Friday, November 25, 2011

Keeping Your Feet Barefoot Running Ready Thru The Winter

As winter sets in, I have been asked quite frequently how I keep my feet ready for running in the spring. Further to this, there has been a lot of questions and conversation pertaining to this topic on what to do on the Barefoot Runners Society forum as well as on the Facebook group Minimalist & Barefoot Running. So I figured this would be a good topic to write about based on my personal experience as well as from the experiences of some other barefoot runners out there.

I do want to add a big disclaimer to this as my experiences are what worked for me and may not work for everybody out there, so take all that I say with a grain of salt or a missed tree root along your favorite trail running route. You must tread lightly or 'dip a toe' into all types of transitions into realms that you have not previously ventured.

We will start with my personal experiences over the winter last year which was the first one that I had this potential issue (or non-worry because at the time I really wasn't concerned about it).:

Living in Winnipeg, which can see temperatures consistently in the -20's (Celsius) and occasionally down to the -40's in January and February it really is not feasible to run barefoot all year (although I did get some mileage in including a 2 km jaunt at -29 degrees), especially if you want any distance runs completed. I also want to note that the most enjoyable winter barefoot run is the Virgin Snow Run, to clarify this means the first snow run of the year where the city has not had a chance to spread that nasty crap called ice melt all over the roads or sidewalks (can you say meat tenderizer, I knew you could). Therefore there definitely is opportunity to get some 'barefootin' in during the winter months to help keep that good layer of built up skin intact. But that being said, this is a quick list of things that I did to help that transition back to the blessed bare soles of the road in the spring.
  1. I took every opportunity I could to go barefoot at home or the office, or indoors in general. Every bit of flesh contact to floor counts, the less cushion the better. For example if you have concrete floors in your basement, or tile floor in your kitchen utilize it, go barefoot, even hardwood floor strutin counts. I always hear people mention that 'there floors are to cold to go barefoot' well I say to that, hmmm, opportunity to help condition your feet to cooler temps too, perfect.
  2. In running in minimalistic shoes outside help keep that conditioning up, by mixing up the terrain. You see a snow pile, run up it then down, and repeat. The more uneven surfaces the better, this will also help your stability and form as well. Don't just run on sidewalks and clear roads, run on trails and paths, make it fun. For that matter run across a frozen lake (see this post), it all counts. With a low drop shoe or mukluk with no foot padding you will still get some conditioning of your sole.
  3. Avoid overheating your feet by wearing to many layers of socks, sweat will turn your soles soft and promote peeling of your skin layer.
  4. If you do go barefoot running in the snow, know your limits and don't push it, frost bite will destroy the bottom of your foot and the built up layer that you had previously developed. It will also make them more sensitive to the cold and harm your tolerance level overall for sharp pointy stuff running. The old adage of 'Run Smart' definitely applies here. The development of frost bite and or frost nip will result in a major amount of time off for healing if it ever completely does and could seriously affect your overall barefooting experience.
  5. This one is a important one as well, go spend sometime with your favorite foot care provider (no I do not mean a podiatrist), if you are from Winnipeg or passing thru I recommend Leyla's Skin Care, she is fantastic and she holds no punches. She will tell you like it is and do what is required to fix your feet.
With the above items in mind, when I was able to completely remove the shoes again for the year, it took   me less than 2 weeks to be up to 17 miles and about a month after that I was up over 30 miles of barefoot running at a time. No issues, my feet were not sore, nor tender and my rebound after the run was literally hours.

Here are some other ideas that have been used with success by other barefoot runners, please note, I have not used any of these personally, but what ever floats your boat, I guess.

Gravel Bucket Training.

This was developed by Todd Ragsdale,
Interesting Concept and I can see this working.

Putting Sandpaper in Your Shoes

This one I am still a little, shall I say hesitant about. I cannot say I know of anyone actually trying this and what the results were but to me this is not a very good idea. Typically you are trying to build up your skin layer and subsequently toughen it up. The whole point of sandpaper is to either smooth a surface or remove/wear it down. Not sure how this will help you, also rubbing sandpaper over any surface creates friction which creates heat, I am personally not thinking this is a very good idea. I kind of do not like to burn my feet, but that is just my preference. But I am open to other thoughts and perspectives on this so if anyone out there has attempted this, please chime in, because I am a little curious about it.

Check This One Out

Really has nothing to do with foot conditioning but
 just because I thought it was kind of neat.

Hopefully this will give you some ideas to help keep those most valuable soles ready for next spring, but the most important thing to remember is keep thinking up and trying new things, you might just stumble onto the next great idea in this regard.

Happy running.


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