These boots were made for walkin'...right?
April 2, 2012 10:14 AM   Subscribe

I'm doing a one day 100K hike in four weeks and I'm having problems with aching feet...

In just four short weeks, I'm going to be doing the One Day Hike from DC to Harpers Ferry, WV. I've attempted it twice in the past and made it to mile 35 each time but this year I've decided I MUST MUST MUST finish and have been staying ahead of the suggested training schedule on the website.

Yesterday I completed a 36 mile hike and my dogs were BARKING big time at the end! I really didn't want to keep going! It's not a matter of the muscles in my legs being tired (I'm not sore today at all), it's that my feet are so achy.

I have been trying out different hiking boots/shoes and getting them to fit properly has been trying (but not impossible...REI really does have a bangin return policy). I've taken care of the blister issue and am no longer struggling with those but it's the ball of my foot that is causing me the most pain.

After searching online, the only thing I can come up with is insoles but I'd like to find other things to try out as well. Any ideas? If you do suggest insoles, can you please tell me what brand has worked for you? Also, any hiking shoes you REALLY REALLY like? I'm open to any and all suggestions!

Help this hiker finish her ridiculous dream of a 100k! Thanks so much :)
posted by whitetigereyes to Health & Fitness (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Insoles from the Walking Company have really helped me both in hiking and every day walking. I use them in all my shoes now. They scan your feet to see where the pressure is and they give you a certain insert based on the scan.

I got back into hiking after a six year absence and the first couple of times my feet felt horrible, as if someone had been pounding the bottoms with a hammer. Once I started using the inserts it made a world of difference.

Also make sure you have decent socks. Two pair, a thick outer sock and a thin polypro (or similar) liner sock.

Do you use hiking poles? You should, especially with that kind of distance. Get some lightweight poles with shock absorbers.

Hiking shoes and boots are a matter of whatever decent quality shoe fits the best. Vasque brand has always fit me like a glove the second I put them on, but you may find another brand works best for you. Try all sorts of different brands.

And if no boot works for you, head on up to New Hampshire to see Peter Limmer's sons and get fitted for some custom boots. I think they have the turn-around time down to a few months now, so it won't work for this year but maybe next. They're not exactly lightweight boots though.

Remember, there is no shame in bailing out. Push yourself, sure, but don't hurt yourself. You might regret not finishing but not as much as you'll regret paying for physical therapy to repair a damaged knee.

Best of luck and have fun!
posted by bondcliff at 10:29 AM on April 2, 2012

A couple ideas:

- Have a local coach check your walking and ensure that you aren't stomping/overpronating/something else that's overloading part of your musculature.
- Assuming your mechanics are sound, I'd be working foot strength as well as endurance. I'd be doing some barefoot/minimalist shoe walks to strengthen the foot musculature to support an effort of this type.
posted by bfranklin at 10:31 AM on April 2, 2012

(I might have been mistaken about the turn-around time for the Limmer boots. It seems it might still be the many-years wait time they've always had.)
posted by bondcliff at 10:31 AM on April 2, 2012

Do you have feet that are somewhat wide at the top, but narrower toward the heel? According to the running-shoe maven at my running-shoe-teria, this is the type of foot most likely to get pain in the ball-of-foot area. He recommended to me that I buy running shoes that had ample room for my toes and the area just below, even if they were way too wide for my heel, and fill in the extra heel space with lamb's wool to stabilize my heel. That worked well, so it's something to think about trying, along with the metatarsal pads that I imagine you've seen already.

For me, ball-of-foot pain often happens when I'm wearing not enough arch support for my stupidly high arches. Something like this or this can help tremendously.

If you have support folks meeting you at breaks, using ice on the sore bits can help a lot. Also (if this isn't something that doesn't interact poorly with any other medications or supplements you're using) an over-the-counter anti-inflammatory supplement like Zyflamend might help if you started it now.

One other thing to consider is seeing your doctor and asking for a prescription for topical analgesic/anti-inflammatory cream. Voltaren is one that both my husband and I have found really helpful--the active ingredient is diclofenac, which is a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:36 AM on April 2, 2012

Have you had a look through Fixing Your Feet by John Vonhof? It's the footcare bible among ultrarunners. It's mostly about blisters and stuff, and I can't remember if it covers bruising, but it may well. My copy is at my dad's house, but I would be happy to lend it to you if you are in the DC area.
posted by OmieWise at 10:37 AM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: I'm not sure how you pace yourself when you hike, but one thing that might help is to change up your pace (even jog very slowly for very short distances) if it's allowed. I used to have to do long-ish forced marches when I was in the military and was the least sore during a hike when I was told to periodically run to the back of the column to count the number of people who had fallen behind and then run to the front of the column again to report it to the platoon commander. Walking at the same pace the entire way was more painful than the occasionally jogging.
posted by _cave at 10:38 AM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: And this may sound silly, but again thinking of the "maybe not enough room in the toe box" solution: have you tried men's (or boys', depending on your size) boots as well as women's? It might be that those will give you more room in the toe box (if that's what you need) and the lamb's wool fill in the heels would fix the "not enough tapering" issue.
posted by Sidhedevil at 10:38 AM on April 2, 2012

