Friday Five: Weird Things I’ve Used to Help My Running

This pedicure survived 26.2, don’t judge.

There are no shortcuts to running — the most sure way to become a better runner is to, well, run. We’ve talked about the importance of #extrasalt to balance what you’re doing, from cross-training to recovery. But in between training and foam rolling sessions, I’m willing to try a lot of other things to recover faster and become a magical injury-proof running unicorn.

Here are the five weirdest things I’ve tried to help my running:

1. Toe separators. These sexy things stretch your toes away from each other and reputedly can help prevent bunions, help with plantar fasciitis, neuromas, etc.. Similar to the ones you wear to get a pedi, but more intense, mine are made of rubber and I got them pretty cheap off Groupon.

Verdict: Studies and expert opinions vary, but I don’t care. I love these things. They make my feet feel a million times better. I pop them on for a while while watching TV and my feet soon feel relaxed and even refreshed. Thumbs up! Pro tip: If you’re a Jasyoga user, the 5-minute reset for feet has a similar exercise where you stretch your toes with your fingers.

2. Magnesium spray. Someone suggested this during Salty Chat on Twitter once. Supposedly it would give the benefits of an Epsom salt bath without having to take a bath — relieving achy, tired muscles. So I bought some off Amazon, because, why not?

Verdict: This stuff makes my skin itchy AF, and I don’t even get to lay in the bath. Thumbs down.

The red dots are Sharpie, not blood.

3. Dry needling. Done by a trained professional, this technique using acupuncture needles to release muscle tension. I have it done for acute pain — when you’ve tweaked something but haven’t strained or torn something. To date I’ve had my plantar fascia, calf, hamstring, glute, latissimus dorsi, and trapezius all dry needled. My sports chiropractor does the work as part of a regular session, so I normally have soft tissue work, spinal adjustment, and Kinesio taping all done at the same time.

Verdict: WIZARDRY. I love dry needling. Thumbs up.

4. Normatec boots. The magical inflatable legs! These inflatable recovery devices are available under different brand names, but Normatec is kind of the Kleenex of pneumatic compression. (They’re also available for arms, shoulders, hips, etc.) Now rentable at a lot of physical therapy-type places, and quickly becoming more affordable, I was able to borrow a pair for about a week this spring. Like compression tights, they’re supposed to speed up recovery basically by pumping the fluids through your legs and flushing them out. (Yes, that’s a really simplified explanation. Click here if you want more detail.)

Verdict: After a week, I didn’t notice much difference. They felt great when I had them on, but my legs felt about the same as normal on runs. What I did find, though, is that the “deep touch pressure” sensation immediately put me to sleep. I wouldn’t buy a set, but I would use someone else’s for free any day. Worth a try if you can borrow or inexpensively rent a pair, and I’d suggest (as did my sports chiro) trying them multiple days during a peak training week.

5. Squirrel’s Nut Butter. Funniest name ever. Popular in the trail/ultra scene, this all-natural anti-chafe balm has appeared in posts by a bunch of my Instagram friends (who are also popular in the trail/ultra scene, incidentally). I’ve used Body Glide for years, and even tried their other Skin Glide product, but it’s never been fail-safe. I tried Chamois Butter, and tried combining both. But in hot and humid conditions (read: Kentucky most months of the year except January and even that’s questionable), it would melt off and I’d curse the makers of Body Glide as the shower stung whatever travesties had been ravaged on my skin. This is not over-dramatization; I have scars to prove it. So when Squirrel’s Nut Butter showed up at my local running retail store, I grabbed a small stick. What the heck, I thought.

Verdict: Smells amazing, doubles as a salve (great for winter face protection). Works amazing. Nothing I applied it to for the Chicago Marathon ended up chafed. Thumbs up!

Okay, your turn! What’s the weirdest thing you’ve tried? And more importantly: did it work?

Started running in my early 20s and ended up running my first marathon 15 months later. Managed to break 3 hours in my 12th marathon. Pilates instructor passionate about the importance of your powerhouse in running and the mind/body connection. One husband, zero kids, mama to one Australian Shepherd.

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  1. I tried cupping to help with plantar fasciitis. This is little cups and a vacuum pump a la Michael Phelps. It’s supposed to loosen the fascia or something? It did help but only very temporarily. Still kind of cool and definitely qualifies as weird.

  2. I don’t know if this is weird any more, but for races longer than a marathon, I fuel with baby food. I supplement with gels, but after 6 hours, it’s no longer fun to fuel exclusively with pure sugar. It’s super cheap and the packages are re-closable.

  3. I have used the normatec boots once and the toe seperators. The toe seperators are neat, they make my feet feel better and for super cheap and easy, it’s worth it. I also had a massage therapist who did cupping on my calves to release knots (wasn’t as painful as you might think).

    One of my friends ate a packet of mustard during a marathon, he always said the sodium in it helped cramps. I don’t know how true it is but he BQed in that marathon so I guess something he did worked.