Tips for Barefoot Running in the Winter

by Summer on October 25, 2010

When winter comes, chances are your running is going to be limited by darkness, rain, old, and snow. None of these are good conditions for barefoot runners, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to put your shoes back on for every run. With a few sensible precautions, you’ll be able to minimize the conditions and keep a few barefoot miles going over the winter months!

Darkness

No matter where you live, winter will mean fewer daylight hours. If you’ve been running barefoot through the summer, you’ll have learned to watch where you put your feet, and if you’ve ever made a mistake and landed on a rock or another hazard, you might not be looking forward to leaving the shoes at home when it’s dark outside. But with the right attitude – and the right equipment – you may still be able to get out under the stars without your shoes.

First of all, when it’s dark, stick to routes you know well. You really don’t want to get lost, or be surprised by an unfamiliar surface when you don’t have the light of day to help you navigate a safe path. Try to choose routes that are well lit already, which is sensible from a personal safety standpoint as well as protecting your feet. Even if your route is lit up like a Christmas tree, consider wearing a head lamp. They aren’t expensive one with enough lumens to light your path and that will last for at least an hour can be found at most outdoor stores for $20-40, and they are worth well more than that. Unlike street lamps, you can move your head and position the beam of light exactly where you need it – critical for a split second move to avoid a hazard under your feet! And if course, head lamps make you much more visible too.

When running in the dark – barefoot or not – take all the sensible precautions. Wear reflective clothing, tell someone where you are going and when you will be back, stay on well used, well-lit and familiar routes, and if at all possible, run with a partner or group. If you haven’t joined a local running group, darkness is the perfect reason to join one now!

Rain

If you’ve been barefoot running in the summer, you may well have already run in wet conditions, and you know that there’s nothing inherently difficult or dangerous about rain for barefoot runners. In fact, barefoot runners are less likely to slip in wet conditions than shod runners, and good barefoot technique suits wet surfaces perfectly. That said, you do need to take extra care of your feet when they get wet. Your soles will soften in wet conditions, and may not be as resilient on your usual surfaces as you’ve come to expect. When you get home, make sure you wash and carefully dry your feet. Drying the feet will help keep the foot pads from getting soft and sensitive, which is discussed in the book dedicated to barefoot running highlighted on this site. Never, ever step into puddles when you are running barefoot – you just can’t see for sure what’s under the water! If it’s cold as well, wet feet can feel much colder than dry feet, so if it’s very cold try to keep your wet weather runs short.

Snow, ice, and cold

Really tough winter conditions do limit barefoot running. Bare feet can still slip on ice, and bare feet don’t appreciate running in snow. Not only will they get dangerously cold and wet, but like with puddles, you can’t be sure what’s in or under the snow. Really cold conditions aren’t good for barefoot running either – not only can you feet get dangerously cold, but if they begin to lose sensation you could step on hazards or step carelessly, risking accident or injury. If you feel a ‘bite’ at your toes when you step outside, or there’s a real risk of snow and ice, you might be better off in shoes or heading to the gym.

That said, die-hard barefoot runners are developing ways to keep going in the cold and snow. Sometimes a minimal shoe or a pair of Vibram FiveFingers is enough to give enough traction and insulation to get a run in. You can add a pair of Injiji socks if you really have to get outdoors – these socks have separate toes and are designed specifically for use with the FiveFingers, to give a little more warmth. The combination of Injiji socks and five fingers, or some wooly socks squeezed into your minimal shoes, may just keep you going through some cold and snowy conditions! Once again though, choose a route you know, and don’t take any chances with ice or hidden hazards. If it’s really bad outside, leave the barefoot session for a better day and head to the gym instead!

Photo Credit: heroturtle on Flickr

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