Of Sea Urchins and Plantar Warts

Disclaimer: Always consult a Doctor for medical issues. There are a lot of opinions on how best to deal with Sea Urchin spines.

Sea Urchin Stings

Back in March, I blogged about trail running in Kona, Hawaii. What I failed to mention was that my feet were doing their best impressions of pin cushions during that run. Looking back on the injury and complications that followed, I think there may be some useful information for other runners so let’s get into it.

Prepare for Stinging

I’ve probably mentioned at some point that I don’t really enjoy traveling, but one of the few destinations that can get me excited is the ocean. The beach affords me the opportunity to relax and unwind, and as a former reef aquarium enthusiast, any ocean destination with abundant reef life piques my interest. So even though I wasn’t excited to travel, I was excited to get to the ocean.

On our first full day in Hawaii, some of us decided to get in the water off the hotel’s beach. It was high tide and the waves were significant enough that treading water was a challenge. Unfortunately, I hadn’t seen the beach area at low tide to know the dangers just below the surface, and before I knew it, a wave had pushed me into the sea urchin covered lava rock wall. I planted my feet to avoid getting my body cut up by the rock and ended up with the aquatic equivalent of kicking a porcupine.

Addressing the Pain

Sea Urchin venom is painful but not unbearable. That said, pain affects everyone differently and the location of the sting likely makes a difference. An allergic reaction is also a possibility so don’t play around. Get to safety and deal with the problem before continuing with any swimming activities.

To neutralize the venom, use vinegar.

Many will suggest urine as a quick alternative, but it’s not clear to me how effective that option may be. It appears that sea water or hot water are both better options than urine, but if you’re desperate, I’ll let you make up your mind.

Of course, once the pain from the venom subsides, you’re still left with the pain of a bunch of spikes still in your skin.

No Yanking

Your initial reaction to the urchin spines is to pull them out. Some Doctors will even advise removing them, but my understanding is that you increase the odds of a secondary bacterial infection. The spines are extremely brittle so pulling will just cause them to break off instead of coming out cleanly like a splinter or thorn. And yes, I yanked on a big cluster of spines that were sticking several inches out of my heel, and they just broke off.

Sea Urchin spines are made of Calcium Carbonate which our bodies can absorb. Calcium Carbonate can also be dissolved by Vinegar. Over a period of 3 weeks, I did 2-3x daily soaks in Vinegar to help dissolve all of the spines in my feet and toes. It was a long process, but as a runner, I DID NOT want a Doctor cutting on my feet.

With what I know now, my preferred treatment would have been an IMMEDIATE foot soak in Vinegar as hot as my feet could tolerate without burning. The Vinegar neutralizes the venom and works to dissolve the Calcium Carbonate spines, and the heat helps loosen the skin to (hopefully) let some of the spines fall out.

If you do a few Internet searches, you might see a story about some crazy guy having a friend beat the spines with a board. I think the goal may be breaking the spines into smaller pieces the body can absorb more quickly, but I’m honestly not sure. Since this article is from a runner’s perspective, though, I would advise against bashing your feet with a board. If it’s another body part, have fun if a good beating ticks your boxes.

Watching for Infection

I had one cluster of spines that kept acting infected (swollen and reddened appearance). In a rare and unexpected display of potency, the OTC triple antibiotic ointment that NEVER works actually got the job done. It kept the infection at bay while the spines continued to dissolve.

That said, consult your Doctor if you see signs of infection.

Expecting the Unexpected

After being stung on the first day of a week-long vacation, I had to suck it up and get on with the vacation activities and relaxation. This meant being in sandals and barefoot frequently throughout the remaining 6 days of vacation. In one case, we spent some time snorkeling in a pool at another much more popular hotel, and I suspect it’s at this hotel where I picked up a plantar wart.

I’ve been exposed to plantar warts before but never developed one. That’s likely because it’s rare for my feet to have broken or damaged areas where the virus could gain access. Of course, with my foot peppered with Sea Urchin spines and the soles softening from repeated Vinegar soaks, I had basically rolled out the Plantar Wart Red Carpet.

It took me 7 months to cure my Plantar Warts, and I know people that have been trying for years to rid their feet of Plantar Warts. This is not a complication you want.

Protect your feet. Go straight to the shoe store and buy some water shoes. If you’re in a public area, wear them to reduce the odds of a secondary infection. Honestly, this is probably a good idea even if you don’t get stung by a Sea Urchin. In fact, if I HAD worn water shoes, I wouldn’t have ever been in this predicament in the first place.

Packing Beach Essentials

Going for a day at the beach? Make sure you have your Sunscreen, Towels, Vinegar, and Water Shoes…not in that order.

 

 

 

 

Trail Running: Kona, Hawaii

While the rest of you were following in the footsteps of the Ironman and cycling Highway 19 or swimming Kailua Bay, I was running the coastline, checking out Kekaha Kai State Park. I actually wanted to drive to Volcanoes National Park to run some of the trails there, but we were staying near Kona, and the schedule didn’t allow enough time to drive to the Southeast side of the island. My trail run wasn’t so much a trail run as it was bits of running mixed with hiking and picture taking. If I had it to do over again, I would have loaded up the family, snorkel gear, and beach supplies and made a day of hiking the unbelievably quiet beaches I found along the way.

I started my run by getting a cab to drop me off at the Southern-most entrance of Kekaha Kai State Park just off Highway 19. Trying to tell the driver where I wanted to go proved amusing as he originally thought I wanted him to take me directly to Makalawena Beach. Since the drive from HI-19 to the beach is unpaved and extremely rough, you’re unlikely to find a cab willing to take you all the way in. Instead of getting dropped off near the beach, I just ran the mile or so from 19 to the beach parking area. It might be tough for a car, but it’s not that bad for running.

Makaole'a Beach

Makaole’a Beach

Once I arrived at the parking area, I turned South away from Makalawena to run toward a small, black sand beach area called Makole’a Beach. The road toward the beach this direction is distinctly 4WD only, and it was much more difficult to run than the main road. The 4WD roads often have rocks in the 4-6” diameter size range bunched together anywhere the road has been washed out which is great for a vehicle but a little more challenging for a runner. After some time on the road, I noticed white markings on the lava heading toward the beach so I blindly followed.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Lava

KeKaHa Kai State Park Lava

The lava was surprisingly runnable, but that isn’t always the case. The lava in this area was smooth with cracks spaced well for my stride. In other areas, the lava was much rougher and reduced me to slow walking to keep my footing. The marked lava route eventually rejoined a road and took me to Makole’a.

Makole’a was empty. At 11:00 am, I was the only person on the beach. Being the type of person who likes to avoid crowds, I was floored. I’ve never seen an empty beach…ever. It would have been nice to stay and spend some time, but this was my running time so I took a few pictures and headed north along the coast.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trails

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trails

Running from Makole’a to Mahai’ula Beach was a mix of rocks and really loose sand. If you wanted to get a better run without burning out your legs in the sand, returning to the 4WD road might have been a better strategy.

There were a handful of people at Mahai’ula Beach, but it was still extremely quiet. Most people coming to this area likely hike further North to Makalawena Beach.

If I’m remembering the route correctly, the hike to Makalawena is extremely rough. It’s about a quarter mile on little 4” diameter rocks. I was wearing trail shoes, and it was bothering my feet. I felt sorry for the beach goers navigating the rocks in their sandals, but the payoff had to be worth it. Makalawena Beach was so nice that I texted my wife and teased that I was just going to stay for the rest of the day.

Makalawena Beach

Makalawena Beach

From Makalawena, I mixed some coast line running with some 4WD road running. At times the coast line slowed me to barely a crawl while I worked my way around tide pools, and at other times I was running on paths through the trees or along small, sandy beaches.

KeKaHa Kai State Park 4WD Road

KeKaHa Kai State Park 4WD Road

After I left Makalawena, I didn’t see another tourist until I reached Kua Bay at the North side of Kekaha Kai. The few people I did see were clearly locals either heading out for spearfishing or camping on beaches reachable only by truly off-road vehicles. The roads to these areas may not necessarily require 4WD, but you MUST have ground clearance. The smaller Subaru’s I saw earlier in my run wouldn’t have worked here, and an Outback would have been borderline.

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trail

KeKaHa Kai State Park Trail

Eventually I had been out too long on too slow a route. I happened to see a car drive by out of the corner of my eye and realized I was near the paved road to Kua Bay. I cut across some of the worst lava rock I’ve encountered and hopped on the road for a quick half mile or so to Manini’owali Beach.

Manini’owali Beach is by far the most popular beach in this park. It’s a beautiful but smaller white sand beach with much less rock in the water making it a more attractive swimming location. When I arrived around lunch time, the beach was packed. I couldn’t even run the path through the beach without risking kicking sand into sunbathers. There were coolers and towels and people on almost every square foot of white sand.

I had planned to continue North, but there is a historical lava rock area just North of Manini’owali Beach with dire warnings about moving any rock. Not knowing how long it might take me to work my way through, I opted to run back out the Kua Bay access road and return to my hotel via HI-19. Even though my body was pretty well shot at this point, the roads gave me a chance to get in what turned into intervals for the final 3 miles of my run.

KeKaHa Kai State Park

KeKaHa Kai State Park

There are probably better places to run in and around Kona and definitely on the Big Island, but I had a blast at Kekaha Kai State Park. Mahalo, Hawaii.