Archive for the ‘weather’ 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. ūüôā

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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#48 – Understand the Value of Snowshoes

28 January 2008
Haven waiting on the NCT

Haven impatiently waits for me as I struggle in the deep snow on the North Country Trail 

Even though I’ve lived in Michigan for almost 30 years of my life, I’ve never owned or even tried out a pair of snowshoes.¬† During my last run I really wished I was wearing some!

My plan for Sunday morning was to run 8 miles on the North Country Trail with Haven, trying to extend my long run from last weekend’s 5.6 miles in the snow.¬† We’ve been getting snow all week so it was no surprise that the trails were now coated in 7″ of fluffy snow on top of a 1″ layer of uneven crusty snow.

What did surprise me, however, was the difficulty of running on such a surface!¬† It’s been a long time since I ran in such deep stuff and boy does it ever suck away a lot of energy. ¬† At first I was feeling frustrated by my apparent lack of fitness, being forced to walk several times to catch my breath.¬† Building back up after an injury is bad enough but I was starting to wonder if I was back to square one.

Haven, on the other hand, wasn’t nearly so encumbered by two clunky feet; her four paws slipped through the snow with ease.¬† You can see in the photo above one of the countless occasions where she would stop and wait for me, looking back as if to say “Aren’t you coming?”

Reaching a crossroad (2.8 miles) in 37 minutes, I realized that there was no point in stubbornly pushing on for 8 miles when I’m still trying to baby my hamstring somewhat. ¬† Haven and I turned around and settled for a 5.6 mile run that took us 1:13, so at least my pace was consistent.

I bypassed the last 0.7 of trails in favor of a dirt road (i.e. packed snow) and oh my gosh did that feel great!   No wonder I was so frustrated Рdeep snow is tough.  I was feeling pretty good mentally knowing that my 5.6 miles was probably near equivalent to 8 miles of effort.

That mood was tempered a bit when I spotted a bright blue koosh pillow on the side of the road.¬† Marks in the snow made it clear that it had been tossed from a moving car, and it hadn’t been there when I ran by less than an hour earlier.¬† How annoying.

Not wanting to end my run on a sour note, I picked up the pillow and carried it home.¬† If I can clean it up, then Haven and Beacon will have another cushion for their frequent naps (as dogs can do so well!) and if it’s too dirty, then at least the road is free of one big piece of litter.

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#47 – Making Tracks

20 January 2008
Snowy Trail

Making Tracks in the Snow on the North Country Trail

Two weeks ago I was running¬† in 55 degree weather; today when I stepped outside it was a frigid 12 degrees!¬† There’s a saying that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing.¬† Heeding those words I dressed in three layers – a wicking base layer, a fleece middle layer, and a windbreaking nylon outer layer – and tackled the subzero wind chills head on.

It worked РI felt toasty warm for the entire hour that I was out on the North Country Trail and was glad I made the effort to get out for a run.  Although the wind was strong out in the open, the heavily wooded trails provided cover from the icy blast.  However, it was still cold enough for the eyelashes on the outer corners of my eyes to freeze together!

One fun aspect to running in the snow is seeing the tracks of those who traveled before me.  Early on I spied some paw prints from a large dog accompanied by small human boots.  Crossing a road into a more remote section of trail the human presence disappeared but my footprints had the company of a set of deer tracks.

Later on the deer veered off trail and I smiled – the trail ahead of me was untouched by the feet of any animal.¬† I was making the first tracks!¬† For about half a mile I enjoyed this “solitude” when a new set of tracks joined the trail.¬† I first I thought it was the paws of a medium sized dog but as I continued along the trail there were no human tracks to be seen.¬† Those weren’t dog tracks, they were the tracks of a coyote!

They were somewhat fresh, too – at least within the last 12 hours – but they were headed in the opposite direction so I wouldn’t get the chance to meet this wild canine. ¬† On the way back home I did spook a trio of deer that spooked me as well – I never saw them until they started running away.

All told I ran for over an hour, the first time I’d done that since 08 October 2007!¬† Boy did that feel good, and my hamstring didn’t complain at all.

