Sunday, November 21, 2010

Barefoot running on Vancouver Island snow...a bit of an exercise in humility!

The fact is, I just couldn't resist finding out what it would be like to run barefoot on the snow. Chalk it up to pure curiosity. And then, fortuitously, it snowed last night, We just don't get that much snow here on Canada's "Pacific Island". So yeah, finally, the long awaited opportunity! Those who assume my good sense should probably not read any further as this could definitely have some implications on employment status.
Oh well, it really was simply an irresistible occasion to satisfy a curiosity!

First, a little background: Yesterday, the temperature in the early morning was around 3 degrees C. It was raining and even though we were wearing Vibram FiveFingers and Injinji toe socks, our feet were a little chilly by the end of the 8 km loop. Remember folks, one becomes a little more sensitive to the "cold" after moving here to the Island. (Folks in Edmonton can now roll their eyes!) So yeah, by the end of the run, our feet were (a little) cold and wet, but not to the extent that we were uncomfortable. With regards to temperature, we ran in Seattle (in VFFs) last December when it was minus 6 degrees and it was quite manageable.

So after last night's snow, the opportunity to kick it up a notch was ready and waiting. Before going any further, I have to say (and this is not really an excuse), our snow here is not only cold, but it's wet, heavy, and very slippery. Ahh, some will think all snow is slippery. Not so...the "slipperiness" of snow is relative. In Alberta, for example, the snow can be light, feathery, "dry" and really quite a pleasure to run on (in running shoes). The light carpet of white stuff softens each foot step and offers hardly any resistance at all to forward momentum. And then, of course, you have the satisfaction of looking behind you and seeing, in your footsteps, proof positive that you are an intrepid, winter runner, the real thing. You are out there in the early morning hours, in the wind and the cold and the snow, while lesser "athletes" opt for a poor excuse, a fresh hot water bottle, and an extra hour of sleep. Sheesh!

So yes, here on the Island, our snow is far more challenging. It is, in fact, extraordinarily difficult to run on - even if you're wearing trail shoes! It's heavy, it's wet, and it's more like running in gumbo mud! It feels like it's grabbing you by the ankles and trying to pull you down! Vancouver Island snow elevates the heart rate, defies forward progress, and endangers your fragile balance with every foot fall (did I say fall?) - to such an extent that you are most often inclined to accept defeat and trudge home, feeling let down and discouraged - after all, you did make such effort to leave behind a warm bed long before the sun came up.

So, with all these facts clear, you will surely understand my experience.

First of all, my feet could find absolutely no traction in the wet and dense layer covering our driveway's asphalt. Second, the soles of my feet are not nearly as tough as I thought they were and my pain threshold is clearly lower than I had anticipated. Ouch, it was pretty darn cold! Third, Joan was laughing so hard that I began to feel somewhat diminished in spirit for this exercise. And fourth, I was very unsure about what it was I was trying to prove! Oh yeah, it was all about curiosity.

OK, so now I know. Running barefoot on the Vancouver Island snow is really tough! Now if it had been in less slippery, "drier" snow...? Hmm.


  1. Yes, it's the "dry" snow and cold here in Alberta that makes running barefoot through the winter pretty routine for most of us! ;-)

  2. feet can be cold in what I perceive to be warm boots and snuggy socks :>)
    - Sheila

  3. OK, let's trade - five months of "dry" snow (and dry ice!) for a couple of snowfalls of "wet" snow? Lucky you guys!

  4. Hey Gen, Sure, like I believe that!

    And, Sheila, those were a fine looking pair of cold-weather boots, and warm heart "to boot"!

    Um, thanks Dave, but we'll stick with the occasional "wet" snow - but hey, we have fond memories of the "dry" stuff! Honest!

    Thanks, everyone, for dropping by.

  5. My head began to shake within the first few minutes of reading but by the second to last paragraph I was smiling ....I knew Joan would be smart enough to keep her shoes on and am so happy that she got a good laugh out of your "curiousity"

  6. Well, L, I must admit, it did feel like an "out of body" experience, just not sure whose body it was - Dumb or Dumber! :-) But, hey, life's short, gotta find out about these things - haha!

  7. Wow, I'm so envious. I can't tolerate walking on barefoot during cold weather like winter season. What I usually do is I wear barefoot shoes like Vibrams Five Fingers because it can also emulate our own feet, plus the added protection is amazing. In fact, I'm planning of buying another pair of shoes next month so my barefoot shoes won't easily get broken.

  8. Hi Peter, great to hear from you! But don't be envious, I didn't even get to the end of the driveway. We usually wear VFFs but this morning it was minus eight (celcius) and quite icy and I must confess to putting on old trail running shoes. It was either that or not go out. But we LOVE the FiveFingers too! Thanks so much for your comment.

  9. It was a great attempt, Duncan. And like others who commented, I was reassured by Joan's laughter. Keep at it (both of you!).

  10. I don't really understand what you're all finding so darn funny - it was a SERIOUS experiment! Nice to hear from you though, Andy. Thanks for dropping by.

  11. Thats hardcore....I took your advise on Chia....I'll pass on this one! great post!

  12. Thanks Lee. Some other "friends" have used less flattering terms. Hey, but I'm thick skinned - even if it's not sufficiently thick on the soles of my feet...yet! :-)