Winter may actually be one of the best times of the year to begin running barefoot, especially considering that it’s really not that easy to learn how to run differently while you’re outside focused on running miles and miles.
Just start by getting used to being barefoot in your house. It’s okay, even for a few minutes to step outside and let your feet feel the snow and ice, just don’t linger long enough to become numb. Think of the cold as “stimulating” instead of as something to be avoided. But be smart, like a child (with or without footwear); when it becomes uncomfortable to play outside, go inside and warm up.
In the meantime, practice standing first, then walking, then running in place indoors, to help get the techniques put into habit. After all the most important thing to do at the start is just to relearn how to run gently, naturally, and smoothly. If you think you just need to go out and run, then you’ve already begun on the wrong foot. Think more like an infant taking their first steps (barefoot, naturally), and be happy that you won’t be tempted to go out and do too much too soon (Barefoot Running Exuberance Syndrome), until spring.
Start at the Beginning
An infant first learning to walk is a scientist, testing, experimenting, figuring out how to stay balanced, and efficient, and to walk/run with as little effort as possible (after all, their legs aren’t very strong yet). It isn’t about power, it’s about efficiency. Be the Prius, not the Hummer.
Use imagery. Practice running gently, flowing smoothly and gracefully over all sorts of terrain, in your mind. Dance, practice the twist, practice lifting your feet, instead of launching your body up.
Don’t get too Comfortable
Practice on hard surfaces (preferably rough) like a rough concrete basement floor, or entry-way, bathroom, etc., but don’t stop practicing just because you’re in the living room watching TV on a carpeted floor. Stand, walk or run in place. Pay attention and try to minimize how much your head is bobbing up and down, side to side, etc.
Make a Rough Surface
If you really want to get serious, take a small piece of plywood and glue some gravel on one side, to create a rough practice surface.
Listen to the Pounding…
Listen to the Pounding of your feet on a hollow floor … and try to minimize the noise. Pretend you’re sneaking up on someone.
Practice components of Technique
Practice vertical posture, bending your knees, relaxing, letting your entire sole contact the ground and support your weight, lifting your feet, twisting your hips and shoulders to counterbalance each other.
Dare to Venture Outside
As you get these techniques ingrained into habit, then try going outside with your shoes on, but be hyper-aware (since you won’t have the natural sensitivity in your soles to keep yo alert) of any bouncing, jarring, jolting, skidding, scuffing, twisting of the foot on the surface, etc., and TRY to run AS-IF you were actually barefoot, keeping in mind how uncomfortable such wasteful movements would be on your bare soles if you were on gravel.
If you can’t run well (pain and injury free) in footwear, then there is no reason to continue running in footwear. Do other exercises, bicycling, swimming (indoors if possible), aerobic weight lifting, yoga, pilates, tai chi, etc.. until spring.
Cold Weather Tips
If you do get brave, and decide to try a barefoot outing in the cold or snow, read this first:
You probably won’t be ready to run your first barefoot marathon in the spring, but you ought to have a bit of a head-start on anyone waiting for spring to do anything at all.
Relax, relax, relax, and have fun,