Archive for February, 2008

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#50 – Running a Fever

27 February 2008

Most of the time the word “running” evokes positive thoughts – running with dogs, running on trails, running for fun, running a race, running to be alive.

Notice that “running a fever” is not one of them, nor is “runny nose” or “running to the store to get medication”.  Recently I came down with the flu, apparently for the first time in my adult life because I have never felt so physically miserable before!  Even the low point of my first ultramarathon didn’t feel so bad in comparison.  Also for the first time I had to call in sick at work as my wife and I were both non-functional on Monday.

I awoke that morning after a night of fruitless attempted sleep and staggered down the hallway to the easy chair, where I remained for the next few hours, unable to move.  Despite doing nothing but sitting, my heart rate was around 120 bpm!  More than double my usual resting pulse.  My body was working hard but I wasn’t going anywhere.

Finally I took my temperature and was stunned to see the mercury lined up with 102.5 on the scale!  I drank a couple glasses of ice water and an hour later my temp was down to 101.8 and I was feeling much better.  Another hour went by and the thermometer read 101 flat, which I maintained the rest of the day.

I wonder if my system was overheated due to the fever?  Being unable to thermally self-regulate, an external cooling source (ice water) was required to bring my physiology under control.  The high heat of a fever is beneficial to the immune system and it’s also a more hostile environment for the virus, but apparently 102.5 was borderline too hot for the rest of the body.

Interestingly, according to a fascinating article about exercising in the cold from the bloggers at The Science of Sport, the human body quickly heats up to about 102 degrees during physical exertion.  Maybe running a marathon isn’t quite so different from running a fever after all!

We need look no further than the 2007 Chicago Disaster to realize that 102 degrees of body temperature is very close to our physical limits.  When stressed to the point of being unable to thermoregulate, many marathoners in Chicago required external heat control (such misting fans or ice cubes handed out by spectators) in order to maintain a safe body temperature.

I suppose I could’ve stepped outside into the subfreezing Michigan winter to cool off, but I’ll save my physiological challenges for my foot running not my fever running, thank you.  Besides, hydration is quite important when sick, giving my ice water remedy a double-whammy of effectiveness.

Hydration, thermoregulation, heart rate…  is there any other way to relate the flu with running?  Why of course – body fat.  Two days of no appetite resulted in a net loss of seven pounds, a fat-burning trait that my body would do well to make use of during my next ultramarathon!

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#49 – Screw Shoes

4 February 2008

When I noticed that my last two entries were about making tracks in deep snow, I realized that I should share what kind of shoes I prefer for winter running: screw shoes.

Screw shoes are nothing more than homemade studded running shoes using hex-head screws as the studs. I got the idea for trying screw shoes about a year ago when browsing Matt Carpenter‘s website. He did such an excellent job explaining how to make screw shoes that I won’t bother doing the same. What I’ll discuss here is how well screw shoes work and how they compare to commercial products that also aim to provide winter traction.

2007 screw shoesOn the right is a photo of my 2007 screw shoes – if you count ’em there are 20 screws in each shoe. I note this because Matt Carpenter was boasting about 18 in his shoe and 19 in his wife Yvonne’s shoe – it’s the only running-relating “competition” in which I can top the elite mountain runner. 🙂

I used my screw shoes extensively last winter when running on icy sidewalks with my co-workers during our lunch runs. The faint click-click-click of metal against the pavement was the only indication that my shoes were different than those of my friends, until we hit patches of ice or packed snow – then my shoes fell silent. Yet it was still clear that I had “special” shoes because the other runners had to slow down and proceed cautiously while I was able to maintain my stride without fear.

Screw shoes simply do not slip on ice. The only surface that has ever resulted in minor slips is smooth, black ice that’s shallow enough to allow a slight amount of asphalt/concrete to poke above the ice. This is still very slippery for regular shoes and screw shoes do help, but the exposed pavement seems to be just enough to prevent the screws from digging into the ice with full force and allowing them to skid a bit.

Otherwise screw shoes provide better traction than regular shoes in all winter conditions – ice, slush, packed snow, fluffy snow, roads and trails. I loved them so much that I made a new pair this season. All of that sidewalk running did wear down a few screws, especially a couple on the heel and at the front under the toe. While I could’ve simply replaced the old screws with new ones, I chose to recruit another pair of shoes for two reasons: 1) my original screw shoes had about 400 miles on them (including before “getting screwed”) and 2) my new shoes are extra wide.

2008 screw shoesLast year I tried a wide version of my favorite shoe, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS, but the 14 EE didn’t work as well as my usual 14 D. It occurred to me that a wide shoe would be a perfect winter running shoe since I could add an extra layer of socks in cold temperatures. Perfect! On the right are my 2008 screw shoes, this time with 30 screws per shoe. Matt Carpenter doesn’t stand a chance against my huge feet! I easily could’ve fit 40 screws, too.

I used #8 x 1/2″ screws; on my 2007 shoes I made the mistake of using #10 x 1/2″ screws. The length was fine (even in the toes) but the #10 size required a 5/16″ hex bit compared to #8 screws using a 1/4″ bit. The latter is a standard size and magnetized 1/4″ bits are commonly available – it is so much easier to install screws into rubber soles when the bit is magnetized!

Over time I may elect to remove a few screws once I determine which locations are the most critical for traction – the screws do add a noticeable amount of mass to the shoe although the gains in traction are easily worth the tradeoff. With my 2008 shoes you may notice I was able to put a row of screws in front of the first flex line, which has improved toe-off traction tremendously.

If screw shoes are such a great idea, then hasn’t someone developed a similar commercial product?  The answer is yes, but none of them compare to the simplicity of a couple dollar’s worth of screws.

Yaktrax makes a popular elastic slip-on that easily slips over most any shoe.  An adventure racing friend from GRAAR used Yaktrax during winter training runs on the trails a couple years ago and they worked well… until they broke.  The rubber straps that secure the device are exposed at the corners of the shoe and are no match for the abrasive power of ice, rocks, and pavement.  At $30 a pair, they’re not expensive but not cheap enough for frequent replacement.

STABILicers are another option I’ve seen in stores but I don’t have any experience in them, nor do I know anyone who’s ever used them.  They’re similar in concept to Yaktrax but utilize a solid sole with replaceable studs – not a bad concept except that those replacement studs cost a buck more than good ol’ hex screws and you have to drop $40 on the STABILicers in the first place.

Kahtoola makes two types of traction devices.  MICROspikes are similar Yaktrax – they elastically slip over shoes but use a metal chain instead of rubber where contacting the terrain.  It’s a smart but expensive design, ringing up at $60.  KTS flexible crampons are for the serious winter adventurer with a price tag to match – it’ll set you back $130 for a pair of these!   Many adventure racers who’ve taken the financial plunge will swear to the effectiveness of Kahtoola products, but at that price you had better be A) competitive, B) wealthy, or C) run in the most extreme environments.

All of the above options give you the flexibility to wear them with any shoe of your choice at any time – admittedly this feature is lacking in screw shoes, although it’s still a simple process to “get screwed”.  I’d love to try them, however, the price is too steep.  $4 bought me a pack of 100 hex screws and I already own a power drill (if you don’t own one, I’m sure one of your running buddies has one) so the cost is just the sacrifice of an older pair of running shoes.  There are certainly plenty of those in my closet!

Last but not least, making a pair of screw shoes is actually quite fun.  You get to decide where to put the screws and experiment with various strategic arrangements.  You can compare notes with friends or even compete to see who is the biggest “stud” – can anyone get 50 in a pair?