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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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#46 – Running Goals

19 January 2008
Start Running

Start line of the 2007 Healthy Paws Healthy Cause fun run.

We all have to start somewhere. On January 1st, 2004 I went running for the first time in years. I made it just over a mile before I had to stop, gasping for breath and wondering if this former high school track and cross country guy could still call himself a runner! I set a few goals for myself and now here I am in 2008 with over a dozen running races and a few thousand miles underfoot since that humbling one-miler four years ago.

What initially set me down this path wasn’t even running – it was softball. In the fall of 2003 I played on my company’s co-ed softball team and was embarrassed to find myself out of breath just by jogging out to center field! Back in my college intramural days I could run all over the outfield without feeling winded, so I decided to get back in shape and I chose running as the means.

Running soon became the end, not just the means. I think a lot of runners can tell a similar tale of how just wanting to get in shape resulted in the discovery of a new passion for running. Ever since I have made sure to set many goals for myself, both for my running and for the rest of my life. These aren’t “resolutions”, mind you, but simply challenges to myself to remain focused in life.

The new year is a convenient time to review last year’s results and set new goals for the coming year. As early as last October I thought I had my running goals for 2008 all figured out – my plan was simple:

However, a deceptively severe hamstring strain has altered my plans. I don’t want to push myself to be ready for a spring marathon in case my hamstring doesn’t respond accordingly; plus, I haven’t been able to maintain an aerobic base over the winter like I’d been planning. So what do I do now?

No problem. Adapt my goals – after all, goals are challenges, not “assignments”. My 2008 racing goal is simply to finish the Wild West 100K, which will be my second ultramarathon and the first at that distance. My previous ultra was in 2006 when I ran the North Country Trail 50M as my primary running goal for that year. If all goes well, I’ll parlay that training into a sub-4:00 marathon, perhaps the Grand Rapids Marathon.

Clearly my time goals show that I’m not a competitive runner and my goals go beyond performance at races. In 2007 I ran 30% of my runs with a dog and I’m aiming to improve on that in 2008 with a goal of including a dog on at least a full one-third of my running sorties.

Along those lines I want to increase my trail running totals by logging at least 25% of my miles on trails. In 2007 I managed 22% of my distance with dirt underfoot. I toyed with the idea of bumping this goal up to 33% but I didn’t want to force myself onto the trails. I enjoy exploring (both the countryside and the neighborhood) during my long runs and that usually leads me out onto the roads.

It also leads me to my next goal: run a race purely for fun and photograph the experience. When aiming for specific finish times I don’t want to be distracted by a camera in hand, but seeing how much fun Scott Dunlap can have as a first-person race “journalist” has motivated me to try it out. While Scott is fast enough to document the front of the pack, my subjects will be from the middle of the field on back. ūüôā

Lastly, I have the goal of running 2008 without injury. Realistically that’s near impossible – there are always aches and pains to varying degrees – but towards that end I plan to be much more proactive in preventing injury via cross-training, stretching, and responding more urgently to any tweaks. I probably could’ve cut a couple weeks from my hamstring recovery time had I actively sought treatment right away rather than waiting a month, hoping for it to heal.

Live and learn, which is another good reason for setting goals – it gives us a benchmark to measure our progress and allows for some instructive retrospective feedback for the next time we toe the line at the start of a new challenge in life.

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#45 – New Year, New Running Log

11 January 2008

Andrew and Haven during a trail run

No, not that kind of running log! Haven imitates a mountain goat during our trail run.

If you read my 2007 running stats then it was pretty obvious that I am one of many runners who tracks my training in some type of log. I used to think that my running log was fairly sophisticated – after all, I track my dogs’ miles, too! – but it pales in comparison to the running log developed by David Hays.

Being an engineer of my generation (growing up in the 1980’s) it should be no surprise that my running log is maintained in a spreadsheet on my computer. It started out innocently enough with just three columns: date, distance, time. I soon added a comments column, another for the weather, another for the route I ran, and, well, you get the idea. My running log now sports 17 columns and tracks road and trail miles, miles with dogs, miles per shoe, and calculates lots of averages and totals.

