Theories on Keeping an Ultra Competitor going

Michael Gillan C.T.T. (Masseur) is the regular masseur at our Australian Centurion events and has built up a wealth of experience in the ultra distance field. His comments below are a must for any serious long distance walker or runner.

I am an ultra distance masseur. I have massaged at 3 x Colac 6 Day taces and the Nanango l000 Mile Race as well as 2 x Coburg 24 Hour Races.. One thing I am aware of is the lack of information collated into one central point, or the "She'll be frght; I'll learn as I go along and maybe pick up some pointers as I go" syndrome.

So to start the ball rolling:


Use methylated spirits, needle, thread, corn flour, woolfat (lanoline), tissues, vitamin E capsules, cotton wool balls, scissors, Friars Balsam tape.


If possible, get seamless socks, cotton and wool blend. If not possible, turn socks inside out and cut off any loose threads and wear them that way. This gets rid of the seams from next to the skin - no rubbing. The elasticised part of the toe needs to be snipped to help avoid circulation cut-off and interference with the lymph flow. Tight socks at the ankle can cause feet to swell.
After shower, wash feet with methylated spirits to drive off moisture and harden the feet, particularly important between the toes.
Talcum powder. Give it up and replace with comflour. Talcum is a mineral made from crushed rock and over a period of time, can act as an abrasive. Comflour is environmentally friendly, being made of vegetable, and when put in socks and jocks, takes away heat so less abrasion and heat to make us sore.


Vaseline is too thin. Woolfat or lanoline is thicker and lasts longen Again, it is not a mineral, so there is less heat build up.


While running, a hot shower is like an oasis in front of an athlete. Only one more hour then the HOT shower, especially when bedding down for a couple of hours off, particularly at night. WRONG! A hot shower increases the blood flow away from the core, so that when the athlete returns to the track, particularly at night or early in the morning, the heat to warm the outside of the body has to come from somewhere. If you have already dragged the heat out from the core, it is going to be cold isn't it? So a hot shower is OUT. Make it a warm one.


When crews bed down at night leaving the runner to his own devices, with cold food, they are taking away his energy. When cold food is put into a runner, it has to be warmed up somehow. Heat = energy, and it has to be heated up from somewhere, so it comes from the core heat again. At night heat food!! (with and without the "h")


I use Vitamin E capsules and rub the oil out of the capsule into the lips.


I have seen and tried numerous ways of management and found most of them to be a failure, especially for ultra runners. The most effective I have seen and used at the Nanango 1000 Mile is: needle & cotton, methylated spirits & container, cotton wool balls, Friars Balsam, tape & scissors.

  1. Thread needle and cotton and soak in methylated spirits. 
  2. Wash off area and blister with metho. to sterilise it Get rid of the dirt and help the tape to stick. 
  3. Put needle through the blistered skin and out the other side and cut off to leave approximately 1cm. hanging out of either end. 
  4. Using cotton balls, press skin flat to remove fluid and relieve pressure. 
  5. Wash off with metho and dry. 
  6. Dab off with Friars Balsam (ouch!). This is better than Betadene as it dries and hardens the skin to form a protective barrier and allows new skin to form underneath. 
  7. Put on tape over the blister and area. Try to allow ends of cotton out so that blister can drain into the sock. 
  8. Change as needed after shower. Clean off with metho. Dab on Friars Balsam and put on clean tape.

While I agree that this is NOT in the First Aid book, and the medical people say that it is risking infection, that the blister should be covered and left, we are discussing ultra runners and their needs I have found that when treatment is done in the traditional way, the blister takes control, not the runner. And when did any runner take advice to stop because of a blister? It is when the blister takes control and bursts, leaving torn skin rubbing into the open wound that infection sets in.

The needle and cotton method: * relieves the pressure, so relieves the pain
* forms protection by hardening the old dead skin
* prevents the dead skin splitting and rubbing
* the cotton acts like a wick, letting any fluid escape by draining.
* stops dirt getting in. It is also covered by tape to prevent any more damage.
* The athlete takes control.


Ultra runners do not need heavy massage and stretching. They do not need oil on their legs as it attracts cold at night and increases the risk of sun-burn during the day. As already stated, I am a veteran masseur from several ultra races. I admit it is not from the point of view as a runner that I write, but no matter how well intentioned the masseur, normal massage and stretching are far too severe for ultra runners. It inflicts more injury than it prevents. The masseur (or crewmember) should just do gentle compression of the muscle, gentle wobbling of the muscle and gentle stretch, concentrating on using the foot to pump fluids up the leg, also taking the knee up to the chest.
Meas to watch for and keep stretched and loose are the groin - illioposas. This tightens up while running long distances and shortens the step, bringing in low back pain. Also less ground is covered in proportion to the energy expended with the shortened step. This also tightens the quads, which tightens the hamstrings etc.
The main culprit to watch for which causes problems and altered bio mechanics, I have found, in both road and track is, tight illiotibial tracts or bands at the side of the thigh. These two should be checked and stretched at any opportunity. Never underestimate the importance of these procedures in the run. During the 1000 Mile at Nanango Race, I cut massage time down by ignoring most other stretches except for the knee to chest, all done very gently.

As soon as the runner comes off the track, he/she should have a blanket put around him/her to prevent loss of body heat. It is important to stay warm, especially at night