What Beginner Runners Need to Know for Foot Health
Back in 2013, I ran the Chicago Marathon. At that time, I thought “One and done!” However, as the weather is nicer and I love taking long walks on the Prairie Path, the urge to start running again begins. Since I have not run in a while, I have to go back to basics and consider myself a beginner runner. There are a few key things to remember for foot health as a beginner runner.
Be Sure You Have the Proper Shoes
As an artist’s craft is only as good as their tools and a musician is only as good as their instrument, so an athlete needs the right gear. It is important to make sure you have the right shoes. If you truly are going to run, be sure to have proper running shoes. Many people think they can just use their cross-trainers or their court shoes (tennis shoes, basketball shoes) for running, but this is not the case. A running shoe has specific features that allow you to have increased support in areas that tend to have more stress when you run, for example more padding and support in ball of the foot and the heel at the moment of heel strike. Whereas if you look at court shoes such as volleyball shoes, tennis shoes or basketball shoes, they have more support for lateral movement, the inside and outside of the foot and toes, as that is needed for those specific sports. In order to make sure you have the correct size, it is important to have your foot measured. When was the last time you were fitted for shoes? Many people buy the same shoe size they have bought for the past 20 years. However, as time passes, your shoe size may increase. Your foot “grows” over time; the bones themselves do not grow, however the ligaments and tendons may stretch out due to hormonal changes, weight fluctuation, or hereditary reasons. Therefore, you may have been a size 9 over 20 years ago, but now you may be a half size or even a whole size larger. The only way to make sure is to have your feet sized using a Brannock device or similar at a shoe store. It is optimal to go to a shoe store that specializes in running shoes as the sales person can work with you to advise you of the type of shoe that would be best suited for your foot type. Plus, many of the specialty running stores have a treadmill on site. This way, you can try your new shoes on and take them for a spin in real time. Do not be surprised if the shoe size that is recommended for you is a half size larger than what the Brannock device measures; this is because as you run, your feet may expand and you may need that extra half size to give you a little more room in the toe box. In addition, you want to try to prevent your toes from bumping up against the end of the shoe to prevent blisters and nail conditions such as runner’s toenails (blackened toenails due to microtrauma and bleeding of the nail bed, or nail dystrophy.) And no, it is not acceptable to buy a pair of shoes because it is the right color or your friend has the same pair!
Invest in the Right Type of Socks
As stated above, you need the right gear to help set you up for success. Avoid 100% cotton socks and instead look for socks that have cotton blended with a material that will wick moisture away from your skin, such as a nylon/cotton blend. You want to decrease the amount of moisture that accumulates on your feet in order to prevent skin conditions such as blisters and athlete’s foot. Athlete’s foot is a condition where, due to the environment of a dark, enclosed, moist space, fungus will thrive. Fungus affects the skin by causing itchiness, redness, and sometimes even peeling and cracking of the skin between the toes or at the heels. Fungal infections of the skin can travel to the nails and cause fungal nails, which cause the toenails to appear hard, crumbly, thickened, and may have a yellowish or grayish discoloration. The proper socks can prevent that moisture buildup that may cause the environment for fungal growth. In addition, some socks come with an increased elasticity and compression in the arch, and some come with additional padding in the ball of the foot and the heel for extra cushioning. Another consideration is compression running socks. These are typically knee length and come in different compression measurements, most commonly between 8-12 mmHg. Compression socks cause increased venous return from the tips of your toes of both of your lower extremities to your heart, and the increased return is also more efficient. In addition, compression prevents excessive swelling, or edema, in your feet and legs. It will take a bit of trial and error in order for you to find the sock type that fits best for you. But it is so important in taking care of your foot health!
Cross Training is as Important as Running
As a beginner runner, cross training is as important as running itself. From dynamic stretches before and after a run to light weight training or yoga, cross training allows you to use other muscles that may not be used when running. It helps increase your core strength, which in turn allows your running posture to support your lower extremities and allows you to use your muscles more efficiently. Stretching also increases flexibility, which helps promote balance, proprioception, and prevents injuries. Plus, it’s fun to challenge your body to different movements over time! It prevents your body from overuse injuries that can plague runners, especially as you mature in your sport.
Listen to Your Feet!
If you are having pain or discomfort in your feet after running, it is important to listen to your feet. It is easy to start too much too soon; to prevent this, I recommend using a training program. There are many training programs online that may ease you into running, perhaps by starting with walk/run (a combination of walking for a few minutes with intermittent running for a few minutes, then repeat) at first, then progress to running/jogging. Keeping a running log is also very helpful as you can plan ahead and look back to see what you have accomplished! If you do have pain in your feet, you should be evaluated. It could be something that our doctors can help you with after a thorough exam, X-rays, and a diagnosis. Our objective it to get you out of pain, and help keep you out of pain in order for you to continue on your running journey. It can be something as simple as the need for increased arch support to prevent a tendinitis, or even a diagnosis of an underlying, previously unknown condition that may sideline you such as a stress fracture, which needs immobilization in a CAM (controlled ankle motion) boot. If you are feeling pain, it is important to take a break and find out how to treat your feet in order to return to your running quickly, safely, and injury-free.