Frozen toes!

frosty shoes and leavesNope, that isn’t white spray paint on the ground in the photo…it’s frost! Yep, Portland does apparently get that cold in the winter and Thursday morning I woke up to a light dusting of the cold stuff everywhere. I bundled up a little more for my three-mile jog. I threw on an extra layer on top and a hat, plus gloves. My dog – who has become my regular running partner – could not have cared less about the temperature outside (her only concern in life is squirrels and how to get them) and began tugging as soon as I stepped on the porch. In my bare feet.

Yep, I still run in those crazy toe shoes from Vibram. I switched to them about three years ago after reading this book and for me, they’ve solved a ton of hip/knee/joint problems. Although they certainly don’t earn you any style points, they have improved my aches and pains enough that I exclusively run in this type of shoe and have even done half marathons in them. The thing, is, I’ve never had to wear them through a winter in the Pacific Northwest until now. And it’s getting a little (ok A LOT) cold ’round here.

Stepping on the porch Thursday morning, I felt like my toes froze the second the door closed behind me. I could barely pull on my shoes because my feet were so cold that it was difficult to make each toe go in it’s little pocket. About five minutes into the run, I realized my toes actually did feel totally numb, and it was making me run a little wonky. Not good. Although these shoes have helped my joints, they are way less protective than a traditional shoe. Here in Oregon, there’s all sorts of leaves, pinecones, wayward berries and other stuff that falls off the trees making my running paths a wee bit treacherous. More than once I’ve landed on something odd-shaped and spikey and been uncomfortable for a few steps. I can’t be running around not being able to feel pain in my feet because if I did some real damage but was too cold to feel it, the results could be disastrous.

Trouble is, there’s nothing out there that provides a full barefoot running experience without the toe pockets. I’ve tried the Nike Free, the New Balance Minumus, and a random Fila style but nothing allows you to run with a ball of your foot strike like the Vibrams. This wasn’t a problem in my San Diego days, but I’m not sure I can keep up only wearing these here in Oregon. Maybe I can throw them in the dryer for five minutes before I put them on? Any other “barefoot” runners out there have good winter solutions for cold feet? Cuz I’m cold!


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I’m from Canada, so I’ve done my share of cold weather running. It just plain sucks trying to run with cold feet. I’ve never tried the Vibrams myself, but a friend who uses them uses toe socks from Injinji when the temperature falls. You can get them on-line here.

Hope this helps.

Having last run in the 70s (when the only shoe you could wear were New Balance), I have been quite surprised by this “barefoot” kick. I am actually talking about wearing NO shoes while running. On pavement. In Seattle.

First time I saw it, I was walking more than three miles to church. At the time, it seemed comparable to seeing a doe cross the road (which I also recently saw on this road, too). If God had meant us to run barefoot, He wouldn’t have put the idea of shoes into the mind of man. And believe me, I went through my barefoot stage as a kid. On gravel roads. In unincorporated Portland.

Sometimes you just have to face up to the fact that you’re a wimp. I’ve come to terms with it. I hope you do, too. 😉

Disclaimer: I don’t run. Running is for getting away from things and then you only run as fast as you need to. So all comments will (obviously) be bicycle based.

Now that that is out of the way: Did you try wearing warmer leg-clothing (err… yes that sounds rubbish – you know what I mean: Knee warmers, leg warmers, that sort of stuff). On the bike (where feet are connected by cold metal plate to icy metal pedal to large cold capacity of metal bike) more insulation between body and feet actually helps keep the feet warm.

I’ve gone for long bib trousers this winter. Which look … less than sexy (especially combined with the reflective neon gillet, but there’s always a drawback), but managed to keep me warm so far. Tested up to -15°C (which is probably about +235725 in those weirdo imperial units), at which time I get cold feet after 30 minutes outside and wuss out and want a shower.

Check out some of the shoes from Altra. It’s not as much about having your feet flat against the ground as it is about having zero drop in the shoe from heal to toe. The Vibrams are great for teaching you form, but I think the Altra would be the perfect shoe to give you a little extra protection from the elements and still allow you to run exactly as you do in the VF’s.

Cordell thanks for that tip, I bet those socks would help a ton. I’m going to try a pair.

Hahaha Tim! I’ll never admit it!

Floh that’s not a bad idea, to try insulating from a bit higher up. I can at least try a pair of the leg warmers as a start.

Brian, I’ll check out the Altra, actually have not heard of that one before. Thanks for all the tips folks!

Brian – just got a pair of the Altra’s and I am loving them! They are keeping me so much warmer and they are as close to the Vibrams as you can get with full shoe as far as I can tell. And I’ve tried a few! Thanks for the tip dude.

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