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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Running a marathon: How to prevent chafing callouses and blisters

Chafing callouses and blisters are synonymous with the word “marathon”. Areas most affected are the soles of the feet, the sides and insides of the toes, back of the heel, inner thigh, groin, armpits and the nipples.

Any material that slides and rubs be it shoes, socks, shorts or a singlet will eventually rub the skin raw, as will any skin that rubs on skin. Wet skin or material; be that caused from sweating, plashing water on the body or from rain will accelerate the rate of damage.

Thickened hard skin, in the form of callouses is the body’s protective mechanism against repetitive rubbing and pressure and is typically seen on the side of the feet toes and back of the heels. Unfortunately, callouses are prone to further rubbing and consequent irritation because of their prominence relative to surrounding healthy skin.

Prevention of damage to skin consists of several measures, depending on the problem. These centre mainly about reducing rubbing and irritation by careful selection of clothing, socks and shoes, ensuring proper fitting of shoes and protecting vulnerable areas like the groin and the nipples.

  • The first thing to do is to ensure that your running shoes are the correct size, both in length and width. Get your shoes properly fitted by the shoe store. Be aware that one foot may be larger than the other. Wear the type of sports socks that you intend to run in when you are selecting a new pair of shoes.
  • Socks should be a good quality sports sock that wicks away excess moisture, provides some cushioning, is the right size and is resistant to bunching up and crinkling.
  • Ensure that running shoes are flexible at the mid sole. If they are not, rubbing pressure will be placed on the heel regions of the feet.
    • Do your main runs in your old shoes while you take a week or two to run in your new pair. Always have two or three different pairs of running shoes that you alternate now and then.
  • Keep your old shoes that should still in good condition, in the car boot on race day just in case you misplace your new ones.
  • Fit a pair of Formthotics Active inner soles (Available from Formthotics Active soles are heat moulded to the shape of your foot. This can be one of the most effective measures you can take to prevent callouses and blisters because your foot is held snugly in the shoe, reducing slipping and sliding about.
  • If you have weak feet, the feet will tend to collapse and spread inside the shoe as muscles tire. If you think this is happening, fit Formthotics Active inner soles and you must do the foot exercises described earlier in this book.
  • If you have thick calloused skin, sand paper or very carefully cut off the excess thick dead skin. If you are going to do this, do so a month before the marathon and not the day before!
  • Properly lace the shoes. The most important part of lacing is to ensure that the upper laces by the ankle are pulled firm, otherwise the foot may slide forwards when running downhill, slamming the toes into the front of the shoe. Furthermore, the shoe may lift at the heel when running uphill, rubbing the back of the heel. This can be a real problem if you purchased shoes that are of limited forefoot flexibility.
    • If the forefoot is laced too tight, you may suffer numbness and burning of the sole of the foot, especially if you have thick sports socks, so take care with your lacing.
  • When you run, consciously think of relaxing the toes as you push off. Some people have a bad habit of aggressively clawing the toes hard into the sole of the shoe.
  • Use liberal petroleum jelly for underarms, groin and any other areas that may rub.

    • I recommend Chafe-Ease which is more effective and much more pleasant than petroleum jelly. Chafe-Ease contains various beneficial ingredients including antiseptic tea tree oil (Chafe-Ease is available from
    • I would advise caution about applying any kind of lubricant to the feet that may inadvertently cause slippage within the shoes while running.
  • If your inner thighs rub, experiment with thigh length lycra underwear that fits snugly against your groin and thigh with your usual running shorts on top. This causes fabric to rub on fabric, rather than fabric on skin or skin on skin.
  • Wear a quality sports bra and make sure that you have put it to the test in training, especially to see if it chafes when damp.
  • Tops and singlets should be of a soft fabric without pronounced seams. Tags and labels may be removed to prevent irritating rubbing.
  • Avoid tops that are tight across the back of the neck. The armpit area should be low cut.
  • For those wearing only singlets or shirts, band-aids placed over the nipples will save a lot of pain and even some blood!
  • Trim your toenails regularly with the last trimming being no less than a week before the race.
Happy running folks!


Anonymous said...

How to minimise blisters & chafing on feet? Toughen your soles by going barefoot whenever you can! This toughens the sole of your foot (without callus) and teaches you a foot strike with less friction across your sole.
Since I am a barefooter (~1 year) blisters are a thing of the past.

Happy running!


Gary Moller said...

You are dead right Paul! Lorraine and I are convinced that being barefoot as children and still getting about barefoot asap has given us strong healthy legs, including soles.
Read my article here:

It is a shame that kids are discouraged so often from going barefoot nowadays for spurious health and safety reasons

Anonymous said...

how long does it take for chafing to go away?

Gary Moller said...

Depending on the severity of course, no more than 4-5 days for the skin to heal. If it fails to heal in about that time the possibility of an infection must be considered. The other possibility is eczema which is common in the areas most prone to chafing.