17 columns is nothing… How about 17 sheets of tracking? That’s what David Hays developed for his running log spreadsheet that can only be described as “wow”. A colleague pointed me to his site last fall and now I’m trying to use this impressive log for 2008. It’s somewhat complex and takes a while climb the learning curve but the potential for insightful graphs, charts, and summaries is hard to ignore. Some highlights of this running log include:

  • Weekly, monthly, yearly, and lifetime totals calculated and graphed automatically
  • Graphs of your running broken down by type (e.g. race, speedwork, long run, etc.)
  • Tracking of the mileage on your shoes
  • Heart rate tracking and calculation of your %max HR for each run
  • A training plan that automatically shows your actual progress compared to the plan
  • Pace calculators and a pace predictor
  • A graph showing you how close you are to running around the world or to the moon!

I can’t imagine how much work went into this running log but it’s pretty impressive. I’m modifying his spreadsheet to add the ability to track my dogs’ mileage but I haven’t quite figured it out yet. I’ll have to keep using my running log for the time being but hopefully this old dog will soon learn some new spreadsheet tricks!

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#44 – 2007 Running Statistics

1 January 2008

Ella at the Computer

Ella updating her running log Рshe was my #1 foster dog running partner back in 2006. 

Some people are bored by statistics but I am not one of them. If you are of similar ilk then you’ll enjoy this breakdown of my running for 2007, by the numbers:

1018.5 total miles
207 runs
156 hours
4.92 miles average per run

13 races
7 5K road
2 5M trail
1 5K trail with Haven
1 4M road with Haven and Beacon
1 10K road
1 26.2M trail marathon

788.9 miles on the roads
229.6 miles on the trails
193.2 pounds average weight
56 bpm typical resting heart rate

181.7 miles running with Haven
85.3 miles running with Beacon
53.0 of the above miles running with Haven and Beacon together
4.3 miles running with foster dogs
218.4 miles running with dogs

51 runs with Haven
24 runs with Beacon
14 of the above runs were with Haven and Beacon together
2 runs with foster dogs, Raven and Reese
63 total runs with at least one dog
30% of all runs were with a dog

Congratulations if you’ve scrolled down this far and actually enjoyed reading the stats. The dogs will appreciate your effort since I’m now going to share their own personal numbers, which also include hikes and other walks that I didn’t include in my running tally. Note that “swimming” means time spent playing fetch in water or accompanying Amanda and I while we waded in the river.

Haven
327.7 miles total
107.7 miles on leash
220.0 miles off leash
92 outings
65 hours total
9.9 hours swimming

Beacon
226.2 miles total
65.6 miles on leash
160.7 miles off leash
74 outings
52 hours total
15.8 hours swimming

Foster Dogs
7 of our 17 foster dogs went running – Amber, Raven, Honey, Reese, Betty, Annie, Teddy
51.3 miles total
18.8 miles on leash
32.5 miles off leash
16 outings
14 hours total
no significant swimming

If you’re wondering why Haven racked up 100 more miles than Beacon, there are two main reasons:
1) Beacon likes running, Haven LOVES running. However, Beacon makes up for it with almost 6 more hours of swimming because while Haven likes fetch, Beacon LOVES fetch.
2) Beacon’s pads become sore rather easily and there are several occasions where Haven is taken for a run in place of Beacon because his paws are still recovering. We think the cause is a combination of Beacon’s naturally thin pads and his somewhat stiff-legged gait; in comparison Haven is a very smooth and easy runner.

Yes, I love running with dogs!

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#43 – 2007 Summary

1 January 2008

A year of good news and bad news, so I’ll get the bad stuff out of the way. 2007 ended not as I’d hoped thanks to my hamstring injury but at least it’s getting better with physical therapy. The downside was that I didn’t run a single mile during all of December, the first time I’ve missed a whole month since I started running four years ago today.

The good news is that I had a great year of running yet again. I ran 13 races including a post-high-school PR in the 5K and then lowered that mark with the help of my dog. It was all part of 1018.5 miles underfoot in 2007 so despite the injury, I was happy to crack 1000 miles even if it’s just a number. One of my goals for the year was to run 250 times but I only reached 207; however, I probably would’ve hit my target if I’d been smart enough to not overtrain into an injury. Live and learn.

Another positive is this very blog – since writing reason to run #1 back in April (which has been one of the most popular articles) there have been over 5200 visitors to Why Run?, much more than I would’ve thought my writing would attract. Thanks for reading!

Looking forward to 2008 my first priority is to get running again. Before the hamstring acted up I was hoping to try for a marathon PR in May and do some serious training for a sub-4:00 finish. Hopefully I can still go for that, but right now the prime race on my radar this year is my first crack at the 100K distance in August. Aside from that event I’m still working on sorting out my race schedule but I won’t be racing as many 5Ks this time around.