The Italian Shoe Massacre March 12 2016

Dealing with heel pain from climbing shoes

How to alter your climbing shoe to fix heel pain

Are there evil Sicilian gnomes who sneak out of cracks when you’re climbing at San Vito lo Capo and stab the back of your heel with a hot skewer? Maybe they’re connected to the mafia? For a while, I was seriously beginning to think so.

I had just done a second burn on a climb aptly named Ballerina. I hadn’t gotten through the balancey, sequency crux the first time, but enjoyed the climb enough to give it a second go. At the end of the first attempt, my heels just felt like they normally feel after half a day of climbing: slightly sore, and certainly happy to be free of my Scarpa Vapour V’s while belaying my partner. By the end of the second ascent, however, I was feeling a pain I’d never quite felt before, and it was bad enough to make me hallucinate about mafiosi gnomes. How could things change so quickly?

We moved on to a much more burly, overhanging climb out of a small cave. I could barely stuff my right foot into my climbing shoe. The climb was much less footwork-intensive, but I yelped every time I had to put weight on my right foot. That was the end of my climbing day and the beginning of my research session, which surfaced frightening terms like “Achilles heel bursitis” and “Haglund’s Deformity.” Deformity? What, that bump on the back of my heels wasn’t normal? That pain I felt last summer after a balancey multipitch wasn’t normal?

Abnormality aside, the most disheartening part was how long it seemed to take people to get through an acute flare-up: weeks, months, and sometimes surgery! We still had a few more weeks in Sicily. I had project goals. I didn’t want to spend the rest of my climbing trip belaying, dammit. And yet I couldn’t even walk down the street in my comfy approach shoes without hobbling.

Step 1:

 Climbing with one of my boyfriend's old shoes

I decided to try climbing using my boyfriend’s old shoe on my right foot. Yep, my boyfriend’s stinky ol’ worn-out right shoe…the same shoe I tended to pick up delicately by the laces and hold at arm’s length. I was desperate. His feet are about an inch wider and an inch longer than mine (basically duck feet). So, having padded my Deformity with two layers of Dr. Scholl’s callus protectors, held in place with white tape, I cinched up that nasty old, lace-up Miura as tight as I could on my right foot. This worked surprisingly well for a day of steep, tufa climbing at Crown of Aragon. After thinking I might not climb again on this trip, I was elated!

Step 2:

The next day, we were back in a sector with technical face climbs. I re-applied the Dr. Scholl’s padding, laced up that nasty ol’ Miura…and got completely pumped on the easy warm-up climb because I couldn’t trust my right foot in a shoe that was four sizes too big. I then became even more desperate and dug out the utility knife, acquired at the hardware store the night before. I had had no idea how to ask for a utility knife in Italian, so I showed the guy a picture on my phone. He said, “Ah! Bene!” and produced a specimen for €2.50. 

I marked cross on the back of my own right shoe, using the centre of the hole in the Dr. Scholl’s callus cushion as the centre of the cross. The cross was about 1.5 x 1.5 cm. Using the knife, I cut carefully along the lines, all the way through the rubber and the underlying leather. All the way through those expensive Italian shoes.

The Italian Shoe Massacre

Tentatively, I put the shoe on my right foot. Surprisingly, it didn’t hurt. I stood up. It didn’t hurt. I flexed the foot upward. It didn’t hurt. “Ah! Bene!!!”

And I climbed pain-free, in my own shoe, on technical face climbs for the rest of the day. Yeah, I got pumped, but it wasn’t because I didn’t trust my right foot. Honestly, I didn’t notice any difference in the performance of the shoe…only that the evil gnomes with their fiery skewers had retreated back into the shadows. I’ve been climbing with those cuts in the back of my shoes now for three weeks. The cuts haven’t propagated at all and I’m back to working on those projects (and swearing a lot, but at least not from heel pain).

In the future, when the flare-up dies down, maybe I can get away with just removing a circle of rubber from over top of my Deformity and pounding out the leather. But as an emergency solution, given the lack of access to tools while travelling, I was thrilled at being able to get rid of the pain without sacrificing performance!

