I recently joined the Barefoot Runner’s Society’s Canadian chapter. There are a handful of us there, most of us recent converts to this “less is more” approach to running, most of us trying to figure out how we’re going to get through the winter without losing what conditioning our feet and legs have acquired.
The few more experienced runners have suggested that it is more than possible to run barefoot in below-freezing temperatures. Cleared dry pavement or asphalt, they say, is possible down to -10ºC or a little below. With slush and snow on the ground it can be tougher, but with a proper warmup still possible to a few degrees below freezing. And so today, with the first snowfall of the year on the ground and temperatures hovering just below the freezing point, I gave it a try.
I ran in shoes for the first kilometer, trying to get properly warmed up, increasing the circulation to my feet. I was doing an out-and-back route, so I kicked my shoes off at the side of the highway at the 1.0 km mark and carried on. I figured I’d run another kilometre (less if it was truly too awful to endure), turn around and head back to my shoes.
It was certainly a challenge to run that kilometre. I wasn’t running in actual snow. I was on the highway which was wet with occasional bits of slush and slushy puddles. I worried about how much the return kilometre would hurt. But I made it through the full outbound kilometer, and right as it was ending things got a fair bit easier. I decided to carry on another 500 metres to my normal turnaround, which would bring my barefoot distance to a full 3 km by the time I got back to my shoes. After the turnaround the numbness on the bottoms of my feet disappeared. The water began to feel almost pleasantly cold on my now-fairly-warm feet.
By the time I reached my shoes the only thing that was bothering me was the gravel that the highway maintenance crew had spread on the curves in the road. It had an annoying habit of hiding in the slush. But I ran slower through those patches. And it just didn’t seem worth stopping to put my shoes on, so I picked them up and carried on home.
Right now my feet feel like they’ve just enjoyed some sort of Finnish sauna and snow spa treatment with a bonus exfoliation treatment. They’re happy and tingly. I never would have thought this was possible!