Barefoot in Winter Part 1

Rod Begg (aka BarefootYOW): Ottawa runner new to barefoot running (2010)
Goals: Run healthy and squeeze in a marathon
Interests: Running and sea kayaking (year round)
Favorite run: Rain forest of Guyana

Underfoot the snow is crunchy. Each step squeaks. Ice forms along the edges of my balaclava and eye lashes. My breath is easily visible. People are shuffling along the sidewalk, with chin tucked down and shoulders up. It’s cold outside. Welcome to winter.

Living in a country where winter takes hold for 4-5 months of the year tends to harden the people. Talking about the weather is a Canadian pastime. People often question why we live here. Most think you’re crazy for running in the winter. Everyone thinks you should be locked in a padded room, if you run barefoot. It certainly is a head jerker.

I’ve been a recreational runner now for 20 years. Living in Ottawa has given me ample opportunity to experience running in the cold. Ottawa has the distinction of being the second coldest capital city in the world. Personally, my limit is -35C. This is my first winter running barefoot.

Morning run, Jan. 17, 2011

Running in winter has its challenges. These generally fall into 3 categories: cold, wind, and footing.

Cold is counteracted by proper attire. Dress by layering up is the key. You want to be warm but not too warm. Wicking fabrics are fantastic. I remember training for a marathon in 1989. I looked like the Michelin Man. Gear has changed so much that you can remain quite comfortable with 2-3 thin layers.

Wind is handled with a wool hat or balaclava combination. Mittens save the hands. Windbreaker pants are a must when it’s blowing. It’s not always the fact that the wind is blowing but rather what the wind is blowing. Ice pellets and sleet are nature’s little topping for those cold runs.

Footing is always challenging. You’re faced with wet and slushy, icy, or ankle deep in snow. This is where barefoot running style is actually best suited. You want to take short steps with your feet landing under your centre of gravity. You avoid pushing off; otherwise, you end up on your face. Increased cadence and running lightly is the only way to go (shod or unshod).

Barefoot running introduces a fourth category – salt. Cities in Eastern Canada use salt on the roads and sidewalks. I have come to learn that salt is the number one enemy of the barefoot runner. Salt is a tenderizer. My meaty feet do NOT like salt. I’ve had salt burns, swelling, and stepped on huge salt nuggets. This is where I draw the line of barefoot running in the winter. Salt = footwear.

Alan has asked that I write about my winter running experiences, in particularly barefoot running. I look forward to passing on words of wisdom (judge for yourself). I love running, and I love being outdoors. Winter here I come!

Next: What’s Your Limit?


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