Walking 60 miles in the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® can take a toll on you physically, and the most commonly affected body part is sure to be your feet. Blisters are one of the most frequently treated medical issues on the Komen 3-Day, and a bad blister (or two, or ten…) can sideline an otherwise healthy walker.
The good news is you don’t have to resign yourself to living with blisters. There are steps you can take to stop a blister before it starts and further actions you can take to deal with a blister if you do get one.
What is a blister? – The type of blisters that most 3-Day® walkers experience are friction blisters (as opposed to, say, a blister from a burn or an insect bite). When part of your foot rubs up against something—your sock or shoe or another body part, such as toes rubbing against toes—repeatedly, the top layer of skin will separate from the underlying layer. The separation will fill with fluid, causing a painful blister.
Stay Dry – Moisture can exacerbate the friction that causes blisters, so it’s important to keep your feet as dry as possible. If you’re prone to excessive sweating, consider using foot powder to minimize the moisture. It’s also a good idea to change your socks midway through a long walk (calculate the halfway point of a 10+ mile training walk and stop there, or swap socks at the lunch stop on the 3-Day).
Socks – Speaking of socks, choosing the right ones can mean the difference between blister-free tootsies and a painful walk. Stay away from 100% cotton socks and opt instead for socks made with some sort of moisture-wicking material (look for names like Coolmax® or Dri-Fit on the packaging), which will draw moisture away from your skin. Also, make sure your socks fit snugly and don’t bunch up inside your shoes or around your toes; folds in fabric are a common cause of friction blisters.
Shoes – Good shoes might well be the most important gear for 3-Day walkers, so take the time to get yourself fitted with shoes that are right for your feet. We recommend that you buy shoes from an outfitter who is knowledgeable about athletic footwear, as they will be able to see how you walk and put you in shoes that are right for your particular stride. Consider shopping at a store that specializes in running/walking shoes, as opposed to a “big box” sporting goods store. Taking the time to find the right shoes could ultimately make the difference in whether you get blisters or not.
Preventive Treatments – Aside from the foot powder mentioned above, there are other pre-walk treatments you can apply to prevent blisters before they start. I’ve had great success with the “foot lube” method. Lubricating products such as SportSlick™, HikeGoo BodyGlide® or even regular old petroleum jelly can be applied directly to the skin; slab it on your heels, the balls of your feet, between all your toes and anywhere else that’s prone to friction on your own feet. Put your clean, dry socks on over your gelled-up feet, and you’re good to go (and of course, you’ll repeat the process when you change your socks at the halfway point of your walk). You’ll feel like you’re walking through Jell-O for the first few steps, but before long you won’t even notice it. Meanwhile, the lubricant will keep a slick layer between your skin and your socks, never letting enough friction build up to form a blister. I’ve been using this method for over 10 years and have not gotten a single blister in that time.
Ouch! – What if, in spite of your best prevention efforts, you still find yourself feeling pain in a particular spot on your foot? We use the term “hot spot” to define these pre-blister points, because it will literally feel like a little area of localized heat or irritation on your skin. This is not a full-blown blister yet, so as soon as you start to feel a hot spot coming on, stop walking and treat it by applying more powder or lubricant, or bandaging the spot to protect it from further friction. Many walkers prefer bandaging products like moleskin or molefoam over other adhesive bandages, but as with all of your 3-Day gear and products, you should try them out during your months of training to discover what works best for you personally.