I had years of trouble with aching feet until I started really massaging my calf muscles every night. You can use a tennis ball or a foam roller to do it. It turned out that my soleus muscles were so full of trigger points that they were barely doing any work at all; once I got those knots worked out and my lower calf muscles regained some strength, my feet finally stopped hurting and my posture improved a lot. You can tell if this is your major problem if you can't dorsiflex your feet very far, or don't get much "spring" off your toes when you walk.

I also love Pinnacle Powerstep insoles, they're better and cheaper than Superfeet. The Maxx model is especially great if you're an overpronator.
posted by dialetheia at 10:43 AM on April 2, 2012

What boots are you using? I have a pair of Scarpa M3 backpacking boots that have a full steel shank ie the sole is virtually unbendable. This is a great feature for backpacking as I need the stability and support, but when I am just hiking with a day pack it is overkill, and after around 7-8 hours with my boots on my feet start to ache.

My solution was to go down to a regular day-hiking boot with support and stability but without the full shank. I also use a heat moldable insert from MEC and double socks.
posted by lulu68 at 11:03 AM on April 2, 2012

I think insoles are a good idea. I would also strongly suggest trekking poles. I was the director of a 50-mile hike in college (and completed it twice, once unsupported) and the people that used poles had a far, far higher success rate than those that did not.

Another thing that could help is limiting the amount of weight that you're carrying, so if there's anything nonessential in your pack you should throw it out. Looking at the hike's website, it seems like it's dead flat the whole way (along a canal towpath?). In that case I think you'd be best served by a pair of light trail running or cross training shoes rather than some burly hiking boots.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:34 AM on April 2, 2012

In that case I think you'd be best served by a pair of light trail running or cross training shoes rather than some burly hiking boots.

This is pretty helpful advice - if you don't need hiking boots, either for traction on the terrain or for support in carry a heavy load (like on a backpacking trip with a full pack), there's really no reason to wear them. Even lots of long trail thru-hikers (people that do the entire Appalachin or Pacific Crest Trail in one season) are starting to go ultra-light, and part of that ethos is being able to do it in shoes that are much lighter than hiking boots. So, if the trail is well maintained, doesn't include much rock scrambling or iffy terrain, and all you're carrying supplies for the day (raingear, food, water, toiletries, emergency stuff), then you could possibly be OK in a good pair of trail runners or even plain running shoes. You should have pretty strong ankles to be able to pull it off though - it seems like people who run regularly have more success with that tactic.

If you still wanna go with hiking boots, I've had great success using Superfeet, which should be readily available at REI and are pretty much an off-the-shelf thing, although you may need to trim them to get them right. I don't ever do the kinds of distances you're talking about, but prior to getting those, I'd have to take my boots off and massage my feet constantly after 5 miles or so. With them, I'll do over ten miles no sweat. My boots are probably more burly than what you'll need - I've got Vasque Sundowners, which I'm not even sure are made any more.
posted by LionIndex at 12:11 PM on April 2, 2012

Best answer: I'm not sure how you pace yourself when you hike, but one thing that might help is to change up your pace (even jog very slowly for very short distances) if it's allowed.

Definitely second this. I did a 5 hour hike on the C&O canal once, and my feet were in more agony than if I had been hiking uphill all day with a heavy backpack. The repetitive motion of walking on a flat surface is what will do your feet in, whereas hiking over varied terrain gives you a chance to use different parts of your body. So periodically shake it up -- jog a bit, skip, whatever.

I also agree that hiking boots are not necessary. You won't be carrying anything heavy or hiking on technical terrain, so lighter and more flexible trail or running shoes are sufficient.

Good luck! I've heard about this race before and I think it is INSANE. In a good way!
posted by yarly at 12:40 PM on April 2, 2012

Response by poster: Thank you SO MUCH for all the suggestions. I feel like I took a little bit of advice from everyone.

I ended up settling on Brooks trail runners (Pure Grit) since my pack is just water and food (and not really even a pack, haha). I did get men's shoes since they have the wider toe box just as you suggested, Sidhedevil.

I got insoles but ended up returning them because my arches felt weird having something touch them after wearing not high arch shoes for so long. I settled on metatarsal pads as a compromise.

I went over 40 miles last Friday. I alternated between walking .75 miles and then running .25 miles over and over. It worked really well! I was even able to walk from my apartment to a near by sushi place to get food when I got home :)

I am VERY hopeful about the hike in less than 2 weeks now. THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE!!
posted by whitetigereyes at 10:53 AM on April 16, 2012

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