Anyone who’s walked a week on the Camino de Santiago or maybe an avid runner knows—happy feet are hard to come by, but something you’ll do anything to pursue.
For some, their mental toughness can block out the constant pounding and wear and tear. And for others, like myself, my mental toughness would take a siesta about eight miles in. Sometimes 20 minutes in if it was raining. No matter how much I would envision fluffy slippers, feet massages and wheels my reality was to push on.
Before embarking on our journey I anticipated that there would be blisters and discomfort. I had walked two Avon Breast Cancer two-day walks, surely I was no stranger to this. And no offense my dear Aunt Leslie who walked them with me, I figured my feet were pretty resilient in comparison to her delicate tootsies. So yeah, I got this. Pack a sewing needle and thread and some band aids and I’m good to go.
It’s amazing how many tips and tricks we heard from others. I refused to believe or put many into practice. I was the skeptic. Surely, they were crazy or it only worked on their feet and would not be suitable for me. Like Jonathan’s duct tape method. Psshhaw! Not for me! Where in my family did I inherit this stubborn side? hmmmm…
Had it not been for my crazy hook toe and poorly chosen shoes, I think I would have been able to make it further and in far less pain, but combined with the torrential downpours starting Day 2 of the Camino, it was the perfect storm. Unfortunately, there is little time for healing on the Camino. Yada yada yada.
First Method: And fail (for sort-of-happy feet)
- Bandages of all shapes and sizes
- Blister cushions (These are the worst things ever. If you like keeping skin on your feet, don’t use these.)
- Alcohol Disinfecting Wipes
- Needle and thread: depending on size of blister the idea is to thread it and
leave thread in the blister for a few hours to drain it without exposing the skin or tearing it
- Multiple sock changes
Second Method: Partially successful. (aka, the Marabel method)
Backstory: We stayed outside Pamplona in Cizur Menor at Albergue Roncal. Great stay by the way. Marabel Roncal and her family run the albergue and she told me to come back after we settled in and she would look at my feet. I thought she would give me some crazy tiritas (Basque=bandages) and send me on my way. Instead she brought out this huge medical bag. She could’ve performed amputations for all I know with that bag. She pulled out a wrapped medical syringe and some iodine.
What?! I hate needles. I close my eyes when I get acupuncture even. I said to myself, it can’t feel worse than I already did. Surrender. At first I couldn’t watch, but then she said I needed to learn how to do it myself. She drained the fluid out of one blister and it filled a syringe the size of the image attached, not once, but twice. She went in once and then discovered another “Oh a double!”. It was disgusting but it was business as usual for her. I apologized repeatedly. She did two of my worst ones and then showed me how to disinfect the needle with the iodine. She said “only for you to use”. No worries there. It’s incredible the things we do to get through the tough times. By the end of the trip, I’m sure I could’ve become a certified nurse. This gave instant relief but also helped things heal enough to put shoes back on the next day. I used it so often, that the needle became dull, so I had to get another one from the Pharmacy.
Final Method: The ‘good as it’s gonna get’ combination.
- Marabel method at the end of the day
- Saturating your feet before and after and repeatedly with Alcohol de Romero. (Rosemary Alcohol)About €2.50 and sold in the pharmacies. It has an antiseptic quality and encourages cell rejuvenation. This was a Jonathan tip from back in the day and his first Camino. It’s seriously amazing stuff and we converted several pilgrims along the way.
- Elevate the feet, 600mg ibuprofen and rest.
- In the morning: tape, tape and more tape. Yes, Jonathan even made me use duct tape which actually worked! (which we found surprisingly in the China Bazaar stores pretty cheaply). First, I would use the gauze, Neosporin and tape for a couple really sensitive spots or toes, then first aid tape over any bandages and extend beyond a little bit to hold things in place. Then for my heels I would put duct tape over the first aid tape. Only the edges would be on skin and it just kind of was another barrier against friction. I never had a tough time getting it off my feet at the end of the day.
- And the areas that weren’t covered by tape I used the Second Skin stick. It looks like a small deodorant stick and is a thin smooth lader that would glide on over my toes and feet. It sort of is similar to the Vaseline method that some people did. I didn’t want my feet sliding around all gooped up with Vaseline and two pairs of socks though. This was less messy and effective.
Bottom line is: do whatever works for you and your feet. It took me a while to get there but the method above and easier terrain helped my feet make it through the day much easier and faster. Sometimes, you don’t know what will work until you try it all, so I wouldn’t go to crazy before the trip stocking up on expensive methods. We stopped in pharmacies or restocked every couple days. You don’t want all that excess weight when you know it’s usually available in the next day or two.
As for post Camino? My feet still are slowly recovering. I wish I still had the alcohol de Romero. I will have to make my own I guess. They still feel bruised on the soles and I have calluses all over my feet like I never wore shoes in my life. Some toenails are greyish but still with me at least! Keeping active helps. And my acupuncturist turned me on to Kinesio tape which is miraculous! I really wish I had this on the Camino for my knees. I guess athletes use this stuff all the time. It really works.
And keeping moving helps too. Putting one foot in front of the other and repeating. Just in better shoes!