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#34 – 2007 Chicago Marathon: A 16-Mile Disaster

12 October 2007

End of the Road at the 2007 Chicago Marathon

Photo: Princess Runner

A marathon is supposed to be 26.2 miles, yet some 6,500 runners at the 2007 Chicago Marathon were forced to end their “marathon” after 16 miles. Officially the race was canceled due to record-high heat but reading between the lines, it appears that the race director called off the event due to poor planning by the organizers. Sadly, this is not the first time that the Chicago Marathon has suffered an embarrassing mistake that jeopardized the health of its runners.

In the 2006 race, winner Robert Cheruiyot slipped as he crossed the finish line, losing his footing on a slick-surfaced sponsor logo placed on the road in front of the finish. Cheruiyot hit his head hard and was taken to the hospital; thankfully his injuries were not very serious. Why in the world would any race director allow such an obvious risk, especially given the wet conditions of that year’s race? 45,000 runners had signed up to attempt crossing that finish line and I find it appalling that safety was not a higher priority than the shininess of a sponsor’s logo. The logo was quickly removed and I’m not aware of any other runners who fell at the finish that year.

Sadly that lack of planning in 2006 did not motivate the organizers to be any more proactive when planning for 2007. The possibility of record heat was known to forecasters at least two weeks in advance and it should’ve been a contingency scenario from the outset – one of the few things a race director cannot control is the weather.

Many runners, aware of the heat, chose to not even start and save their efforts for a better day. According to MarathonGuide.com, there were “48,165 registered, 35,798 starters, 35,300 runners with a 10K split, 25,989 definitive finishers.” What really shocked me was MarathonGuide’s tally of the non-finishers: “1,000 runners who did not finish due to normal attrition, 6,500 runners who were removed from the course by race officials”. 6,500 runners forced to abandon! That’s 18% of all starters who were forced to cut short their dreams of finishing a marathon through no fault of their own.

I’ve been following the blog of Princess Runner as she trained for her goal to run her first marathon. After setting her sights on Chicago 2007, she was one of those unlucky 6,500. She wrote about her frustrating experience, including: “The reality of what was happening suddenly hit me like a sledgehammer. I was not going to finish the marathon. I could do it, but the race officials were not going to let me.” How devastating.

Her brother, Shore Turtle, also ran the marathon and was able to finish – he posted a respectable 4:13 – but had to endure seeing the letters “CXL” replacing the numbers on the race clock during the last mile. Many commenters on MarathonGuide.com related similar stories and sentiments about the 2007 race.

What really angers me about the decision to cancel the race for those who didn’t reach halfway fast enough is that the Chicago Marathon caters in particular to that demographic of novice runners. I researched the results of dozens of marathons using MarathonGuide.com and found that the Chicago Marathon has the slowest average finishing time (4:35 in 2006, 5:02 in 2007) of any marathon I checked. With 45,000 registrants Chicago is one of the largest marathons in the world, but also one of the slowest.

If record-high temperatures are combined with thousands of inexperienced runners, you had better expect a sharp increase in both water consumption and medical emergencies. Indeed, runners are responsible for their own preparation and I do find it annoying that so many folks allow themselves to get in over their head, but I was once one of those runners. I ran the 2005 Grand Rapids Marathon and was forced to walk almost 10 miles due to cramping caused by insufficient training. However, I was aware of my safety limits and the race organizers were well prepared for runners like me just in case I pushed myself too far. After all, even the elite runners can push a little too hard sometimes.

Ironically, the Chicago Marathon also caters to the elites thanks to a large prize purse as well as being part of the World Marathon Majors series. Yet as Robert Cheruiyot can attest in 2006, Chicago has not been fully prepared to protect their safety. Fortunately nobody tried to blame Cheruiyot for losing his balance, but in 2007 race officials pointed their fingers at the novice runners that they’ve courted for years. Sponsor LaSalle Bank’s vice president inexplicably claimed that “planners did not anticipate runners would use drinking water to cool themselves” by pouring it on their heads. Oh really? At the 2007 Riverbank Run I watched aid station volunteers frequently use cups of water to treat runners with a refreshing “shower” despite a high temperature of just 67 degrees. Nobody planning for the Chicago Marathon could’ve thought of that?

