it is to nurture them before, during and after the race.”
Pictured here at the finish line at Lake Te Anau is Andy Magness, from Bend Racing/Fear Society.
Best foot-care tips for adventure racing and multi-sport:
- Shoes: get shoes that are comfortable, well-draining, and have 2-3 pairs for longer races, and consider going up a size to help when feet swell.
- Socks: have new socks for each race day and find socks that reduce rubbing such as Injinji.
- Pre-race footcare: softening feet with Gurney Goo and trimming toenails can reduce blisters during the race. Reduce fungal infections prior to race day.
- During the race: care for your feet! Ensure that they are dried out regularly, socks and shoes are changed, and some sort of anti-chafe is applied.
- Find what works for you and your feet, they are essential to your race so take time to learn what they need! All feet and skin are different, so mix and match foot care to see what works best for your feet.
Written by Further Faster Firebirds Athlete, Holly Weston and Mountain Man Michael Mitchell.
Massive thanks to GodZone granting permission for the use of the photos and putting on an EPIC event!!