Archive for the ‘gear’ Category

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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?

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#14 – Try New Running Socks

16 May 2007

Four months ago I wrote the “Ultimate Running Sock Review” on my personal blog, hoping to share some of the knowledge I had acquired from running in 10 models of running socks (no, not all at once!) Every time I saw a new sock in a running store I wondered if it would be more comfortable than the last. Yeah, sometimes I have trouble making up my mind!
Two days after writing that review I received a curious email, stating: “I’d love to get you some of Bridgedale’s newest socks to try! Interested?” Heck yeah! The mysterious messenger turned out to be a representative of Bridgedale – one of the brands of socks I reviewed – who had stumbled across my blog thanks to Google Alerts. (This rep also promotes nuun, an electrolyte product popular among adventure racers. Someday I hope to try some and maybe I’ll review them, too!) I replied with my shoe size and soon I received a package in the mail… three pairs of new socks!

What you see are the X-Hale Trailhead (bottom pair) and the X-Hale Multisport (upper two pairs). The X-Hale series are made from a mix of merino wool, nylon, polypropylene and lycra. My first impression when putting them on was that they feel just like brand new Smartwool socks – amazingly soft!

The Trailhead is a heavy sock with the orange parts being thickly padded. They are marketed as their “fastest and lightest hiking sock” so they aren’t truly a running sock, but they do fine in that role. The Trailhead is rather warm and I wouldn’t recommend it for above-freezing temperatures, but my feet really appreciated its warmth when I went for a run in subzero temps this winter.

Bridgedale pitches the Multisport as “ideal for speed hiking, cycling, running & cross training” and they really should add “adventure racing” to that list. While much more breathable than the Trailhead, the Multisport is still a very warm sock and probably not suited to summer running in Michigan. I did wear a pair on today’s 5-mile run and my feet felt fine – it was 50 degrees outside. This sock does have some padding but much less than the Trailhead and has a lightweight feel on my feet.

Both types of Bridgedale’s socks are great in wet conditions, even when my feet were completely soaked from running through deep streams on the trails. They don’t seem to be the best at evaporating sweat off my feet, but they did evaporate quickly enough to remain lightweight soon after giving them a good soaking. Not all socks can do this; in fact, the Brooks Adrenaline GTS Ped – one of my favorite socks from my first review – I subsequently discovered became quite soggy in a heavy downpour. This, despite the Brooks sock being very good at wicking away sweat in hot weather.

One downside of both Bridgedale socks was that they exquisite softness I felt when I first put them on wore off rather quickly – the interior became a bit coarser after just a couple weeks. I’ve had the same problem with all of my Smartwool socks… except for my most recent pair, the red and black Smartwool Running Light Mini-Crew. I’d assumed in my last review that they would also roughen up, but they’ve actually held their softness very well and still feel great. Apparently Smartwool improved their construction? Along with losing some softness, the Bridgedales have a lot of long, loose-end threads on the inside of the sock which frequently caught my toenails when putting them on. They are the only runnings socks I have with this problem.

On the bright side, a big plus of the Trailhead and Multisport socks is that they have a high ankle cuff. Typical running socks are low cut, which is fine when I’m running on paved roads. Off road on the trails, low-cut socks can sometimes allow trail debris (little pebbles, sticks, etc.) to get inside the sock because the low cut doesn’t snug to my ankle very tightly. The Bridgedale socks with their high cuff never let anything get into the sock; as a result of this and their ability to handle a good soaking and the Multisports are one of my favorite trail running socks unless it’s hot outside. For similar reasons I believe they would make a great adventure racing sock, too.

Overall my current favorite running sock is the Smartwool Running Light Mini-Crew – it’s very breathable and keeps my feet cool even in warm weather, the inside is super soft, and they also insulate well in cold weather. I’ve worn these socks in temps ranging from 20 to 80 degrees F and my feet didn’t complain. They also dry out quickly when soaked. An excellent all-around running sock and it’s the sock I’ve used for all of my races this year.

In my last review I had a letter-grade summary of my socks; below is the revised rankings with the new Bridgedale socks plus a photo of the original 10 models that I reviewed:

1. Smartwool Running Light Mini-Crew: A+
2. Defeet Aireator: A
3. Brooks Adrenaline GTS Ped: A-
4. Smartwool Adrenaline Light Mini-Crew: B+
5. Bridgedale X-Hale Multisport: B+
6. Bridgedale Active: B
7. Unknown Basic Liner: B
8. Smartwool Running Light Micro: B-
9. Bridgedale X-Hale Trailhead: B-
10. Injinji Tetratsok Mini: C-
11. Smartwool Hiking Medium Mini-Crew: D+
12. Wright Double Layer Coolmesh: D

In summary, Bridgedale’s X-Hale Trailhead and Multisport socks are good but not great running socks. They could use some improvement in fabric quality and breathability in order to attract pure runners, but to be fair, Bridgedale is known for their hiking socks, not running socks. The Trailhead truly is an excellent hiker (I’ve done some hikes with it, too) and as I said, the lighter-weight Multisport would make a nice sock for adventure racers. They compare quite well with the Smartwool Adrenaline, which is also touted as a multi-sport and adventure racing sock. If you want to run in deep snow and/or cold air you will really like the Bridgedale socks, which are warmer than their Smartwool counterparts.

Last, but not least… A big thanks to the Bridgedale representative who found my first review and was kind enough to provide three pairs of new socks at no cost or obligation!

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#13 – Running at Dawn

15 May 2007

Generally I’m an afternoon runner, but this morning I woke up at 5:30am to enjoy a nice run at dawn. What a morning! The air temperature was already 71 degrees despite the sun still being asleep. There was enough light to not need a headlamp, but I wore my taillight for any drowsy motorists. My dog Haven came with me, outfitted with her own Bling Bling Blinker to alert the drivers.

We had a great run! I chose my pace at random – sometimes I ran hard, sometimes easy, and sometimes at just a moderate cruising pace. The wind was blowing quite fast – a rarity for early morning hours – but that’s probably why the air was so warm: a heated mass of atmosphere was being drawn across the area. Haven and I awakened some snoozing ducks and geese along the river, including some fuzzy goslings.

It wasn’t all smooth sailing – the warm temps brought the bugs out early. I was forced to swallow one bug (ew!) and another got stuck in my eye. Nevertheless, after half an hour on the streets Haven and I were more than content with our dawn run!