It’s just about wintertime, and barefoot runners keep asking me “how do I stay barefoot” or “how do I keep the strong feet I grew over the last year by being barefoot”?
These are great questions, and I have great ideas how to help.
First off, stay barefoot through the fall as long as you can. This may mean shorter runs, closer to home, or only getting out mid-day when the ground is at it’s warmest. But any time you can maintain with the ground fully barefoot the better. Each day is good for holding onto at least a week of gains you’ve made.
Second, if you want to keep your skin, stay on only dry ground. While I often people how to run in the snow, the trick is, if you run wet, you need to stay wet, and if you run dry, stay dry. This means running in snow, and then on a dry sidewalk is the perfect way to scuff off any skin you’ve grown over the year. Avoid it if you can!
Third, if you want to keep your skin, NEVER, EVER run on rock-salt, even if it’s dry. Rock-salt’s a meat tenderizer and will not only wear off your skin, but make it so soft even the slightest pebble or piece of glass will cut right into your foot. I know, because it’s happened to both Jessica and I…the only times we’ve been cut by glass have been after running over rock-salt.
Fourth, wear the thinnest, most minimalist shoes you can to keep your foot strength. Good news here. The less shoe, the more your foot has to work, and so the warmer it stays. Conversely, in a thick shoe, your foot doesn’t have to work, so your body “shunts” blood away from the extremities, to other parts that need it more. So you’ll be surprised to find how little shoe you can get away with.
Fifth, head to your local mall at least once a week, before shops open. There you can barefoot run, wear a pair of yoga socks (that look like Five-Fingers), or wear one of the many other options listed below, to jog around to your heart’s content. This is the secret of the seniors, malls are great places for morning walks and jogs…and best of all, they have HARD surfaces. My favorites? Any mall that has stone-like tile, as it has a lot of uneven surfaces to help prevent overuse injuries.
Here are some footwear options to keep your feet strong, make sure to check out the last one, it’s my favorite:
- We’re starting with short distances. If it’s tolerable, go fully barefoot. You’ll find the cold stimulates MORE blood flow to the feet. It’s natural to find them beat red and hot after a short stint barefoot in the cold. Choose blacktop over asphalt. It soaks up sunlight and heat better and therefore will be warmer. (You’ll see in the videos we want to start with the hardest surfaces, rather than grass, to develop our lightest, springiest stride.)
- If it’s too cold to go fully barefoot, wear a thin pair of cheap socks. This’ll take the edge off of the cold, but the thinner the sock, the better, as you’ll feel the ground more (helping you land extra light and develop your own best stride) and you’ll keep from squirming around in your socks.
- For additional traction, wear a pair of yoga socks with rubber nubs on the bottom.
- And for even more protection, wear the thinnest minimalist footwear you can. Best options from thinnest to thicker:
- Sockwa Playa Lo – the thinnest beach sock, and Jessica’s favorite for cold weather or slightly sharp terrain
- The Feelmax Osma 2 and Feelmax Kuusa. We were so excited to just search and find these are available again in the states, specifically through Amazon. The Osma was our favorite minimalist shoe for years, until our toes spread so much the footwear got too narrow. But they have an abraded Kevlar bottom that gives you the best protection against sharp objects, with the MINIMUM amount of material. You feel the ground, and almost as if you’re fully barefoot. The Osma is a bit more of a sock, the Kuusa, ever-so-slightly a bit more of a shoe. If it’s really cold, the Kuusa may be a little better, and either way, if it’s really bitter out, you can replace the removable insole with a Toasty Feet insulated insole to keep your feet warm on freezing grounds.
- ZemGear Ninja Hi’s which have a split toe and cover the ankle for a bit more warmth.
- SoftStar Moc’s Earthing Mocassins – No rubber sole makes them extra thin and helps you electrically connect with the earth, but DO NOT WEAR THESE ON SLIPPERY TERRAIN.
- Huaraches or sandals such as Xero Shoes – Chose the thinnest you can get. I’ve run in them extensively and have been surprised to find on soft terrain I can get lazy in my stride. But for hard cement, they’ll still give quite a bit of feedback.
- There are a few other strange options out there, such as a product that can perhaps best be described as a “foot condom” by Inov-8, called the EvoSkin. It’s just a thin layer of rubber that covers your whole foot, and some runners swear by them. We haven’t reviewed them, because they’re not very breathable, but for use this time of the year, they may work quite well.
- You could even consider “foot thongs,” also called half-soles, or dance paws, that are sold at dance stores, which just have a leather pad under the ball of the foot, just enough to take the edge off in the cold. The challenge we’ve found with some of these is they tend to push your fifth toe inward.
- If it’s snowy and messy outside, then there’s a do-yourself footwear that’s my favorite. That’s buying some neoprene cycling booties—just make sure they’re not “pre-cut” or don’t already have a space for cleats cut or sewn into the bottom, you need a solid piece of rubber there—something that’s admittedly getting harder to find. Add a Toasty Feet insole (I mentioned earlier) to insulate your foot from the freezing ground since rubber transmits the cold, and then put on a pair of good wool socks. Voila! You’ve got a very flexible, soft and cushy, neoprene, water-proof moccasin for the winter. Great news, they’ll feel awesome in the soft-stuff. Bad news, they’re not-so-great on hard-packed or dry surfaces…so you’ll be looking for more of the soft stuff to play in. I’d say they almost so great, you’ll want snowy conditions months into the spring, just to keep running in these things!
If your gym allows, you can go barefoot on the treadmill, or wear one of the above footwear options. But if you’re wearing footwear, just make sure you’re not going to slide around when you land (such as in a loose-fitting pair of socks). Sliding can produce a whole slew of challenges for the body.
If you’re running on the treadmill, make sure you mix things up (we’ll write-up more on the treadmill shortly), so you don’t get an overuse injury. In short:
- Stay back from the front of the treadmill. The body gets thrown off by seeing a control panel in front of us, and does weird things to our stride. So the further back you can go, the better as long as they’re no risk of sliding off.
- Mix up the pace, and the inclination. The treadmill is a perfectly flat surface, which means it’s the hardest one out there on the body. Since every step is identical to the last, it doesn’t give small muscle groups time to recover, and can quickly create an overuse injury.
- Start with once every third day to give the body time to adapt. Realize, each time you land, there’s the additional force of trying to brake and mate the foot to the belt…this can be quite hard and jarring on the body.
- If you’re going fully barefoot and your feet start to heat up, that’s the nylon belt cooking your foot, it’s time to stop, and give it two days before going again, so your skin can grow back. I’ve known plenty of barefoot runners who struggle with blisters almost daily on the treadmill, because they don’t listen to their bodies, they squirm with their feet when they land, and they don’t give the feet the extra time they need for the skin.
Follow any mixture of the above, and you’ll hold your strength, and potentially even your skin through the wintertime. Best of all, you won’t have weak feet come spring, and with the added strength and circulation you get from your barefoot and near-barefoot time, you’ll have the toastiest feet ever this winter. Forget the sleep socks, you’re gonna have HOT feet!
So be Mindful, have fun indoors and out, LISTEN to your body, and Run Free!