Cause Walking: How to Protect Your Feet Before, During and After the Event
Before the Walk
Choose the right footwear: Your shoes are key to your performance. If possible, stick with comfortable shoes/sneakers that you’ve already worn for walking and/or other activities. Thinking that a brand-new pair will help you finish a walk is a mistake, because for most people, it takes time to acclimate your feet to new footwear.
Of course, if you’re new to walking and physical activity, then it makes sense to buy the best possible footwear as far in advance—ideally, at least three-to-four weeks—of the event as possible. Since the feet tend to swell during the day, go shoe shopping in the afternoon, when your feet are at their largest, to help ensure that the shoes you buy aren’t too tight.
For optimal fit, follow IPFH’s “integrated approach”. Have your feet measured each time you purchase new footwear to ensure proper sizing and wear the socks and any inserts or orthotics you will wear during the event when trying on shoes. Remember, there should be a thumbnail’s width between your longest toe and the end of the shoe.
For optimal protection—especially if you have diabetes or another condition that puts your feet at risk for blisters, abrasions, athlete’s foot or other conditions—consider wearing padded socks made of acrylic or acrylic blends that wick moisture away from the feet. If you have feet at risk, any lesion can lead to ulceration and risk of amputation.
Walk around in the shoes and make sure they’re not too loose (which can cause rubbing or heel slippage) or too tight. Shoes that are too tight or too small can increase the likelihood of overuse injuries, tendon problems and bone bruises. They can also adversely affect your knees, hip and back because your feet don’t make proper contact with the ground.
Train and condition yourself: Start where you are and use discretion when embarking on a training/conditioning program. If you’re preparing for a long distance walk and you’ve been sedentary for an extended period or cannot walk continuously for 20 to 30 minutes at a moderate pace (about two miles per hour), follow the tried-and-true advice to “start low, go slow.” This means you don’t try to walk 20 miles your first time out; aim for a mile or two the first day. If that feels doable, continue that distance for another four or five days, add a mile or two the next week and continue at that pace over a period of several weeks, building in rest periods as appropriate. A rule of thumb is to increase your distance by about 10% each week, unless you experience problems in doing so (in which case stay at or below the distance you are currently walking for another week, and then attempt to increase your distance the next week). Keep a steady pace, but walk at a speed that is comfortable for you. Building up slowly is critical if you want to avoid stress fractures or other overuse injuries in the feet, ankles and lower legs.
Your event’s website generally offers training schedules based on the distance and time you have available to train prior to an event. If you have a medical condition such as diabetes or arthritis, you should check with your doctor before embarking on your first cause walk.
Stretch: Stretching during training and immediately before the race is particularly important if you are predisposed to plantar fascia or Achilles tendon problems. Don’t stretch “cold”; march in place or take a short walk at a leisurely pace for a few minutes before stretching, or try the routine from the Public Broadcasting System (http://www.pbs.org/americaswalking/health/healthprewalk.html). Then do gentle stretches, like the ones from the American Heart Association (http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/PhysicalActivity/Walking/Stretches-for-Walking_UCM_461779_Article.jsp#.Vk05lr9TYnI) to elongate the muscles, tendons and ligaments in the feet and legs and get blood flowing through those areas. Do “cool down” stretches after completing your walk, like these: http://www.pbs.org/americaswalking/health/health3minute.html.
Don’t “push through” pain: Pain is an indication that something is amiss. If you try to keep walking despite pain, you run the risk of injuring yourself to a point that you won’t be doing any events in the near future.
Plan training routes carefully: Avoid areas with heavy traffic or no sidewalks. If possible, vary the terrain on which you walk to reflect what you will experience during the event. Few places are perfectly flat, so anticipate walking up and down some hills and train appropriately. Stay safe by walking in designated pedestrian areas or, if you have to walk on a street or a road, staying on the left facing traffic. If you are out after dark, wear reflective and light colored clothing that can be spotted by drivers. If possible, try to train with a partner or a group – there is “safety in numbers.” Some events provide training walks. Check with the sponsoring organization or event administrators to see if training walks are planned in your area.