How to Avoid Blisters on a Run

Ow, two, three, four
Ouch, ouch, three, four
Owie, owie, oxen-free
Oooh, ieee, ow-four

The first time I ran without socks in an Olympic-distance triathlon, the last two miles were torture. The mantra above is what kept one foot moving in front of the other.

After crossing the finish line, I took off my shoes to find a nice crop of blisters on both feet. While I had blisters that remained closed, several other competitors were showing me their bleeding feet with blisters that were broken and open wounds. Ouch and yuck!

The best care for blisters is to prevent getting them in the first place sometimes this is easier said than done. The three major contributors to blisters include heat, moisture and friction. How to eliminate the blister fertilizers seems to vary between individuals. Also, a cruel twist is what worked for the last race may or may not work for the next one.

Wearing moisture-wicking socks is one remedy that can reduce or eliminate blisters altogether. Some competitors prefer single-layer, thin socks while others prefer the double-layer socks. Wearing double-layer socks keeps feet cool and dry by wicking moisture. They reduce friction on feet by transferring the friction to the area between the two sock layers (as opposed to the foot and sock interface.)

Some runners get blisters even if they wear socks. Others are looking for fast transitions in a triathlon and don't want to bother with socks. Now what?

Four major categories to combat blisters include lubricants, powders, hydration and taping. Interestingly, it has been found that rubbing moist skin produces more friction than rubbing either very wet or very dry skin. Lubricants help reduce friction by keeping skin-to-skin or skin-to-shoe areas wet and slick. Powders and antiperspirants reduce friction by keeping feet very dry.

Keeping your body hydrated and in a state of homeostasis helps to prevent your feet from swelling. If you over-hydrate and take in excess sodium, fluid retention causes your toes to swell up into Vienna sausages and your feet into potatoes. Swollen toes can rub on each other and swollen feet can rub on the shoe. If you underhydrate and lose too much sodium from sweating, fluid tends to accumulate in your feet because you actually retain fluid in extremities. Underhydrate and its sausage and potato time again. Fluid balance is important.

Some athletes cannot get by with lubricants or powders and swear by taping with duct tape. There are other tapes that can be used but duct tape seems to be a favorite due to its slick surface. If you are a multisport athlete and you tape feet before the swim, a tape adherent can be used to keep the tape job intact through the swim and bike. Immediately after taping, be sure to use a powder on all the edges of the tape to prevent rocks and other debris from sticking to the tacky border.

Taping feet prior to the swim can be a problem because the tape can come loose, sand and dirt can get stuck in the tape and if the tape job is too tight, swollen feet begin complaining during the run. For these reasons, certain athletes prefer to apply tape to the inside of their shoes. They tape seams on the top and sides of the shoes, the heel area, the insole and shoe interface or any other area that creates a hot spot or a rub spot on their feet.

Ive touched on just a few areas of foot care for training and racing. An excellent resource for more information is Fixing Your Feet, Prevention and Treatment for Athletes by John Vonhof.

Fast, two, three, four
Light, two, three, four
Strong, two, three, four
Happy, two, feet, four


Gale Bernhardt was the USA Triathlon team coach at the 2003 Pan American Games and 2004 Athens Olympics. Her first Olympic experience was as a personal cycling coach at the 2000 Games in Sydney. She currently serves as one of the World Cup coaches for the International Triathlon Union's Sport Development Team. Thousands of athletes have had successful training and racing experiences using Gale's pre-built, easy-to-follow cycling and triathlon training plans. Let Gale and Active Trainer help you succeed.

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