Understanding How the Feet Adapt to Winter #Barefoot #Running


This winter especially, I have been amazed by how my feet have adapted to running barefoot (when I have been able to do so!). I will outline a few of my observations in the following few paragraphs. Specifically, I believe the adaptation process centers around sweat glands, blood flow and friction. The following expound on each of these:

  • Sweat (sudiforous) glands – the feet (and, seemingly MINE in particular) have proportionately a high percentage of sweat glands near the surface of the skin. The more you have, the closer they are located to the surface of the foot and the larger they are, the more you sweat under exertion. This is one of the ways the body keeps its core temperature balanced even in cold, winter conditions. The more your feet get used to the cold (ie., as in running barefoot), the easier it is to go farther without pain nor frostbite.


  • Blood flow – as you warm up to run outdoors in the midst of winter, I have found it essential to get my feet as warm as possible. This involves indoor drills – mostly done barefoot – to activate the feet and increase the flow of blood from my heart/lung systems to my feet. The better I am at doing this, the easier it is to immediately run barefoot even over snow, ice, asphalt, concrete and trails down to -10 to -15 Celsius temperatures. The increased flow of blood warms up the feet, increases proprioceptive firing and improves the foot’s reactivity to the cold conditions. The odd time when the conditions are too severe, I find starting out my run in the Sockwa X8s with the Barefoot-Science inserts until my feet start to sweat saves me from needless frostbite.


  • Friction – no matter how light I am on my barefeet, there is still a certain degree of friction with the surface of contact. This is actually a good thing in severe winter conditions – or so I’ve noticed. My bare feet actually warm up faster if I run on rougher surfaces in the early phases. Thus, I try to start my winter barefoot runs on asphalt, concrete or trail instead of hard-packed snow, smooth icy walkways or freshly laid asphalt. My feet still skim the surface (as I squat and scoot along in a low, mid-foot strike action) but they still create friction especially at impact and push-off.


Once I understood and accepted the above components of the body’s response to outdoor winter barefoot running, I was better able to adapt, run strong and remain injury-free through one of Canada’s worst winters on record.

Even though our winter has continued into the official start of spring, -2 to -6 Celsius feels almost BALMY!! Here’s to the unofficial start of spring…SOON!

Coach Jeff

If you are interested in becoming a better runner join my Transition Running Clinic that begins on Monday, March 31 at the Runner’s Mark store. 



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