Given how things have gone in 2006 and 2007, one wonders just how much planning takes place for such a premier event. Apparently not much – see this quote about the debacle from Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski: “Probably we should have been a little more proactive about that.” No kidding. FYI, 2008 is just 12 months away…

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#31 – Cool Weather… Does It Speed Me Up?

10 September 2007

Letting the dogs outside at daybreak Sunday morning we were greeted by a loudly honking flock of geese flying overhead. They were flying south. Is summer over?

At least for today, it was. Setting out for our five mile run at work during lunch, one of my co-workers wondered aloud, not altogether jokingly, if he should’ve worn a long sleeve shirt. It was a “chilly” 63 degrees under overcast sky with the added benefit of a steady misting rain to keep us cool.

It felt great! We maintained a rather zippy 8:45 pace (yeah, for us that’s zippy) yet I had energy to spare. One co-worker is infamous for his love of hot-weather running – he never struggles even in 90+ humid degrees – yet today he didn’t have quite the pep that I did. I’m just the opposite – hot weather really wears me out but weather like today was almost perfect, especially the mist.

So maybe it’s true, that runners are faster in cooler weather? My goal this year is to run a 20-minute 5K but my confidence waned as summer wore on. After a 21:07 in March, my 5K races were all 21:30 to 21:45 with no trend to indicate impending improvement. I complained about this to Steve at Striders and he advised that I would become fast again as the weather cools down. Could it really make that much difference?

If today was any indication, it was a good boost for my confidence heading into this Saturday’s 5K – The Bridge Run. The forecast for this weekend is calling for morning temperatures in the 40’s, similar to when I ran my best 5K in March. Will the cool weather speed me up? I’ll find out in a few days…

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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!

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#7 – Do Something Crazy

11 April 2007

Official season: Spring

Official weather: 32 degrees, 30 mph winds, heavy snowfall

If the weather wasn’t already crazy enough, I trumped Mother Nature by going running – in shorts – out in this stuff! Crazier yet, all four of my regular running co-workers showed up for today’s lunch-hour run ready to hit the streets. I wasn’t the only one wearing shorts, and one guy had no hat or gloves but cleverly wore his work socks on his hands.

When we began our 5-mile route the snow had just started falling and a 1/4″ coated the sidewalks. We remarked now nice and soft the concrete felt with this frosty padding, and soon the discussion turned to global warming and how Mount Tambora‘s 1815 eruption had some crazy effects on the weather in 1816. As far as I know, today’s weather wasn’t caused by volcanic ash in the atmosphere!

Our route is C-shaped… it begins heading south, turns west, then north, where we turn around and thus face south, east, and finally north. I mention this because the howling east wind stung our faces (and bare legs for a couple of us) with an incessant stream of ice pellets. The crosswind legs of our route weren’t too bad, and the downwind was rather comfortable, but mile 3.5-4.5 faced us directly into what felt like the onslaught of medieval longbow men.

My instinct was to raise my sword and charge, attacking the wind – I upped the pace considerably and battled onward. One of the guys joined me and boy, what a fight! He had no eye protection and the ice pellets were stinging his eyeballs and loading freezing mascara onto his eyelashes. I was wearing clear-lens sunglasses but they didn’t help much – the inside of the lens fogged up while the outside was completely covered in sticky snow that I had to wipe off every minute. We could barely see the sidewalk!

We didn’t give up. The harder we ran, the sooner we’d be out of the ferocious headwind. It seemed like forever, but we finally reached the intersection in 7:30! That’s fast for us, especially given the conditions. Once we hit the 5 mile mark, we turned around to pick up the rest of the guys who kept a more sane pace, then all five of us fearless warriors finished together, completely covered in snow. I had so much snow in my hair that when I ran my hand through it, I grabbed enough of the white stuff to make a snowball! The 1/4″ ground cover had become over 2″ deep when we finished – our tracks from the start of the run were no longer visible less than an hour later!

We must’ve been an impressive sight. During the entire run motorists were honking at us and a few rolled down their windows to shout encouragement. We wondered, though, how many of those honking drivers were saying “Way to go! You guys are hard core!” vs. “Get back indoors you crazy freaks!”

I may be a crazy freak, but when Nature puts on a show that is as amazing as it is rare, I’m going to be outdoors… and running!