Van life: 5 things to love and 5 things to miss July 21 2015

In this era of buying larger houses and acquiring more and more stuff, Kim House and Graham McGrenere have chosen to try something different. About eight months ago, they moved from their Vancouver suite to a 60 square foot mobile box to start their dream rock climbing trip around North America. 

We gave Graham and Kim a tin of F-Balm when we met them at Skaha, and took the opportunity to ask them what it was like to live in a van. They came up with a list of five things they love that are unique to that lifestyle, and five things they kind of miss:

The Loves

  1. Improved health. We go to sleep and wake up with the setting and rising of the sun. We eat better (in part to save money), we sleep way more, and we are active all day. We experience very little stress, and never get sick.
  2. Living simply. Our van home has a lot of storage space to hold the things we need, but overall we live with few possessions. We do not have phones or access to wifi (unless we seek it out), so we live a mostly distraction-free life, spending time with each other and friends.
  3. Our backyard. The inside of a van is a very small space. As such, we are pretty much only inside when it’s raining or when we’re sleeping. All of our every day chores happen outside of the van. Cooking, eating, washing, etc. This allows us to truly enjoy and appreciate our existence in so many beautiful natural places.
  4. Mobility: As the saying goes, “home is where you park it”. If we are tired of one place, we simply move to another. Being in a van as opposed to a camper or RV, we also have the advantage of “stealth camping” just about anywhere we go.
  5. Closeness: We simply have to get along in such a small space. Communication and teamwork are essential to keeping our van life successful. And we are forced to snuggle every night :-)

The Misses

  1. Friends and family. The van is a great magnet for meeting a lot of people, and we have made some truly incredible friends on the road. That said, being so far from our friends and family back home is a huge challenge.
  2. Lattes and Restaurants. Graham likes lattes… a lot. Back in city life, we’d often go out for a coffee a day. Being on such a tight budget, we are simply unable to indulge in these luxuries. Same goes for ordering out pizza… :-(
  3. Theft. Although we haven’t experienced this (knock on wood), theft is a worry. Our whole life is currently in our vehicle and a break-in would be devastating. There is nothing more haunting than parking in a lot with signs up that say “Don’t leave valuables in your vehicle”.
  4. Clutter. For the most part, we are pretty darn organized. We just have to be. However, after a hard day of climbing it is a lot more inviting to have a beer and relax with friends than it is to tidy the van. So inevitably, clutter happens.
  5. Showering. You really learn to live with it, and to be honest this one doesn’t really bother us all that much. The reality is, that frequent showers disappear from your life, as paying for them quickly adds up. We often have friends in different places say “you’re welcome to stay with us when you’re passing through!” We usually respond with, “Oh we’re very easy house guests. No need to put us up in a spare room, we’re happy in the van. But could we hit you up for a shower during our visit?” Same usually goes for laundry…

Happily, Graham and Kim found room in their van for a couple of tins of F-Balm. Graham had this to say about it:

“We would like to thank you again for the F-Balm sample and let you know… it’s outstanding! We love how it truly makes a difference on the skin. I’ll be honest, I was skeptical at first :p but it ACTUALLY promotes skin to regenerate faster! AWESOME! I also love how it doesn’t make our fingers feel greasy and moisturize more than needed.”

Happy travels, Graham and Kim!

Read more about their adventures on their blog site:

Jason Holowach doing us proud at the Canadian National Bouldering Championships, Montreal March 30 2015

Jay's gravity-defying move in the finals.


CEC Canadian Bouldering Nationals 2015 from Mathieu Elie.



Climber Kevin Lottis, living the good life in Turkey January 19 2015

F-Balm field tester Kevin Lottis tangles with tufas in Turkey (followed by tea)!

F-Balm Athlete Jay Holowach at Climbing World Cup Championship! June 01 2014

Bee Lab athlete and die-hard F-Balm fan, Jason Holowach, gives an outstanding performance at the IFSC Climbing World Cup: