Blisters, bruises and bloody toenails: the foot horrors of MDS

The post you have all been waiting for. The horrors awaiting your feet when you undertake the Marathon des Sables.

There is some good news and some bad news.

The bad? Those pictures you can google (type marathon des sables feet and see what happens) are for real. I saw plenty of mashed up feet during my week in the Sahara. Toenails hanging off, huge blisters under the big toe, the whole under carriage of someone’s foot hanging off. You name it, it happens.

The good news? There is lots you can do to prevent the worst cases happening to you. Some people do not get blisters AT ALL.

So in no particular order, here are my top tips for keeping your feet healthy during the Marathon des Sables…

1) Pre-prepare your feet.

Unfortunately this varies from person to person as to effectiveness and what to do. Many people use surgical spirit to harden up feet. Others run with sand in their trainers. The good news is if you are running heavy miles, your feet are already well on the way to being ready. I think the only thing I would do differently is do some training without socks to really toughen the feet up.

The one annoying thing is I did daily bikram yoga two weeks prior. This is great for heat preparation but not so great for your feet. I developed two blisters prior to leaving!

2) Learn how to tape your feet.

There are two types of foot taping you need to know about, and they differ depending on whether you are back at camp or out running:-
a) Fixing hotspots.
As soon as you feel a hotspot, stop. Trust me, the few minutes you’ll take to sort it out will save you hours if it goes on to develop into a bad blister. I used compeeds on hotspots when out running. If I was back at camp I would clean and air it, then pre-race the next day I would make sure it was dressed with tape.

b) Taping blisters.
If you’ve got an actual blister out running, don’t compeed it! The compeed will melt into your skin – grim. You will need to clean it with an alcoholic wipe, pop it with a sterile needle, and tape it. If you can get to a checkpoint, I would get Doc Trotters to do this for you as they can do it in a sheltered spot, and with iodine as well, which helps to dry the blister out.

3) Use Doc Trotters wisely.

Some people love Doc Trotters. Some hate them. Some say they just slice blisters off, leaving them open to infection. My personal experience of them was very good. I preferred using them in camp as they could clean my feet, and fix and dress blisters in a sterile environment. They were also far better at taping than I was. The only problem with them is you have to wait for ages before you can see someone and they did become more slap dash towards the end of the week – but I don’t blame them. Who knows how many stinky feet they had seen by that point!

4) Take a basic, but not elaborate kit.

My essential kit included:
Zeozorb talc
(Injinji toe socks)

Alcohol wipes
Sterile needles
Soft gauze
2x different sizes of tape – dream tape and hapla. I preferred hapla.

Have it easy to hand on your run. You can pick up pretty much everything else you may need from Doc Trotters.

5) Learn what works for you.

This is unfortunately a trial and error. I personally went for zeosorb (like talc but better), Injinji toe socks, then bodyglide over the socks. Halfway through the day I would change my socks and reapply the zeosorb and bodyglide.

Other people swore by Hydropel. You just need to try different things out beforehand.

Other resources: Marathon des Sables: mental preparation