As the old adage goes, that which doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.
That’s certainly true when it comes to super-sharp gravelly roads, once nicely paved, yet now pockmarked with potholes and recently thrashed by one of the roughest winters on record.
These roads can be quite literally a pain to traverse barefoot, but can serve the body well.
For the key elements for cushy foot-pad development, and stronger skin on the feet are heat and pressure, and while it’s certainly not hot out in most parts of the country yet, every time you step on a sharp stone or pointy spot on the road, you’re feeling plenty of pressure. And that develops all-terrain feet and super-strong skin fast!
The challenge is to keep your feet on the healthy side of this quantum stimulation. Here are seven keys to doing this, helping you progress safely even on the ugliest of roads:
- Keep the distances short
This isn’t just for your skin, but on rough roads we use our entire body to try and precariously perch over sharp stuff and keep the pressure light. This means you’re working your calves, shins, and inadvertently your IT bands particularly hard.
- Work to keep your core engaged
The more your lock your core in place, the less the burden falls on your muscles and connective tissue, helping prevent overuse injuries. And you’ll feel lighter and run over the sharp stuff with less pain and excitement as well.
- Give yourself a day of recovery between barefoot sessions
Now this is normal advice I give, but goes doubly so when you’re running on the equivalent of a meat tenderizer. Give the skin and padding a chance to adapt, so it’ll come back extra-strong.
- Keep the feet hydrated
Chewed up cement and asphalt isn’t just a tenderizer, but a drying agent, and will suck all the moisture out of the feet.
Use beeswax, aloe, coconut oil, or other healthy oils (always natural substances as they’re drawn up into the body) on the bottom of the feet once a day to keep the skin cracking from the harsh conditions.
However, don’t use “skin softeners” or any product that claims to help soften your skin, these are dangerous for barefoot running.Want to keep the spouse happy and keep from staining the sheets? Ideally, put the oil before bed, then sock-up, and let the oil soak in overnight—your feet and socks that is, not your nice sheets.
- Run extra aware-foot, or head’s up
Chances are you’re going to hit a stray stone or two—dozen as you jog alone chewed up streets. Taken lightly that’s okay, they’ll literally make you stronger. However, some of the larger stones can hurt quite a bit or cause you tighten up or roll an ankle. So it’s best to re-double your efforts to stay present in the moment (think mindful running here).Now’s not the time to worry or muse about anything, but simply to focus all of your attention on where you’re placing your feet.This has the added bonus of quieting your mind for greater stress-relief, and literally rewiring the mind to be extra-present in all that you do. And it’ll keep you from yelping every minutes or every few steps.
- Watch those sidewalk and crosswalk transitions and gutters
We should always be careful, or care-foot, of running in the gutter, even in a shoe. Not only do they hide holes and debris that can cause us to trip or roll an ankle, but they’re strong curvatures can wreak havoc on our knees and hips, very quickly causing sore IT bands and overuse injuries. And when it comes to running barefoot, there’s a very real danger of stepping on something hidden and sharp.With this year’s chewed up roads from snow plows and ice heaves, there’s lots of debris on the road’s edges, ramps and crosswalks. Do your best to negotiate AROUND these spots, looking clear pavement and cement. Even when our skin’s at its strongest, it’s best to steer clear of hidden hazards, but at this time of the year when the skin’s soft, it’s particularly dangerous.
- Be humble and bring your “handweights” or footwear with you
After your skin has had enough, slip on your shoes and continue your run or head home nice and light. After-all, you didn’t go out to beat up your feet, but to increase your fitness as you transition back into barefoot running.
Bonus Tip: Lower that landing gear.
Don’t try and run up high on that forefoot over the sharp stuff, instead, land with your heel just brushing the ground to get greater surface area beneath you. Sink down into stride a bit, keeping the knees just slightly bent. In our book Barefoot Running we call this the Monkey Jog, and it’ll help traverse the most challenge terrain.
In many parts of the country, this spring’s transition into barefoot running is more challenging than ever. But it will literally make you stronger. Stay aware, and give thanks for the small owwies if you can. Every time you hit a sharp stone it dramatically strengthens the skin, and builds much greater padding on the bottom of your feet. This will serve you well for long runs ahead, and the hot pavement to come of summer.
And if you keep that core locked down, you’ll run the sharp-stuff lighter now, and develop your most efficient, injury-resistant stride for the smooth pavement and paths ahead!
So shed those shoes and those winter blues. Be mindful, Have Fun, and Run Free!