A Marathon Runner's Trick For Avoiding Blisters

Walter Rhein

Image by Walter Rhein

Let’s face it, a marathon is a miserable physical undertaking. At the end of the event, you’re going to be hot, hungry, thirsty, and exhausted. Your muscles are going to ache, and you’re going to need several days to recover. But if you take the right precautions, you can minimize the damage done to your body so you can get back to training for your next event as quickly as possible.

Some people seem to think that a marathon is an exercise in suffering and they scoff at you for taking care of yourself. However, that’s an absurd mindset to adopt. Everybody wants a personal best, and to give yourself the best chance at a top performance you need to make the most out of every legal advantage available to you.

Taking care of your feet is high on the list.

Why do we get blisters?

The simple answer to this question is that you get blisters because you messed up. There are a lot of ways that you can ruin your race before the starting gun even goes off. If you fail to hydrate properly, a cramp can stop you in your tracks and cause all your training hours and dedication to go up in smoke.

Doesn’t it seem stupid to spend months increasing your miles and doing speed work only to fail because you didn’t drink an extra bottle of Gatorade the night before the race? Don’t scoff, I’ve seen it happen.

Blisters form because of friction. You’re going to be in enough pain from the running and the pounding. You don’t need to add the additional burden of raw skin to the litany of problems you have to face. Friction is inevitable, but there are ways to minimize the damage.


I’m going to start with the number one solution first. Before a marathon, you need to lube up. I realize that there are all kinds of expensive products available now, but the truth is you don’t have to spend much money. For just a couple of bucks, you can get yourself a discount jug of off-brand petroleum jelly. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or scented, just get a lot of it.

Every runner needs a tub or two of petroleum jelly in their car, their gear bag, and in their home.

Blisters are caused by friction and lubrication removes the friction. It’s that simple.

It’s like oil in the engine of your car

A marathon runner’s body has a lot of moving parts that need to be lubricated. If you fail to lubricate them, the engine seizes up and your mechanic tells you it will cost more to fix the problem than the vehicle is worth.

Don’t let that happen.

Your feet are the biggest issue, but there are a lot of places that can stand to be lubricated before a marathon. I like to put petroleum jelly everywhere fabric comes into contact with my body. Although a lightweight singlet might not seem to cause a lot of friction, you’ll see a lot of blood trails on clothing at the finish line of 26.2 miles. Applying petroleum jelly-like suntan lotion stops all that.

Along with the armpits, groin, and chest, make sure to put some around your waist. The elastic band of your shorts and underwear can rip you up after a long run.

Go heavy on the feet

In my 26 marathons, there’s one thing I’ve learned: you can’t put on too much lubrication. I’ve had other runners laugh at me as I sit at the starting line and lather my feet with petroleum jelly. For the first couple of steps, you feel a kind of squishing sensation as the lubricant settles into place. After that, you don’t even notice it.

In all my marathons, I’ve never had a blister.

Petroleum jelly is the big solution, but there are a few other good practices you need to follow to help ensure your comfort before a run.

The other good practices

Marathon runners are all about routine, and your final body preparation before a race should be all about ensuring your comfort. A marathon isn’t a test you can cram for. You aren’t going to be faster if you run wind sprints the night before your big race. Instead, take care of yourself in the following ways:

1. Cut your toenails

If you have longish toenails they can rub into your other toes and cut you to smithereens. All the pain you have to fight slows you down. It’s stupid to run with long toenails.

2. Tape yourself

The first marathon I did, I put a band-aid around every other toe. Since then I’ve decided that was overkill, but if you have a lot of problems with blisters, use band-aids! Put them wherever you need them.

3. Double-layer socks

The concept of double-layer socks is simple, they rub against each other, so your skin doesn’t have to rub against anything. They work very well. I’ve never run a marathon without double-layer socks.

Maximize the good hurt

Despite the physical nature of the event, a marathon is largely mental. You have to push through the pain. Believe me, there will be more than enough pain to go around, you don’t have to add to it with blisters or chafing.

When you minimize all the pain you can avoid, you give yourself the best chance to dedicate all your energy to speed. Take the time to take care of yourself, and you can be assured of the best marathon experience possible.

Lube up your body and your feet. You’ll still finish the race exhausted and in agony, but you won’t have blisters. That extra surge of comfort might be the difference between 2:59:59 and 3:00:01. Now go out there and get that PR!

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Walter Rhein is an author with Perseid Press. He also does a weekly column for The Writing Cooperative on Medium.

Chippewa Falls, WI

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