Summer is hot in the South.
“Hot” isn’t even the word. “Miserable” is more like it, or “inhospitable for humans”, or “plague-level discomfort”. Something about the proximity to the Gulf of Mexico, the overabundance of trees and grass, and the jetstream blowing clouds and moisture in our direction causes the weather to do some truly remarkable things in the South, like making seventy-degree nights feel like the inside of a pressure cooker, and ninety-degree afternoons like the surface of the sun, if the surface of the sun was also bathed in a thick, damp mist.
It’s uncomfortable, to say the least. And it’s not a small part of why I run in the mornings — because if I get up before the sun, at least I don’t have to deal with the radiant heat of our nearest star pummeling my poor scalp into submission in addition to very nearly swimming through the morass or water-air that hangs in our atmosphere from April til September.
And I noticed, on my run this morning, something really unusual, which is that yesterday, when my wife headed out for her run at 5 in the afternoon, it actually felt cooler than it did on my run at 5 in the morning. Now, human experience is subjective, and maybe I was artificially inflating my own misery, but a simple google search tells me that she completed her run in weather of 86 degrees with 54% humidity, and I completed mine in 70 degrees with 96% humidity. I’m going to be totally honest here and admit that I don’t really know what the humidity scale means, because it seems to me like 100% or anywhere near 100% should basically mean that the air is literally liquid water. Nonetheless, it felt a damn sight more uncomfortable when I stepped out my front door this morning than when I came in from work yesterday night.
But that doesn’t stop me. I got my 5k in this morning, albeit a bit slower than I like (I blame the humidity because that’s what I do), sweating like a hog and not feeling any cooler as I did so. Funny thing in weather like that — you’re immediately coated in a thin film of liquid when you step outside anyway, so you almost don’t even realize you’re sweating. What you do realize is that it doesn’t do you any good (the film OR the sweat). So I’m running and sweating and feeling like the inside of a tauntaun’s abdomen when out of nowhere, my brain reminds me that this heat wave, this godawful humidity, this really miserable weather won’t last forever. It’s almost September, when the leaves will start to change and the temperatures will start to drop and stepping outside will begin to feel refreshing again. Winter is coming. For me, that’s a good thing.
Then, another thought crept in, like a cat darting around the door as you come in with your arms full of groceries. “What about your shoes?”
See, I’m about 95% of a convert. I started making the switch to Vibrams for my daily runs about a year ago and I’m finally there. I think I used my “traditional” shoes three times over the summer: once for a really muddy race (VFFs give me blisters when they get wet), once when it was pouring rain (again, moisture), and once because my foot felt tweaky and I wanted to see if a bit more cushioning would help straighten it out (it didn’t). They are a totally different running experience, and I think they’re awesome. What they don’t do, however, is insulate your feet in any way.
What I mean is that, in addition to putting you very much in touch with the surfaces you’re walking on (still nothing to going truly barefoot, I know), VFFs make you just as aware of the temperature of those surfaces. Wearing them on a blacktop in the summer feels not unlike walking across the stove on low heat in bare feet. A chilly breeze — I experienced a few when we had that lovely bout of cool weather about three weeks ago — slices through them like paper. Now, a little bit of heat is no problem; feet generate their own heat anyway, and I’ve never run when it was more than 90 out. But when the temps drop down to 30 and below, am I not going to make like the T1000 from Terminator 2 and snap off at the ankles? I have this vision of getting about a mile into a run and my foot just icing over, locking up and breaking off. That may be hyperbole, but my honest concern is groundfeel (is that a word? I’m calling it a word) when my feet start to lose sensation in the cold. I’m also a little bit concerned that I might not be as aware of the movement of my feet in the cold — because of the decreased sensation — and, as a result, re-injure my foot. (Show me a runner once injured who isn’t a little scared of future injury and I’ll show you a dolphin with a donut hat.)
Probably a bit of overthinking. Not that I’m ever guilty of that. I imagine as I run in the cooling temperatures of fall, I’ll adjust; and besides, I won’t have that many sub-freezing runs anyway. It isn’t like I run with the caribou in Canada like some of you lunatics. Still, I’m definitely going to miss my socks.
Anybody out there running in VFFs or even completely barefoot? What’s your experience when the temps start to drop?