Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatments for Athletes by John Vonhof (Author)
Paperback: 392 pages
Publisher: Wilderness Press; Fifth Edition (February 1, 2011)
In 1997, John Vonhof published the first edition of Fixing Your Feet: Prevention and Treatment for Athletes. There are several foot books out there, but John’s is unique because it’s written for endurance athletes who travel by foot. John has been trail running and participating in ultra marathons since 1982. In 1987, he and Will Uher speed packed the 211-mile John Muir Trail in 8.5 days. In 1992, he made a career change to the medical field and has volunteered his feet-fixing services at numerous endurance competitions throughout North and South America.
In the first part of his book, John shares an email he received from Nathan Wilson of Australia who had just finished a seven-day, 155-mile race. Three months before the race, Nathan read Fixing Your Feet and learned how to deal with the feet problems he had during previous races. I think Nathan’s email is a good example of how this book can help the backpacking community. He says, “After reading people’s stories of soaking their feet, removing calluses, and filing their toenails, I was motivated to do the same on a near-daily basis. It also motivated me to work on my ankle strength and my calves to help my feet. I suppose if I had not done the prep work, all of the taping, Hydropel, toe socks, and so on would have helped some, but it might not have made such a difference. A lot of people have asked about the race and the blisters ‘I must have had.’ I just laugh and tell them that I didn’t get a single one.”
What makes this book a credible and valuable reference is John’s expertise (developed while patching thousands of trail-damaged feet) and his copious inclusion of advice from other feet fixers and athletes. Many of his enlightening points are quotes from other sources. This compilation of the experimentation, mistakes, and successes of many different feet fixers and endurance athletes, gives the reader the benefit of hundreds of years of combined experience representing tens of thousands of miles. It’s important to note that John also brings in the weight of published academic and medical research.
The book is divided into five parts: The Basics, which includes biomechanics, conditioning, and foot-care basics; Footwear Basics, which covers the different types of footwear and socks and includes a detailed chapter on minimalist footwear and going barefoot; Prevention, a 120 page section that seemingly includes every preventative foot-care measure imaginable; Treatments for blisters, musculoskeletal injuries, heel and toe problems, and others; and lastly, Sources and Resources. Although I found all of the information useful, the two parts that were of most value to me were Prevention and Treatments. The treatments section has a chapter on foot-care kits that was also very helpful.
A key principle I took from the book is that there is no single solution that works for everyone’s feet. He says, “Each runner and hiker needs to find a prevention strategy that works for him or her. One may use a lubricant, another may use Zeasorb powder, and yet another may pretape his feet. They each may use one of many types and styles of socks. Determine what foot problems you normally experience, study this book, and then begin the task of finding what works best for your feet.”
Additionally, what has worked for someone in the past, may not work for him or her now. There are too many variables in people’s feet, how their feet change over time, the kinds of activities they do, and the different footwear they use. Despite this, John gives us his three absolutes that apply to everyone: first, always use moisture-wicking socks; second, have properly trimmed toenails; and third, wear gaiters on trails.
He has a full chapter on socks. A statement he makes in that chapter is indicative of the approach he takes throughout the book: “If cotton crew socks work for you, continue using them. If, however, hot spots and/or blisters plague you, consider trying other types of socks.” He spends the rest of the chapter expounding on different sock fibers and construction, and even includes advice on the art of putting on your sock and deciding when to retire a sock. Some of this may sound trite, but if you subscribe to Backpacking Light, you’re probably like me-interested in learning every detail that might make your next adventure more enjoyable and successful. This book is full of those details.
On trimming toenails, John explains that, “I have observed that untrimmed toenails are the number one cause of problems leading to toe blisters and black nails.” His advice is to trim toenails straight across the nail-never rounded at the corners. “Leave an extra bit of nail on the outside corner of the big toe to avoid an ingrown toenail.” After trimming your toenails, take the time to smooth the front and top of the nail with an emery board or nail file.
In his brief chapter on gaiters, John says, “Whether you are an adventure racer, a simple short-distance trail runner, a hiker, or an ultrarunner, you owe it to yourself to cover your socks and shoes with gaiters. Gaiters can mean the difference between finishing a trail run or a long hike with feet in good shape or feet plagued with hot spots and blisters.” He includes advice on making your own gaiters.
John presents his ten easy steps for happy and healthy feet:
- Make sure your footwear fits.
- Buy high-quality footwear.
- Wear moisture-wicking socks.
- Practice self care of your feet.
- Manage your toenails.
- Strengthen your feet and ankles.
- Rest your feet.
- Condition your feet for your sport.
- Learn how to prevent blisters.
- Carry a small foot care kit.
Each of these tips is explained in detail in his book.
On conditioning feet, John points out a pitfall that many long-distance backpackers experience. He tells the story of Brick Robbins who was a well-trained runner that hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. His feet were in good condition for running, but weren’t used to the stressed caused by the extra weight of a pack. “After 100 miles his feet were sore and bruised. By the time he reached Idyllwild-another 70 miles down the trail-he had killer blisters that took another 270 miles to heal.” John explains the obvious lesson here, “Your feet must be conditioned to endure the rigors and stresses of your chosen sport or sports.” He advises that at least 60% of your training should be done wearing a pack that weighs the same amount that you’ll carry on trip you are preparing for. He also encourages training in the same type of terrain you’ll encounter and for longer distances.
There are some many nuggets of good advice in this book that it is beyond the scope of a book review to cover more than just a few of the highlights. I have learned a lot from John’s book. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to improve the health and fitness of this key component to backpacking-your feet!
Part One: The Basics
1. Seeking Medical Treatment
2. You Can Have Healthy and Happy Feet
3. Sports and Your Feet
Part Two: Footwear Basics
4. The Magic of Fit
5. Footwear & Insoles
Part Three: Prevention
6. Making Prevention Work
8. Compounds for the Feet
9. Taping for Blisters
12. Lacing Options
13. Self Care for Your Feet
14. Extreme Conditions & Multiday Events
15. Teamwork and Crew Support
16. 12 Mega Distance Athletes Talk about Foot Care
17. 175 Ways to Prevent Blisters
Part Four: Treatments
18. Treating Your Feet
20. Sprains & Strains, Fractures and Dislocations
21. Tendon & Ligament Injuries
22. Heel Problems
23. Toe Problems
24. Forefoot Problems
25. Numb Toes & Feet
26. Skin Disorders
27. Cold and Heat Therapy
28. Foot Care Kits
Part Five: Sources and Resources
A. Product Sources
B. Shoe & Gear Reviews
C. Medical & Footwear Specialists
D. Feet-Related Websites