As I started thinking about the question of whether it would be possible to run the Vancouver marathon barefoot I realized that the big problem was going to be conditioning the soles of my feet in time. During the winter I’ve normally just run in minimalist shoes, leaving barefooting as a warm-weather activity. But I can only count on the snow being gone from the roads for about 6 weeks before marathon day. I decided that if I wanted the possibility of running Vancouver barefoot, I should grab any opportunities I might get to shuck my shoes even in the winter.

We had a warm spell ast the very end of December when the temperatures got up to +3 or 4ºC. I managed to run short stints barefoot. I’ve continued to experiment with barefoot running at a variety of temperatures this past week. I’ve discovered some things.

First: Warm up before shucking the shoes. Somewhere between 1-2 km are required before my body cranks its furnace up and thoroughly warms my extremities. Keeping shoes on until that point usually eliminates any discomfort from the cold. If my feet get cold, they take a long time to warm up. If I keep my shoes on during the warmup my feet don’t really get cold in the first place.

Second: Dry asphalt is a breeze. With snow piled up on both sides of the road, running at just above or just around the freezing point is a real challenge because the melting snow makes the road perpetually wet. Water sucks the heat out of your feet crazy fast. Dry asphalt at minus 5 is much easier to run on than wet asphalt at plus 1.

Third: No walk breaks! Walking means your foot is in contact with the ground for a considerably higher proportion of the stride cycle … well over 50%. Running pushes that in-contact percentage well below 50%. The result is much warmer feet when running than walking. (Standing around, even for the few seconds it takes for the dog to have a pee, is of course even worse still.)

Fourth: Worse than water, snow or ice is the gravel they spray on the roads after a snowfall. This is what is really the limiting factor in the length of my runs. The highway I run on is steep, winding and little-travelled. This means that for safety a lot of sand and gravel are applied when it snows, and it tends to stay there. I have a feeling the streets and seawall of Vancouver will be a breeze after this.

I’m not going to risk frostbite or trenchfoot. But I am planning to try to get two or three short (1-3 km) barefoot runs in a week right through the thick of the winter. It seems quite do-able at this point. Hopefully once the weather starts warming up in March and April I’ll be well poised to switch most of my running miles to barefoot.

On a more general running note, I’ve got my weekly mileage up over 50 km for two weeks already and am feeling good.   February should average about 60k/week, March 70k/week, April a little higher, but then tapering back.

Winter feet

3 thoughts on “Winter feet

  • January 7, 2012 at 6:22 pm

    Do you take your shoes with you when you run barefoot in winter or at any other time “just in case” or does that defy the purpose of the bare foot run?

  • January 7, 2012 at 6:46 pm

    Crystal, I usually leave them at the side of the road, run for a while, run back, pick them up and do the last mile back to where I started carrying them. When using my huaraches as my “shoes of the day” I usually carry them, since they're super small and light and easy to carry.

  • January 8, 2012 at 8:52 am

    Hey – good for you!! Bestwishes with your upcoming training.

    I'm passing your post on to my brother who has a growing intrest in running barefoot. You're just full of great info!

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