The management of terrain when running barefoot seems to some people like the perfect reason to put something on the feet. However, that robs a runner of many sensations that can make running safer and more fun. Fall debris is just another example of this. The pathways get covered with slick mats of dead leaves. Many tree seeds are as big as rocks. Some weed seeds have barbs that could be used to puncture leather. Mowing of dry grasses results in thin, stiff needles. Your bare feet can help your navigate this to maximum advantage.
If you are newer to barefoot running (or walking), this can all seem overstimulating to your more tender feet. There are some things that can both encourage you and help you enjoy learning to deal with it all. Here are some of my suggestions for both long term perspective and on-the-spot techniques:
- Running at a more relaxed pace makes it easier to react appropriately to surfaces. Fall can be a good time to back off on speed work and just work on building endurance.
- Also, if you are running at a pace that isn’t stressful, you tend to not hit the ground as hard. Not only is this good for your joints, but there will be less damage from anything that you come in contact with.
- A mat of leaves can be slippery, but with bare feet you are more likely to grip better and have stability from toe spread.
- Leaves can make the ground feel warmer.
- Remember to be careful about testing temperature extremes. The cold can make it feel more intense.
- Having bare feet makes it less likely you will twist an ankle if you step on something large, like an acorn. An occasional bruise will likely heal more quickly, and slow you down, less than torn ligaments.
- You always want to be scanning the ground anyway, which you are more likely to do when running barefoot, leading to greater ground awareness.
- If stickers do prick your feet, you will likely feel it before it goes in very far. Just stop and flick it aside.
- It can be helpful to stick to familiar paths. Knowing the basic terrain makes it easier to evaluate trouble spots.
- Sometimes you can use a mine field of debris as an opportunity to alter your running form, thus using muscles that are otherwise neglected by more repetitive, unchallenging surfaces. Do some quick stepping in little open spaces, keeping more on your toes; or run more like it is a little obstacle course. It will help keep you light on your feet.
- Learning to run on rough surfaces during the rest of the year will make fall debris seem more incidental.
- Remember that it will get easier with experience and as your feet and legs adapt more to being barefoot.
If you have any suggestions to add, please add them in the comments. I will add them to the main list!