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Barefoot Running in Extreme Weather and Temperatures

     Barefoot running, in ideal conditions, is usually pretty straight-forward.  However, sometimes you may encounter conditions that are less-than-ideal for barefoot running.  For the most part, minimalist runners do not have a major problem with these conditions.  In the following paragraphs, some special scenarios that are potentially problematic will be addressed.

     Running in hot weather can be a difficult task itself. For the barefoot runner, it poses a special challenge if running on a hot surface. A barefoot runner may also encounter this problem on some treadmills, as the deck will heat up as friction increases.   Generally, asphalt is the worst surface for hot, sunny days.  My personal preference is to avoid it and run early in the morning or evening.  

     If you must run on hot asphalt, there is a certain degree of acclimation that can occur.  Start by running VERY short distances on hot asphalt, then slowly increase that distance over the course of several days and weeks.  CAUTION- DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS IF THE ASPHALT IS HOT ENOUGH TO BURN YOU!   I live in a relatively mild climate.  Those of you living in hot climates should either avoid hot asphalt or wear minimalist shoes.  If you are in a pinch and must run on hot asphalt without being able to acclimate to it, try running on the white line.  It will be significantly cooler than the black asphalt.  Be careful of traffic, however! 

     Cold weather presents the exact opposite problem.  If the temperatures are above freezing, it is possible to slowly acclimate to the cold.  However, the cold will reduce the sensation of your feet on the ground.  This results in less feedback going to your brain.  This could be too much of an injury risk.  

     It is recommended that you wear some type of minimalist shoe.  Early in my barefoot running career, I wore aqua socks with thermal wool socks underneath.  Today, I prefer Vibram KSOs® or Terra Plana VivoBarefoot EVOs® with a pair of Injinji® toe socks underneath.  In either case, it allows for a decent approximation of barefoot running.  

     During the winter months, I will also do limited barefoot running on treadmills to help maintain the “feel” of running barefoot.  Whenever possible, I will spend as much time barefoot indoors.   

     Rain is usually not an issue unless you are exposed to it for a long period of time.  After a few hours, wet skin tends to become macerated, which greatly increases the likelihood of blistering.  Wearing a minimalist shoe is recommended for long distances in rain.  Alternatively, you can counteract the effect if you allow your feet to try periodically.  This can be difficult in a race, but may be an acceptable solution when training.

     Running in the dark barefoot presents the obvious problem of visibility.  It will be impossible to see the terrain ahead.  As such, you will not be able to avoid potentially hazardous obstacles.  The obvious solution is to use some sort of illumination.  

     When running at night, a combination of a headlamp and handheld flashlight can be very effective.  If running on roads with little debris, use one or the other.  On technical trails, use both at the same time.  The more you can illuminate the area ahead of me, the greater your ability to avoid trouble.  Also remember to wear bright, reflective clothing.