I’m taking a look at another piece of gear this week, and that’s socks! I feel like socks are pretty underestimated when running, but they’re still important. I was provided with a 2-pack of the inov-8 All Terrain Sock Mid; it’s the first time I’ve used inov-8 socks, so I was interested to see how they’d go.
There are a lot of different sock options out there, in terms of brand, price, material, and style. I’ve tried merino socks, double layer ones, toe socks, and material blends favoured by different brands. When you get the right sock, you don’t think about it very often. When you get the wrong one, you could end up with blisters that slow you down (or stop you!).
Personally, one thing that is a ‘must have’ regardless of brand and material is that the sock can’t be a ‘no-show’ style. I can wear those to work or casually, but I’ve found they end up dropping down too often and then I risk a blister on my ankle from the shoe rubbing. I feel much better in a low crew style sock. Other than that, I haven’t noticed a particular pattern to when I get blisters, based on which socks I’m wearing. The pattern seems more related to what terrain I’ve been running on and if there’s grit in my shoe.
In general I tend to favour Icebreaker and Injinji brands. For shorter runs I haven’t worried about cushioning / thickness too much, but when I’m doing something longer (think multiple stages) I have been known to take a pair of slightly more cushioned socks as a ‘treat’ to make up for the abuse I’m putting my feet through. This is probably more a mental thing than an actual physical treat, but sometimes that’s just what you need!
Back to the inov-8 All terrain Sock Mid. First impressions a few weeks back were that it was a slightly more cushioned sock that felt pretty comfortable / warm. They are asymmetrical fit socks, and while the sock description online doesn’t specify this is because of different support features, they do have a different stitching around the arch of the foot. It also makes race mornings more entertaining as I do have a tendency to put them on without checking which is which, whoops!
The socks have been comfortable to wear during the races so far, to the point that I forget about them. The extra cushioning feels nice around the heels and toes, and there’s a band of what feels like slightly more supportive stitching around the middle of the foot and the arch, which I quite like. They have also worn and washed well so far, especially after the mud at Tapapakanga! These socks will be staying in my regular sock rotation for trail running.
I’ve mentioned blisters in relation to socks and shoes. I’ve had my fair share pop up during races in the past, but fortunately all relatively minor and, while uncomfortable, not race-ending. I have seen others with race-ending blisters and it’s definitely something I hope to avoid. I actually went into my first ultra with very little clue how to tape my feet or any other knowledge of preventing blisters, which was a little ill advised, I think. I got very lucky on that race and quickly tried to pick up different ways to deal with my feet.
I know now, for instance, that I don’t typically get blisters from water (or wet socks / shoes). I did in my last ultra, for the first time ever, but generally my feet are pretty good about a dunking. I am quite susceptible to getting blisters from grit in my shoe, and try to be aware of anything getting into my shoe that can rub. I also know some particular pairs of shoes give me a blister regardless of what I do to try to avoid it, so I tend to avoid those shoes unless there is a particularly compelling reason for me to wear them. Knowing how your feet are going to react means you can prepare properly before your race. And by preparing, I mean tape!
I’ve become a great fan of paper tape since that first ultra. It’s amazing stuff! If I’m doing something long or I suspect I will end up with hot spots (precursor to a blister) I will put paper tape over the area (e.g. the ankle) or around it (e.g. individual toes). I don’t usually put tape on before shorter distance races, but I put some over my ankles before the race at Tawharanui on the off chance hot spots might occur. Usually it stays put pretty well, but this time it didn’t and I had to pause for a moment to remove the tape that went AWOL and apply some new paper tape to my ankles. All good. If I’m doing a longer race I will tape most of the potential problem spots I’ve noticed over the last few years.
I believe the official best method for healing blisters is to leave them to themselves, but I’ve found that if they’re in a place that gets pressure when you walk (particularly if you’re still in a race!) it’s better to deal with them as you go. For me this means clean with an alcohol swab, pop with a sterile needle in a couple of places, apply paper tape, then cut some fabric tape and apply over the top, making sure it is smooth with no raised edges. You may need to get creative with the shape of the fabric tape so it sits properly. If you need to you can pop the blister again through the tape without having to remove it, though you do need to be careful not to stab yourself… Note that I’m not a medical professional, this is just something I’ve learnt over the years and it’s served me well. A super basic kit I often throw in my pack includes a small swiss army knife, needle or safety pin, a couple of alcohol prep pads, a roll of paper tape, a roll of fabric tape, and a couple of plasters and / or blister patches for fun. I’ll change it up depending on what’s required according to the compulsory gear of different races, but that’s the basics.
There’s a good book that goes into all sorts of foot-related information called Fixing Your Feet, by John Vonhof. It’s a useful reference and covers all sorts from looking after blisters, to lacing techniques for different foot issues.
Enough about feet. Hopefully the weather calms down a little bit so a run outside can still be a possibility!
Race Motivator for the Bivouac Outdoor Wild Auckland Trail Series