It’s winter. Snow is everywhere… at least for those of us living in the Great White North. This is the time of year we reach for our favorite minimalist shoes. Some of us may be tempted to try running barefoot in the white fluffy stuff. After all, it is a ton of fun in warmer weather.
Through my own experimentation, here are some tips:
Disclaimer- Don’t run barefoot in the winter. Doing so may result in injury. The following is merely a documentation of the lessons I learned through my own stupidity.
- Go slow. Just like beginning barefoot running, it is important to adapt to the cold. You will encounter different sensations, or lack thereof. Start at a moderate temperate, and slowly work your way to colder temperatures. Same deal with distance… start slow. A half mile is more than enough for a winter novice. As far as speed, you should begin at ultra pace (think molasses).
- Remember- fluffy snow hides shit. Like leaves on a wooded trail, snow can hide nasty surprises. Know your route and avoid fluffy snow with a mysterious base.
- Stay moving. As long as you are moving, the heat generated by muscular movement and circulation will keep your feet relatively warm. I’ve been able to run up to 10 miles in about 20-24° weather as long as I keep moving. The moment you stop, you will freeze. Stay in motion.
- Earth is slightly warmer than asphalt or concrete… most of the time. Concrete and asphalt that is suspended in the air (like a bridge) is even colder most of the time. Keep this in mind.
- Salt lowers the temperature of road slush. It’s possible for slush to be well below freezing if it has been mixed with salt. This dramatically increases the danger of frostbite and/or other forms of damage.
- Avoid wet asphalt like the plague, especially if you are trying to run fast. Blisters form easily in this condition.
- If it hurts, stop. If it goes numb, stop. If it changes color significantly, stop. Use common sense.
- Always carry some sort of emergency foot covering. If you have to stop for any reason, you want some protection. I carry a pair of heavy wool socks and two bread bags. They are compact and make great emergency boots.
- Be aware of snow conditions. Melted then hardened snow can cut the feet like glass. I’ve gotten some nasty cuts from this condition.
- Realize you will likely have some sensory impairment. You will eventually learn to adapt to this to some degree, but only if you exercise patience.
- Never travel far from safety. Never be more than about a half mile from warmth.
- Know the early warning signs of frostnip and frostbite. Also know how to treat both conditions.
- Dress warm. If the rest of your body is adequately insulated, your feet will stay warmer… at least in theory.
- Develop a few good one-liners for the inevitable gasps when you encounter other runners. One of my favorites- “It’s not too bad because it’s a dry cold.”
Again, I don’t advise you run barefoot in the winter. If you decide to try it, be smart.