Preparing Bare Feet for the Heat

Springtime, before it gets too hot, is the best time to start growing your skin strong.

Strong skin requires two key components - heat and pressure, and pressure comes in two ways. First, the surfaces you run on. The harder (and sharper) the surface, the more pressure. This doesn't mean go out and run on gravel to temper the skin. Though it works, it's NO fun and NOT necessary. Instead, moderately challenging surfaces like asphalt work great. And sidewalks, depending on their condition, work too. Just keep in mind, the older the sidewalk, the more challenging, as erosion from pedestrians and weather take their toll.

On that note, skip the ultra smooth cement, sometimes found as new sidewalks or along bicycle paths - these ultra smooth surfaces cause our feet to slide and abrade. Generally, the more challenging surfaces thicken the skin quicker. Just be careful not to abuse your feet with a surface that is too rough.

Pressure also comes from running up and down steep hills. As you press down on the feet to carry you up, you stress and strengthen the skin. And as you decelerate with each step on the way down, you test and toughen your skin as well.

Overwork, overstress, and overstimulate your feet with heat and pressure, and the skin will grow extra strong.

But the key is moderation. Going too far not only hurts, but sets you back, erasing any gains you've made. When it comes to the skin maximum pain doesn't equal maximum gain. So to be clear, if you live in a place like Phoenix, I do NOT want you waiting until mid-day to go throwing your feet on the frying pan. You'll guarantee yourself a trip to the ER.

The great news is, once tempered, our skin can handle the most incredible heat, even that of Death Valley (as I've personally experienced). If you think of ancient man running on the African Savanna, you likely envision images of sun-baked riverbeds, hard as cement and cracked from summer heat. These are the surfaces our feet once adapted to run on.

And we can run on such surfaces, such as hot pavement again - we just need to build into them slowly.

The nice thing about spring... typically, anyway, is that it gradually warms up, and as the temperatures rise, the feet gradually adapt to the heat.

So now's a great time to get out while it's warm, and get the feet used to the temperatures. Warmth and heat underfoot is the greatest stimulus for skin growth. As the temperatures rise, your skin will grow stronger and stronger.

If it's already getting hot where you are, there are still some things you can do.

1. Run earlier in the morning to get your feet used to more moderate temperatures first.

2. Alternate part of your run on a hot surface, such as pavement, and part on the grass (such as 50 yards on one surface, 50 on the other...alternating as the feet need).

3. Bring your "handweights" aka your footwear with you, as your skin heats up, don't be afraid to put your shoes back on.

Your feet can adapt to almost any heat, if we build in slowly enough, but if not, WATCH OUT. The only time I've really blistered myself barefoot (trying minimalist footwear not withstanding) is thinking I could go just "one more mile" to get home once my feet got hot. I got several tremendous blisters under my forefeet as a reward. Now granted, once they healed the skin was incredibly strong in the area, but there are much kinder, gentler, and friendlier ways on the body to achieve such results!

Key Note: If you feel the ground temperature getting warmer, it means your feet are getting more sensitive and it's just about time to stop. If it continues to get hotter, or you start feeling every grain of sand beneath your feet or every pebble under foot, you've done enough, get off of the feet, or get them protected, don't wait for a blister to start).

If you have gone too far, get off of the heat immediately, if not sooner, get back in shoes, or find the kindest, safest, easiest way home. It's a personal choice, but I recommend lancing blisters to help them heal faster and relieve the pain. However, I'm not a doctor, please don't take this as medical advice, and get medical attention if you need it.

If you do lance, sterilize a needle, clean the foot with alcohol, poke the blister from the edge so you don't tear the skin, and squeeze and remove as much fluid from the blister as you can (sorry for the pain), and then clean up with something like betadine or peroxide. Whether you've blistered or not, get straight aloe (not a skin lotion) on your skin fast. The faster the aloe goes on, the better your feet will feel, and faster your feet will heal. 

Follow the advice well above, and you should never need to see a blister, or aloe up your feet. But then again, aloe feels good after you've run, even if you haven't burned.

So enjoy the spring, listen to the birds chirp, and play in the gentle warm temperatures. The heat's just around the corner, time to get ready!