Just because fall is here and the weather is getting cold and wet, doesn’t mean you need to put your running shoes back on all the time. Choosing a few run sessions that you can do barefoot – by doing them indoors – means you can keep your feet barefoot-ready, and best of all, you can protect your barefoot running form if your percentage of shod miles goes up.
Many gyms have indoor tracks, and pretty much all gyms have treadmills, both of which are perfectly suitable winter options for barefoot running. That said, there are a few things to be aware of to make sure you get the most form your indoor miles!
Treadmills and barefoot running
If you have a treadmill of your own, then you are ready to go, but if you are going to use a treadmill at your gym it’s a good idea to check with management before running barefoot. You might find yourself dealing with some barefoot prejudice if your gym is concerned about hygiene. If you encounter this, use the articles on this website to support your case that going barefoot makes you less of a risk to other users than those on shoes – after all, chances are you wore shoes into the gym, and didn’t track in contaminants and dirt on the bottom of your feet like every other user did!
Even though you are indoors, don’t neglect your own foot care. Be sure you keep your feet clean after your workout, even though you’ve been in the gym. You can’t control where other users have taken their shoes, and you’ve just been trotting right where they’ve been!
Safety is another concern. Treadmills have a lot of moving parts, and you need to keep your toes away from them. If you or your gym is a little nervous about making sure you leave with the same number of toes you came in with, then you might want to choose a minimal shoe for the treadmill. In practice, barefoot runners have a short and careful stride, and are much less likely to stray off the treadmill belt than a shod runner, but if they do, the consequences are more uncomfortable. If you go barefoot on your gym treadmill or your own at home, pay attention to what you are doing. Think about your stride the same way you do when you are outdoors, and don’t overdo it – tired runners make mistakes.
The last factor to be aware of when you are barefoot on the treadmill is perhaps the most obvious – that the ground is moving. Even if you have been running barefoot outside all summer, cut your mileage a bit. Each time your foot hits the moving belt, it will slip just a tiny bit, and that means you can get some chafing and blisters if you aren’t careful. Paying close attention to your stride and keeping your speed low will help, but if you find you get sore feet, again you might want to think about using a minimal shoe or the FiveFingers.
Indoor tracks and barefoot running
Some gyms are fortunate enough to offer an indoor running track, and these are great for winter barefoot running. You may still find your gym has a few unfounded reservations about barefoot running, but hopefully if you meet resistance you’ll be able to persuade them that you pose no risk. The same goes for barefoot treadmill running – your feet may be clean, but other runners’ shoes aren’t, so take care of your feet after running!
While tracks don’t pose the safety risks or have the blister factor of treadmills, they do come with a hidden hazard. Most indoor tracks are significantly smaller than their outdoor counterparts – I know of one in my area that is only 1/16 of a mile! This means that to get in a good workout, you are going to be spiraling in a fairly small circle for quite a while. Again, barefoot runners with good form shouldn’t find they suffer as much from the strains of this kind of ‘one sided’ running, but you need to be aware of it all the same. If you find you are feeling strains – usually on the ‘inside’ leg – then you may need to cut your mileage or run in the opposite direction if that is allowed. You might also try running a few laps, and when you get dizzy (or bored!) switch to weights or another workout and come back and run a few more laps later.
Running indoors might not be the same as running outside with the wind in your face, but it can make a nice break from the cold, wet, and dark outdoors. It’s better than nothing, and going indoors in the winter may mean you can get more barefoot miles in than you could outdoors. Plus, indoors it’s easy to find some company – make the most of the winter months and spend some time spreading the barefoot way at your local gym!