Yes, you can run barefoot in Tahoe. In March. I made this wonderful discovery quite by accident the other day at the Truckee Community Recreation Center. Let me tell you what happened…
On Monday I made the call to go skate skiing, even though I was really in the mood for a run. After all, the ski season is short enough even when there is ample snow. Therefore, Tuesday morning’s agenda called for a medium-length run (maybe 10 miles), and I was planning a road run in light snow. For winter road runs, I frequently park at the rec center and take advantage of the restrooms before I head out. This works especially well on days when my little guy is at preschool there.
Tuesday morning was snowing, as expected, but at least it wasn’t dumping hard. I grabbed the YakTrax in case traction was going to be necessary, though using traction is not really my preference if it’s avoidable. I sat in the parking lot of the rec center at 9:20am, looking at the thermometer on the console: 22 degrees F. And it was windy. And the snow was packing into ice on the road immediately.
I wondered if my run would really happen as I weighed the options: run outside in the windy cold; run inside on the elevated track; run on a treadmill; forget the run and do something else? I was dressed for outdoor running, and I have a strong preference for being outdoors in any case. The first (and only) time I ran on the indoor track I went too hard and hurt myself, and I try to avoid treadmills as a rule. On the other hand, the first 50 yards of an outdoor run would be through the un-plowed bike path, leaving my feet cold from the very start.
I decided to go for the track. I dug around in my purse for some cash and my headphones. My headphones were not there – I don’t run with music outside, so I hadn’t packed them. “Oh, well, we’ll see how long I last on the hamster wheel with no music,” I thought. I grabbed some cash from my purse, strapped on my water pack, and headed inside.
The charge to use the track and the few pieces of fitness equipment that they have available is $4 for district residents and $5 for non-residents. Monthly passes are $25 for residents and $25 for others. Discounts are available for seniors and youth (ages 10-13). It’s fair pricing, but I already have paid-for access to our excellent neighborhood facility in Tahoe Donner, so it’s not terribly economical for me. Check the Community Recreation Center website for directions and contact info.
The track is elevated above the double-court gymnasium and is less than .1 (yes, one-tenth) of a mile around the elevated track. That means that at an easy jog, you are completing a lap, including four turns, every minute. They do alternate the flow of traffic by days of the week, so that you are not always running the same direction if you are a regular user. I was worried about overheating, since even my base layers were pretty heavy. Luckily, they keep the temperature pretty cool up there, and I was only a tad warm.
I started the run in my shoes – I was wearing my trail runners on the account of the snow – but they are minimal shoes by most measures. After a couple of minutes it occurred to me to ask about going barefoot. I was so delighted to hear that it was perfectly acceptable. The gentleman didn’t balk or hesitate for a second! I’m not conditioned to run barefoot for terribly long, so I formulated this plan: I would run for 75 minutes with shoes, then treat myself to 30 minutes with bare feet.
The first half hour went quickly – there was an aerobic dance class going on below with loud music that helped pass the time. After the class ended, there was quiet, non-obtrusive background music. I got through the next 30 minutes by focusing on my ChiRunning form and getting excited about running barefoot. I will admit that time was dragging for those final 15 minutes, and then, finally, I got to sit down and remove my shoes!
My feet made a little pitter-patter sound to begin with. I adjusted my posture to quiet them down. The track surface is exceedingly smooth and clean. It doesn’t feel any harder than asphalt, and is certainly more giving than concrete. I settled in and paid careful attention to my foot strike and form. The time passed quickly, and it felt WONDERFUL. I stopped a few minutes shorter than planned, as I started to worry about going too long too fast in completely bare feet.
As I slipped my shoes back on to go out to the car, I simply thought, “What a great morning! I can’t believe I made that happen!”
If you do give not a try, remember that barefoot running takes considerable conditioning, so start slowly. Five minutes is probably plenty long for the beginner. If you’d like to learn more about barefoot running, do a google search – you’ll find more literally millions of references. Not sure about barefoot running? Pick up a copy of Born to Run
to get in the mood.