Thursday, January 22, 2009

Trashed Feet: Pay me now or pay me later

A conversation I had this past weekend reminded me at once how deliberate and bizarre our sport is. Finishing up a shakedown run on the afternoon before the Ghost Town 38.5 I remarked to Tim Long that this is the foot-trashing phase in my preparation for Western States. After a few comments about taking a hammer to my feet to really seal the deal I realized that truly this is a strange undertaking in which I’m involved.

For the past few years I have intentionally run all of my runs in January and February in all of my worn-out shoes. Switching shoes almost every day I have pulled out some of my favorites from past races to pound the pavement or run hill repeats just to feel the pain in my feet. I know to some this may seem weird but to me the feet are where it all begins and ends. Sure, there is the blister issue but a couple soaks in a creek followed by a 15 miler on dry, dusty trails will take care of that in a hurry. Plus, blisters are no reason to stop running.

No, more to the point, is the way running 100 miles weakens the feet. All those little muscles and bones that make up the foot need to be strong and tough and tried and true come race day. Hence, beat them up in January and February and they’ll be ready for the pounding in June with new shoes on fresh trails.

I know this may seem completely out there but it works for me. I’ve still got three more pairs of worn out shoes to go and it’s not even February. A couple of them have holes in them and the third has a patch on the heel that is about ready give out. These are the shoes in which I’ll pay my dues. I’ll feel those crunching bones when I get up in the morning and my heels will ache until lunch. But then, when things get rolling in March and April I’ll be ready to go. Pay now or pay later.

Finally, there is absolutely, positively no science to back this up. For all I know this technique is totally stupid. But, for the past five years it has worked for me. So, if you’re worried about trashed, tired, blistered feet bringing you down at Western States (if stomach issues or quads don’t do it first) give this technique a try.


Bob - said...

I have had issues with fuel and finally over come that to finish my first 100 in Oct. but I agree no way in hell will I stop from blisters....I have had some really bad ones LAST 8 seconds of "My BIG TOE BLISTER" video --Instant Classic :-) with Dusty my pacer in the background, commentating -- Take 8 secs to enjoy my pain.

anyways does make sense to trash the feet and like u said not so much the blister part but to run hard on them so when its race day u will not notice it as much... I just have to still get the proper toe box because I am unnecessarily smashing my poor toes :-(

Happy training AJW

Matt said...

Don't limit this "toughen up" strategy to just your feet. Also toughen yourself up in preparation for the late race nasea, mental confusion, and reduced coordination. Drink plenty of beer before and during the long run, instead of after. A 2-liter pack + 2 handhelds ought to do it.

Geoff said...

a couple years ago i would have thought this to be a crazy idea but lately i find myself doing the same thing

Anonymous said...

I'd say even if it isn't scientifically proven, your record and consistency in 100 mile events lends at least some support to your strategy.

I don't see how it's any different than the folks who wrap themselves up in warm clothing in June for training runs to get ready for Badwater (like the poor guy pacing you who you ended up dropping).

Paul Charteris said...

I agree with you here AJW. My experience on toughening up the feet came when I ran the Copper Canyon ultra around this time last year. What impressed me the solid musculature of their feet. Check out the feet on one of the older runners - Nacho.

I think the real thing is not so much making your feet blister-proof etc. but making them strong with huge chunks of "foot muscle" able to support you and propel you forward for hours on end.

Cheers, PC

Rod Bien said...

Okay, I own a running store so I'm sure I'm not going to get a lot of slack here but.....
What I would recommend is using a way more minimal shoe for beating up your feet. If you wear a 7 or 8 ounce shoe... I use racing flats, you can beat up your feet just fine but you won't be in a shoe that has your old "bad habits" on them....
anyway, that's my two cents.
Rod B.

Joy said...


Did you see that Jorge Pacheco is not running RR 100? It looks like a good race between you and Scott J for 1st.

AJW said...


Yes, I did see that. Joe P. told me Jorge has a torn Plantar which is a pretty bad injury. He'll be there to crew Mari but not in the race. He'll have a shorter build-up to WS but will perhaps be better rested. I guess it's FastEd's race to lose:)


Jamie N said...

met you briefly at Ghost Town. enjoy reading your stuff.
my blog is
cheers & good luck the remainder of 2009. Jamie

Anonymous said...

No, science is squarely on your side. there's been a good amount of research over the past few years which examines what effect, if any, cushioning has on running-stride impact. the results have been strange: in 4 separate studies (including one by Nike), impact shock INCREASES in the more cushioned shoe. now, here's the weird one: in one study, researchers tested old shoes against new ones. runners in the battered old kicks showed less impact on a force plate than they did wearing the new shoes. the reason? same reason gymnasts never wear shoes -- because your feet need to seek a solid surface for stability. the reason i'm so up on this stuff is because i spent three years researching it for my book on ultrarunning and the tarahumara of mexico. it's out this may:

Lewis Taylor said...

Hey Jizzle,
In keeping with this logic, how about we all take turns punching you in the kidneys at Cool, this year? I can't believe you're running RR in two days and haven't even started the kidney toughening phase of your training. WTF???

Unknown said...


Pretty wise. I'm glad to find a use for the bag of worn out shoes from last year that I have not yet thrown away! Your idea is also a good budget saver for the first part of the year, for there's no $$ right now to buy any new shoes.

Thank you for the excellent post.

Also, can you please translate the previous message? :)