I’m running barefoot.

It’s an awkward time since winter is coming, but now that my marathon is over I really want to dedicate some time to shoeless training. My progress so far has been slow. And cold. So I asked a Canadian barefoot friend of mine for some tips.

He has picked up most of his information from various books and articles, and of course personal experience. Here’s what he had to say:

The best thing to do for running in the cold is to warm up before you go out, and once out don’t stop moving. If you keep your core warm then your extremities will be warmer also.

You can also try going out and getting cold then warming up and going back out. The second time feels a lot warmer. Once you are out and you are feeling cold for the second time, or you are really starting to hurt, warm up immediately.

There is some good advise about barefoot running in the cold in Michael Sandler’s book. I am still working on this myself. I also heard that you can run stairs barefoot in the winter and try running barefoot at an indoor/underground parking lot (just don’t get hit by a car). As you do more barefoot and get exposed to the colder temperatures your feet will adapt and without the shoes your feet get better blood flow.

I should also warn you about salt. Salt is dangerous! If you are running barefoot in the snow (this is from personal experience) don’t run in snow that has had salt added to it (like the grey snow you see in the streets). Salt drops the temperature of the snow and will cause frostbite even on a day when pure snow doesn’t.

I also got the following question through Facebook:

Can you get some of the same benefits running on the treadmill barefoot?

Also, I know that running barefoot will build up the muscles in your feet/ankles/legs, do you know what the effect is on the knee? Would it be better for my knees to run barefoot (I have the knee replacements) or is it better to have the support of shoes?

For this question I solicited the help of barefoot ultra marathoner Robert Shackelford, who paced me on my marathon.

He writes:

Barefoot running, if done correctly, indeed offers less stress and impact on the knees. Dr Lieberman published a study in Nature magazine with his findings that compare impact forces on the knee between barefoot and shoe running. You can read that study here.

Running on a treadmill while barefoot is a little different since the surface can be unforgiving and offer a little bounce to the runner. Some people I know love this feeling. Others do not. I’d ask you to give it a try for yourself and see what you think.

In my own experience with running on the treadmill while barefoot, I encountered hot spots due to the treadmill getting warm over time. If this occurs, do not hesitate to throw on a pair of socks and run with them.

Regardless what the popular media says, running should not be painful. If you experience pain, then something is wrong. This could be a problem with your form or you have reached your limits.

Running barefoot helps you be more aware of your form and allows you to correct for it immediately. This is why most barefoot runners prefer running on hard surfaces such as concrete or asphalt. If you can run pain free on solid surfaces such as these, then you know your form is good and you can basically run anywhere.

And remember to relax, relax, and relax. Your footfalls should be soft. Work on being as quiet as possible when you run.

A couple of sources I would recommend checking are the websites of Ken Bob Saxton and the Barefoot Runners Society.

One other point I would add is the variety of minimalist footwear that is becoming increasingly available. From Vibrams to sandals designed to simulate barefoot running.

I haven’t tried very many of these and my personal preference is to go completely barefoot, although they do start to look tempting in the winter months. The Barefoot Runner’s Society has a Minimalist Footwear Review compiled in a pdf of 33 pages that you can get off their website for those who might be interested.

Personally, I am going to be getting some Vibrams and using some of those winter tips to stay warm out there. I’ll continue posting my experiences!