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ExpAfrica D3: Feet – part 2


Words: Lisa de Speville | Photo: Bruce Viaene

If you, like me, have a keen interest in the mechanics of blister formation and the prevention and treatment thereof, then T3 was the place to be today.

Last night, the foot situation already seemed dire. Teams approaching the canyon as darkness fell were hobbling considerably on feet that were blistered and tenderised after more than 24 hours of trekking. To go into the canyon with these feet… This was clearly a situation that would go from bad to worse.

Black Diamond made the call in advance of sunset to bed down in the sheltered tea plantation above the canyon for the gorge. This was a decision easily made because of the condition of their feet – trench foot for both Ryan and Nici van Niekerk and some serious blisters for Leon Pieters; James Lea-Cox’s feet were tender but in good shape.

At the time the team felt despondent seeing the headlamps of teams passing by. Many of these teams didn’t advance much ahead because many slept down in the canyon for anything from a few to as much as nine hours.

As the day unfolded there was a very clear distinction between teams that went through and those that stopped for the night in the condition of their feet.

The non-stop teams
White, pasty, swollen skin under the soles of the feet was common – typical of having had wet feet for way too many hours. Large blisters under the forefoot, below the big toe were prominent. And the little toes… I call it ‘sock effect’. The skin around the little toe – especially the bottom and sides – detaches completely and looks like it could just be pulled off the toe like a sock off a foot. The skin on their feet was literally coming off. Even worse, underneath the skin would be a raw, incredible painful layer of flesh.

The medics spent the day without break, treating pained racers and doing their best to disinfect, dry and patch feet sufficiently that they could be walked on.

The overnighters
By mid-afternoon the teams coming in were in decidedly better shape. Remember that trench foot photo from yesterday (Team Black Diamond)? Gone! The overnight rest did the trick. Most racers had sore, tender feet and they were certainly not immune to blisters but we weren’t seeing as much of the whitened, plastic-like skin of the morning. Detached, whitened skin… that’s not good especially if you have to walk on it, which teams will have to do after T5.

For the most part long cycle legs can be dealt with but when your feet are bad… Racers would probably prefer to eat glass rather than feel like they’re walking on it with each step.

I’m curious as to whether the state of feet at T3 could be a predictor of success in Leg 8 (40km hike; it took Seagate 12 hours – mostly in daylight) and whether overnighters will gain places on the teams that pushed through. The only flaw in my theory is that teams are four people and any severe foot issues will determine how fast the team is able to move.