Blisters, and Bug Bites, and Fractures–Oh My!
Meet my Feet.
I have always had weird feet. Like. Really weird feet. They are long and narrow in the middle, but my toes splay out wide. And it’s all because of this canyon sized gap between my big toe and the rest of my toes. My mom is convinced that the crazy toe gap was caused by childish stupidity: wearing my flip flops on the wrong feet. I’m convinced that I am a genetic mutant (haha). In addition to being all around weird looking, they are also two different sizes due to Ursula the Bursula’s existence on my right heel. Ursula the Bursula is just a bursa that I have had for as long as I can remember.
Anyway, my feet suck. I didn’t realize just how much my feet sucked until I was on the Long Trail. I have gotten blisters and lost toenails my entire life. In the life of a long distance runner, I just assumed this was normal. Blisters and foot pain seem to be a hot topic among hikers, but we never really talked about it in my running squad. I never knew that having messed up feet was abnormal, I just assumed everybody suffered.
These Boots Were(n’t) Made for Walking.
I started the Long Trail in my hiking boots–Merril Moabs. I had gone on two day backpacking trips and multiple day hikes with them prior to starting the LT. I assumed that they were what worked for me as I had always been relatively comfortable in them, plus they were already broken in. My feet started hurting almost immediately on the Long Trail.
When a blister starts to form, it almost feels like your socks are sandpaper rubbing against your skin. The spots become uncomfortably warm and unpleasant. Knowing this, I figured I could prevent the blisters before they popped up. When my feet started to feel raw, I would take my bag off, sit down, and put blister bandaids in the spots that hurt. It didn’t work. No amount of upkeep stopped the blisters from forming. By the end of the first day, I already had several. By the end of the first five days, my feet were raw and bleeding. My blisters were so big, I started naming them. Mister the Blister was the largest, Sister the blister was next to Mister. Fister the blister was in the crack between my toes, and no, I will not elaborate as to why he was named Fister.
Not only were my feet covered in blisters, but they ached after a measly five miles too. Not in the normal way that tired feet on a hike hurt, but in a way that would force me to slow my pace way down and walk gingerly on my feet for miles and miles. It was like torture (and I still enjoyed myself, so I guess that says something about me as a person!). I knew the ache was abnormal because everybody I talked to told me their feet were more or less fine. Mine felt like I was walking on hot coals. My shoes were also rubbing my bug bites raw, so that was fun!
Between the hiking boot blisters and the pain, hiking was becoming more and more difficult. I couldn’t wait to get into town and go to an outfitter to figure out what was going on with my feet.
Four Days Later, We Waltzed Into Town.
Town. The land of awe, food, and comfortable beds. Where there are showers and clean clothes. Pizza galore. At least, this is what most hikers lust after in a town–Not me. All I wanted was to buy new shoes that would magically fix my feet.
I got myself set up with some new shoes, Salomon trail runners this time around instead of boots. The woman who sold me the shoes couldn’t recommend the trail runners enough. She told me that most thru hikers from the Appalachian Trail who came through Vermont wore them. The reason being that they are lighter, comfier, and easier to break in than boots are. In addition, they dry out much more easily.
And not that my feet needed to get any weirder, but I also found out that they are flat…Which is likely the reason they were aching so much throughout the day. I was sold some arch supports and released back into the wild.
Bye Bye Blisters, Hello Fracture.
I walked another 150 miles in the Salomons and didn’t get another blister (that I can remember anyway), but I did wind up with a fractured foot. I don’t blame the shoes–it was a stress fracture and was probably caused by walking for so long in boots that didn’t really fit. Not only that, but prior to my hike on the Long Trail, I had been vaguely planning to run a half marathon, in which all my training took place on hard pavement. I was also using old shoes that were probably way too worn out for the miles I was putting on them. I was setting my feet up for failure from the very beginning.
But other than the fractured foot thing, I absolutely LOVED the feel of trail runners. I could walk through puddles and know the shoes would dry out within an hour and they were actually the right shape for my foot. I have always had a really hard time finding hiking boots narrow enough to comfortably hold my foot in place, but the trail runners were perfect. It was as if they actually realized that different foot shapes and sizes actually exist. The only thing I didn’t love about the Salomons was the narrow toe box. Like I said earlier, my toes are wider than the rest of my feet, and the narrow toe box squished my toes together in a way that worried me. While I never did get blisters from them, I always felt like I could get them between my toes.
Thus, my quest for a better trail runner started. My doctor suggested Altra Lone peaks (at the time I had no idea just how popular in the hiking community they are). They are literally the most comfortable shoe I have ever worn, what with the narrow middle and wide toe box. These are the shoes I will be bringing with me on the Appalachian Trail, and will hopefully be the type of shoe I use throughout my time on the trail. My only regret is that I know that I will have to replace them every 400-500 miles, but honestly? I think I will suck it up for the comfort of it all.
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