In endurance sports like adventure racing and ultra
running, keeping my feet happy and healthy for hours or days on the go has
always been difficult. Lord knows I've learned the hard way: During Primal
Quest, a 10-day adventure race in Utah last year, the freak combination of
shoe-invading desert silt, 110-degree heat, and 40+ miles of trekking set off a
reaction that dug deep 50-cent-piece-size blisters into the back of my heels.
This took place on the first day of the race. I was then forced to trek,
paddle, climb and bike for 9 days with raw, electrifyingly-painful feet,
utilizing medical tents for aid when available, pain relieving drugs, duct
tape, super glue, and sheer will to keep on.
(See my story on the race here: http://thegearjunkie.com/adventure-primal-quest-adventure-race)
Since that race, I take foot care -- and foot/shoe/sock
preparation -- quite seriously for any event. A case in point was this past
weekend, when I competed on a two-person team in an 8-hour adventure race in
central Minnesota, the annual MNOC Adventure Race. The race course would be
venturing through deep woods and swamps. We'd wade and swim through rivers.
We'd trail run and paddle a kayak. Bushwhacking was to be a large part of the
ordeal as well.
As such, my footwear situation needed to be unique.
Regular trail runners and synthetic socks would not cut it.
To prepare my feet, I started at home, trimming my
toenails back. This is important to lessen the chance of contact with a nail pounding
on the front of your shoe. Toenails may also rub neighboring toes, which can
Next, at the race, I applied Hydropel, a gooey salve made
by Genesis Pharmaceutical Inc. that does a good job eliminating friction both
between your foot and the sock as well as the skin-on-skin rub between toes. It
repels water, an important trait for events like this. The product comes in
small, 2-ounce squeeze bottles, which cost about $13 each. It's not cheap, but
used somewhat conservatively the bottle should last you for five to 10
(See my full Hydropel review from The Gear Junkie here:
Step No. 2 was socks, and for this I employed Inov-8's
(http://www.inov-8.com) new Debrisoc, which are essentially merino wool sport
socks with a built-in flap that folds over the shoe's opening to create a
gaiter. These all-in-one innovations, which cost about $22, seal off your foot
from sticks, rocks and mud. A small hook in front stretches the flap over the
laces. Elastic bands loop underneath to keep it on tight.
The Debrisoc is a cool invention. It fits nice and solid,
and the all-purpose miracle material of merino wool is hard to beat in any
season, as it breathes, insulates, cool, wicks, and then dries somewhat
As promised, the Debrisoc kept all debris at bay during
the race. I never once had to dump out my shoes, despite wading in mud,
swimming, running through swamps, and bushwhacking a couple miles through thick
woods, jumping logs, tangling in raspberry vines, and sometimes practically
swimming through bush as thick as it comes.
(See my full Debrisoc review from The Gear Junkie here:
For shoes, I also went with Inov-8, employing the
company's RocLite 285s. These aren't trail runners. They aren't shoes you'd
wear for a jog on the street, either. U.K.-based Inov-8 Ltd. makes shoes for
the oddball sport of mountain running. I love their minimalist design for
orienteering and shorter races like this 8-hour event in central Minnesota.
The RocLite 285s have a low-profile midsole, which
essentially means there is very little cushioning underfoot, and its upper is a
thin synthetic mesh. They drain water well once submerged, they fit my feet
perfectly, and they are fast and light little buggers.
Final note: For ultra events I recommend sizing up at
least a 1/2-size increment from your normal shoe. During long events, when
you're on the go for hours and hours, your feet will swell. The extra area
inside the shoe is mandatory for keeping things happy and healthy down there in
the land of blisters and chafe.