Living in the southern part of central Ontario, Canada, I encounter a wide range of nasty winter running conditions. These become particularly challenging when you run – BAREFOOT! Over the years, I have developed certain strategies to improve my odds of running barefoot throughout MOST Canadian winter weather. Depending where you live, some of these may be applicable to your situation.
1. above 10 degrees Celsius – no special adjustments are required (normally). The odd time, you get cool, wet conditions. In these rare cases, I warm up barefoot indoors for a few extra moments before heading out…and avoid running through cold water puddles. That’s about it.
2. 5 to 10 degrees Celsius – usually, this is a perfect temp. range for barefoot running. I recommend warming up the feet indoors for 5 to 10 mins. – especially if the starting temp. is at the low end of this range. That includes quick pace running on the spot, single leg hops, box & forward/backward 1-legged hops, ankle rolls, toe gripping etc. At the higher temp. range, you should warm up the feet indoors for 2 to 5 mins. and outdoors for 2 to 3 mins. This will get the blood flowing to your extremities & make the transition to running easier
3. 0 to 5 degrees Celsius – it starts to get a tad more challenging now. If there is snow on the ground & a cold, strong wind, look the heck out! Not only do you need to warm up the feet indoors for 5 to 10 mins. pre-run, you also need to start running quickly with a fast foot turnover (minimize ground contact). Avoid slushy, cold water puddles (these are the worst for causing cold toe syndrome!). Also, be aware of the feelings in your feet. If they start to tingle, get home ASAP. Otherwise, you will be fine
4. -5 to 0 degrees Celsius – we’re getting near my bottom limit for barefoot running. Whenever temps go below 0 Celsius, you need to exercise more caution than normal. That goes without saying. I recommend for those new to sub-0 barefoot running, carry your ‘minimalist’ running footwear with you or start out running in them. Either way, your feet MUST be well warmed up prior to hitting snow-covered &/or ice-covered terrain. The toughest conditions are slushy salt-infested roads with choppy ice particles. It’s best to dodge these or run lightly & quickly over them. As your feet warm up or cool down, put your shoes on or take them off. You could also try spreading a light skin barrier cream.
5. -10 to -5 degrees Celsius – this IS my bottom limit!! It’s not often I run barefoot @ -10 C but I do on occasion. The best preparation is the regular runs I’ve done through the earlier part of the winter. This helps toughen my feet and condition my sensitive nerve endings to handle the more severe temps. I also will carry my Five Fingers (Bikilas) just in case and keep my distances below 12 kms. At these temps, you’re always running over icy patches, snow-covered terrain or (mainly) cold, harder-than-normal asphalt, concrete and trail. Oh…don’t forget to do an extra long indoor barefoot warm-up!:-))
Winter barefoot running is my favorite – it takes discipline and mental toughness along with a keen ssense of when your feet are close to being frost-bitten (you DON’T want to go there!!). I’ve never been injured but HAVE frost-bitten my right big toe. Lesson learned…!
Happy (and safe!) barefoot running this winter!!