A bit more than two months: that’s all you have left before setting off on the first stage of the 32nd MARATHON DES SABLES. Obviously, you’ve already thought of everything: your bag, your food, your equipment… and you train every day, or almost. Well done!
But… have you thought about your feet? They are going to be your two most loyal companions during MDS, and the most in demand. Heat, sand, perspiration, confinement, hygiene problems, and 250 km to cover: in other words, you’ll be giving those plates of meat a hard time. Given that blisters are the main reason for dropping out of MDS, it’s clearly worth leaving nothing to chance.
“About half of the runners come to get treatment for foot problems” - Frédéric Compagnon, MDS Medical Director
• The heat and physical effort are going to make your feet swell. Buy shoes at least one size bigger than usual, or even two sizes;
• Set off with shoes you’ve already worn in, definitely not brand-new ones;
• Train several times, on quite long distances at a slow pace, with all of your equipment to make sure that your shoes are suitable;
• Do not change shoe type just before the race, because that kind of change takes time;
• Do not choose “complicated” shoes, because gadgets tend to deteriorate in the desert;
• Do not take “watertight” shoes, what you want is the breathable type;
• Adjust your equipment (cushioning, souls, etc.) to correspond to your stride.
Wear thin, water-repellent socks and never put them on when damp. Take at least one spare pair, and wash them every other day.
Designed to stop sand getting into your shoes, gaiters are a must if you don’t want to stop every two minutes (no kidding) to empty your shoes. Different types are available (to stick on, sew on or simply put around the shoe); the most efficient ones are those that join onto your shoes. Don’t buy them at the last minute and then put them on, you might need to make a visit to the shoe repairer for adjustments.
Efficient foot preparation needs to start about two months before the race: which is right about now! This is the routine that the DOCTROTTERs recommend.
Apply tannic acid solution to the whole foot (avoiding any cuts) every day. Different preparations:
Pharmaceutical: 60% alcohol (115 g) + camphor (8 g) + phormol (5 g).
Personal: aqueous citric acid solution (lemon juice), henna, etc.
Commercial: Tano, Randopatt, etc.
Add a daily application of anti-chafing cream: NOK (Akileine), anti-chafing range (Pedirelax), etc.
Carefully cut your nails with rounded edges, if necessary go and see a podiatrist.
Well-prepared feet and the right equipment aren’t everything: you need to take care of them throughout the race.
After each stage, clean your feet. A few centilitres of water on a small cloth is all you need. Make sure you remove all of the sand from the skin folds. Don’t, however, soak your feet, which would make your skin more fragile and increase maceration.
After cleaning, dry your feet with your toes spread out in the sun (if it’s still up when you finish) and wind (always present!). Also dry your socks and shoes. Don’t walk barefoot, it’s better to wear your old dry socks or your ultra-light flip-flops.
You can use a moisturising cream to regenerate your feet every evening. You can also (and especially) use an anti-chafing cream before setting off on each stage. On the longest stages, you can stop to apply more cream. Don’t wait for the rubbing first!
“Our preparation tips put chance on your side, but they don’t guarantee perfect feet on the finish line” - Steven Legrand, podiatrist on MDS
Unfortunately, there is no miracle solution to avoid blisters, and even if you scrupulously follow the above protocol, you might get one or two. But don’t panic, if a blister appears:
• Do not wait! Untreated blisters and chafing won’t get better on their own.
• If you know how to treat them, do it, if not go and visit First Aid or the Doc Trotters.
• No single treatment works for all blisters, it depends on how serious it is, where it is, and the state of your skin.
• Do not use Compeed to prevent blisters.
To wrap up, a little reminder that can be useful: blisters are always the consequence of several factors:
• The intrinsic “quality” of your skin.
• How you prepared your feet (or didn’t).
• Personal biological factors (nutrition, metabolism, skin hydration, etc.).
• Your physical preparation (number of kilometres, terrain, etc.).
• The difficulty of the race (terrain, gradient, etc.).
• Your equipment (shoes, gaiters, bag weight, etc.).
• Weather conditions (heat, humidity).
All that remains is to limit the impact of factors that you can influence: they all feed into the success of your MDS.