Running barefoot in the winter is not about being crazy. Not for me, anyway. And not for most of the barefoot runners that I know. It’s about the enjoyment of running, and learning how to do that the best we can in spite of the elements. Yes, it involves some testing of the limits. There can be some fun in the discovery of that. Sometimes there can be pain. But in the end, it is all about the particular feel of running that is barefoot running.
The first couple of years that I was going barefoot, I had not developed the ability to enjoy the colder temperatures. I say developed, knowing that in part my progress was affected by the overall adaptation of my feet, but also by my choices about when and where I tried to go barefoot. I was not up to running more than about 5 miles on a regular basis. When the conditions outside got below freezing, icy, and wet, I just put on my RunAMocs, not thinking I would ever consider doing otherwise.
This year, I surprise myself by wanting to go barefoot in colder temperatures, going in and out of stores, going out to take care of chickens. From what I read, I still don’t “enjoy” the cold WET temperatures as much as some of my barefoot friends. Some of them have even been going barefoot a year less than me. Who really can say exactly what the variables are that motivate and enable them to try colder temperatures. I do know that some of it is how much time and distance is really spent outdoors, versus just going out to get the mail or walk to the car. So, while I am committed to the superiority of being barefoot whenever possible, and I see the horizons of those possibilities ever increasing, I am willing to be patient with myself because I am always moving forward with my own barefoot experience in my own circumstances.
One of the forums that has helped me a lot is the Winter Challenge on the Barefoot Runners Society (Also, see the Stomp of Approval and link in the sidebar). Here you can find an array of people with experience in all conditions. There are runners in Canada, Minnesota, New York, Denmark, and Germany. Talk about frozen. Most of these people have helpful hints for handling the weather and having fun with it (and their dogs). Most of them have pushed the limits painfully enough to know how to caution winter newbies. There is no pressure. No one wants anyone else to hurt themselves. There is, however, jovial hazing since there is a “contest” between the countries for most barefoot miles.
Last year, I only read some of the information. This year, I have “signed on.” The encouragement has helped me work through the apprehension I had after getting frost nip last winter dancing in a garage. The runs don’t have to be done below freezing to “count” in the contest. The air temperature just needs to be 40°F or below. I have a hunch that most miles I run will be in the category of 32° – 40°F. I am surprisingly comfortable with that, and so are all the other participants. In fact, that was one of the facts that led me to take part. I looked over the results from last year and saw that most people don’t spend too many miles barefoot at temperatures below that. It’s all about exchanging information and sharing our winter adventures.
For the first time ever, this fall I have run up to 12 miles at a time with bare feet (skin to ground, as we say) in temperatures less than 40°F, but in dry conditions. It was fun and my feet were only slightly cold for the first couple of miles. With the guidance of the Winter Challenge group, I hope my adventures this year will all be positive.