Fox in Sox, Socks that Rock
Socks on chicks and chicks on fox.
Fox on clocks on bricks and blocks.
Bricks and blocks on Knox on box."
What the hell was Dr. Seuss smoking when he wrote that one? If he ran marathons, it would be more like;
Green socks, black socks
Socks on Jocks
Pick the wrong socks and the Fox Just Walks
As confusing as Dr. Seuss' tongue twisting lyrics, so is the plethora of socks available to the marathon runner. In this blog, I will review two socks; SmartWool and VitalSox. There are a few decisions to make when picking the sock that works best for you.
Cotton, wool, or synthetic?
Cotton? Are you kidding me? Wear cotton in any race of length and your pigs will be hating you. When I started running, I used Thorlos. High cotton meant a lotta blisters. My best was a cherry tomato I earned in San Diego in 2007 (yes, that's my actual San Diego Rock & Roll Marathon blister on the left.) Rookie mistake, but it was a beautiful blister as far as blisters go. Sorry, Thorlos, but you're in the bottom of my sock drawer limited to cross-training and short runs. Since learning that cotton is the devil (same goes for shorts, and shirts--this isn't a pick-up basketball game, do you really want to carry that extra weight and chafe your nipples off?) I have moved to wool or synthetics.
I have to admit, these have been my most consistent sock for training runs of any length or 1/2 or full marathons. Least likely to peel off the running shoes and find a black toenail or cherry tomato. Due to the wool and when combined with the right amount of BodyGlide on the little piglets, you're far less likely to get post race feet souvenirs. An added benefit of the SmartWool sock is they are typically a thicker sock so you get a bit of cushion out of them. Pounding 26.2 miles and your feet will thank you.
These guys move the compression benefits you'd typically get from Skins or CW-X into your feet. Like a pair of Skins, they are a snug fit to provide the compression benefits and have a much thinner fabric. Among the many mistakes I made at the Boston Marathon, I made a rookie mistake of using something I hadn't tried in a previous long run. Fortunately, this one paid off. I'd just received a pair of VitalSox in the mail two days before Boston along with a pair of their long recovery socks. I won't detail all the leg maladies I'd dealt with leading up to Boston, but let's just say that the only thing that wasn't hurting or hadn't hurt leading up to Boston on my left leg were my toenails.
Stopping by the VitalSox expo booth at Boston, I was told by the gentleman working the booth (who I'd later find out was none other than Arturo Barrios) that I should be wearing them before the race. It makes sense. I'm wearing compression tights today (two weeks after Boston) under my jeans to give my legs an all day massage. After Arturo's advice, I wore the longer recovery socks the next full day leading up to my race. The Recovery Sock was even tighter than my Skins but felt great once they were on. Benefits of the Recovery Sock include increased blood circulation, reduced lactate acid production, and improved oxygen deliver to the muscles. Yeah Baby!
Knowing Boston is not a PR course typically and this wasn't going to be a personal PR day for me, I wanted the most support possible for my feet and legs for the day. I went with my heavier Asics shoes (vs. lighter racing shoe,) Tommie Copper Calf Sleeves and VitalSox compression socks. Going into the race over-trained and sore before I started, this was the right strategy as my legs survived the pounding downhill and Heartbreak Hill. My legs held up and I felt that I finished the last five miles stronger than I did the year before. The best part of the VitalSox experience was that a day after the marathon (and running a 3:34) I wasn't hobbling like I normally do after a marathon. No black toenails and no cherry tomatoes. Only knocks on these socks is the price tag. Made in Italy may have something to do with that, but likely comparable if you're used to paying for other compression products. One other note on black toenails. While many consider them to be a badge of honor, it may be a sign that your shoes are a 1/2 size too small or you forgot to clip your toenails before the race.
Which to choose?
Like many things in running, and probably more so with shoes, you need to experiment with your long training runs to see what works best for you. Just like I have a race pair of shoes I favor and an everyday pair I will likely rotate socks, but if I need recovery or come race day, I believe the Italian made formula socks will become a regular component of what I lay out the night before.
These socks rock! Green Eggs and Ham I am.