The Hotspot, or How I Picked My Shoes for Today’s Race

I like to get on my soapbox about not using new gear or nutrition items on or immediately prior to race day. I’ve seen far too many dudes clad in shirts red with blood where their nipples used to be. The shirt they’re wearing? Usually it’s the race shirt that was distributed at packet pickup the day before. Using new stuff during or just before a race is just asking for trouble. Go with what you know.

But going with what you know entails getting to know your gear, and that testing period during training comes with its own risks.

A few weeks ago I hauled off and ran 21 miles after only planning to run 14 miles that day. I left the house with 14 miles still firmly in mind, but everything felt right: I’d managed to lock in at a zippy pace and I was more than keeping up with the folks from my trail running club, so I extended the run.

Unfortunately for me, I was wearing a previously untried shoe-sock combination. I’d run comfortably in this model sock with other shoes, and I’d put about 40 miles in the shoe without issue, but for some reason these two didn’t play well together over the 21-mile distance. When I peeled off my sweaty socks at the end of the day, I found the hotspot.

I’ve had blisters before, and I even got two blisters that healed up almost overnight from this run, but I’ve never had anything like this hotspot. Located on my left pinky toe, this hotspot became the axis of pain in my life. It hurt when it was touching something. It hurt when it wasn’t touching anything, or wasn’t touching anything more than it had been but a moment before when it was just fine. It would randomly send shooting, fiery pains up my leg that made me struggle to hide my winces in public. I began to hope that it would turn into a regular blister so it could finally heal. This thing was a monster. Taping it and applying bandaids just seemed to make it angry.

So I did what any good crazy runner would do: I ran on it.

Running with a blister, or a blister-type injury is not for the faint of heart. Every step is guaranteed to hurt, it’s just a matter of how much it will hurt. A sane person would rest and let a friction injury heal. I like to put myself in simulated race conditions during my training so I’m both mentally and physically prepared for what may lie ahead. Running with what could plausibly be a race-induced blister is valuable preparation, just as running without water to simulate the dry miles in between aid stations is critically important to establish what it feels like to struggle and how I’ll handle that.

In my extensive shoe collection I found a shoe that supports my feet comfortably without squeezing my blister or bothering it with any heavy overlays: the great New Balance 890v4.  So if you’re looking for a moral to this story, such as, ‘don’t run with a blister,’ I’m sorry to have to disappoint you, because my hotspot healed through my running on it. Long days stuffed into boots will still make it cranky, but I can run pain-free and the seemingly random searing pains have stopped.

For my four-mile race this morning, (and probably for my marathon at the end of the month, stay tuned) I’m going with what I know will protect my feet best: the New Balance 890v4 aka the Hotspot Healer.

I’m excited to get back into the racing mix, so my A goal (Have fun!) is already working out. Can’t wait to lean into my B (Finish) and C goals (finish sub-32:00) as well. Happy running!

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