Barefoot Running: Arizona Style

The weather got so cold here in Central Canada, I decided that some barefoot running in the desert would be just the ticket, and it was.

February 7th, 2013 by | Posted in Blogs | Tags: , , , , , , ,

The trail leading into the White Tank Mountains just west of Phoenix.

Winter running can be fun and adventurous for sure, but sometimes you just need to get away in the middle of the winter, especially if you happen to be a barefoot runner. No matter how much I like to take off the shoes and run in the cold and snow, I am limited to the distance and the temperatures at which I can run. I just cannot get a good 20 mile barefoot run done in the middle of January in Winnipeg.  Thus the decision to fly south for a much deserved break for the family and I. Of course this also brought the opportunity to get some good mileage san shoe in as well, can you blame me.

Staying in the Phoenix area is absolutely fantastic for runners, because everywhere you look there are a number of great locations to go explore within a quick driving distance (or running if you are really ambitious) from the city. I was lucky to be joining a good friend in Arizona who was familiar with the area and this really special place called The White Tank Mountains.

Let me set the stage, just to the west of Glendale is this little mountain range with some of the most beautiful desert trails and picturesque vistas that I have ever seen. There are trails for all levels of difficulty, from easy to very technical and all of them have their own highlights and WOW moments. Unfortunately I only had the opportunity to run one trail while I was there, and that was the Ford Canyon Trail from Park Area Number 7, so that will be the one that I will be focusing on in this post. But that being said, I enjoyed every minute of it, and I hope to get back to the White Tanks to run some more, as they are all spectacular and worth the time to explore and enjoy.

It was a interesting morning as I was heading out to the mountains, as the Phoenix area was in the process of receiving more rain than they typically get in a entire year’s time. Even though it was raining, it was still much warmer than what I had left behind in Canada, can we say break out the shorts and lets get to running.

I met my friend Scott at the trail head parking lot and we got ready to go out and see what the morning had in store for us, the sights were fantastic as the mountains and the valley were shroud in low clouds making the area look very eerie and mysterious. The trails as we set out which are usually a mix of dirt and sand were much to my delight a mess of wet and muddy trails, nothing makes me more happy than mud between my toes.

Love the feeling of mud between the toes, absolute heaven.
Love the feeling of mud between the toes, absolute heaven.

As you wind your way down the trail you find yourself surrounded by different varieties of cacti including the magestic Saguaro cactus, the Prickly Pear cactus, scrub grass and small prickly bushes that being from Canada you don’t get to see everyday (watch out for these they will grab you when you least expect it).

The trails quickly change from dirt and sand to rock covered as you head up into the mountains which increases the technical aspect significantly. You will find that your run will turn into a hard hike and climbing adventure in areas which adds to the fun as you work your way farther into the mountain terrain.

Scott picking his way up the rocks to hit the canyon trail
Scott picking his way up the rocks to hit the canyon trail

After the rock climbing you make your way into the canyon proper for some of those epic views that I was mentioning previously. The trails themselves turn into a combination of flat rock, dirt and sand mixed with a splash of loose stone to keep you honest. The switchbacks are plentiful with lots of twists and turns and really add the miles onto your total distance quickly.

I had such a great time ripping up the trails trying to maintain a consistent pace (which is not easy to do) in bare feet. This was quite the challenge, the ability  to constantly keep my eye on where I was planting my feet while keeping a vigil of where I was going is a challenge at the best of times, but even more so in this type of terrain.  This is a workout like no other in my opinion, both physically and mentally. I had such a great time, and would recommend it to anyone who has a little bit of an adventure bug to satisfy.

A quick glance of one of the switchback trails running through Ford Canyon
A quick glance of one of the switchback trails running through Ford Canyon

Now I know you are wondering if I ran the entire trail barefoot because there are rattlesnakes, scorpions among other creepy crawlies that call this area home on top of the rocky and unforgiving terrain. I can tell you that I ran as much as I could barefoot, which was not quite half of the total distance (about 5 miles of the 10.5 total), the other portion I wore a well-worn pair of Vibram KSO’s to give me that little bit of protection from the sharp rocks, but allowed me the ground feel that I enjoy so much.

I would suggest if you are ever in the Phoenix area take a morning or a afternoon to explore the trails, it will be worth your while I guarantee it.

Here are some more pictures from my adventure that day:

This was the view we arrived to with the low clouds shroading the landscape
This was the view we arrived to with the low clouds shrouding the landscape
Who put that cactus in the middle of the trail, next to a cliff?
Who put that cactus in the middle of the trail, next to a cliff?
Can you make out the trail going up, up, up?
Can you make out the trail going up, up, up?
Snow in the desert? Nah, this was what I left behind and that's my running partner Hazel
Snow in the desert? Nah, just what I left behind and my running partner Hazel
There I am part way up the mountain, see mom no shoes.
There I am part way up the mountain, see mom no shoes.