Posts Tagged ‘matt carpenter’

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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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#27 – Are You Wearing Running Genes?

9 August 2007

If you hang around runners and other endurance athletes, sooner or later you’ll hear them talk about “VO2 max”. No, this isn’t what the space shuttle uses for fuel! In a nutshell, VO2 max is a measure of how well your body delivers oxygen to your muscles during prolonged exertion, and thus it’s a good barometer of your endurance capability. I won’t try to explain the science behind it all when someone with an advanced degree can tell you what VO2 max means to runners.

There is also a good VO2 max calculator out there, and many others like it. These calculators are just estimates, but the consensus seems to be that they’re always in the ballpark. An actual test of your VO2 max requires you to spend some time on a treadmill hooked up to an oxygen hose and other instruments; oh, and it’ll cost you $100 or so. Since I don’t have that kind of dough laying around I’ll just stick to the calculators for now. According to the above site my VO2 max is 46.7 ml/kg/min (read the Wikipedia entry on VO2 max to better understand the units of measure.)

A sedentary person will range between 20 and 50 for their VO2 max with an average of 35. In other words, an untrained couch potato can hop off the sofa and test out to the above VO2 max scores. Does this mean that my 46.7 puts me near the top of that range? Not at all! The sedentary VO2 max essentially is your genetic base, a base upon which you can improve with training. VO2 max performance will improve with training – since I’ve been running for almost four years now, I should be well above my base. How far?

January 1, 2004 was my first run since the fall of 1999 and I was well out of shape. I managed to last for 13 minutes, covering just 1.25 miles. According to the calculator my VO2 max was 26.5, although such a short distance doesn’t allow for as much accuracy as a longer run. Still, it shows that my base is quite low! After all my “in shape” score of 46.7 is below what some people can apparently do without even training. Hopefully with further training I can continue to push my upper limit.

Speaking of upper limits, elite athletes can boast some pretty amazing VO2 max scores. The highest ever recorded seems to be a 94 by Bjorn Daehlie, the Norwegian cross-country skier who was almost unbeatable in his prime. Greg LeMond reportedly scored 92.5 and skyrunner Matt Carpenter notched a 90.2 (although he claims that he may have scored a 94.9). You certainly don’t need to score in the 90’s to be competitive; in fact many champion athletes have scores in the 80’s and even 70’s, such as Steve Prefontaine (84.4), Lance Armstrong (83.8), and Frank Shorter (71.3).

Notably none of those elite athletes scored below 50, so I’m not about to earn a living by winning races! If I want to run faster, though, it’ll help to improve my VO2 max as much as I can. The way to do that is to train at or near that limit, which is why runners and coaches recommend interval training – run hard for a minute or few, recover for a bit, then repeat several times. You can’t do this all the time or your body would wear out, but this type of training is what moves your VO2 max upwards. Other aspects also affect endurance – such as lactate threshold and efficient stride mechanics – so VO2 max isn’t the single defining marker for speed over long distances. But it sure helps!

Does this physiology apply to other animals? You bet! In fact you can take that bet to the race track – a thoroughbred race horse has a VO2 max of around 180, twice that of the highest-scoring humans! If that’s not impressive enough, how about the animals curled up at my feet… my dogs. Trained sled dogs scored a VO2 max of 240! Dogs are born to run. Humans not so much, but we still enjoy it! Especially when I’m running with dogs, although sometimes I get a little bit jealous of their genes. 🙂

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#24 – Climb a Sand Dune

8 July 2007

On 7/7/07 I was one of the few people not getting married that day… Instead I was lucky enough to be invited to the cottage of a family friend, a cottage that is literally adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore! Growing up in Michigan I’ve been to Sleeping Bear several times over the years yet I could never get used to such amazing landscapes. In my opinion Sleeping Bear Dunes is one of the most spectacular parks in the entire country!

Amanda and I drove the three hours north with my cousin and navigator Ana, who’s been going to this cottage all her life. Sadly my brothers couldn’t make it, but my parents were there along with some aunts, uncles, and cousins. First off I sampled several pieces of raisin spice cake along with countless other snacks that everyone had brought along. Yum!

Then there was some beach frisbee, then floating in Lake Michigan on inner tubes, then hiking down the beach to a small lake, then more floating over the sandbar, then some beach hillbilly golf. Yep, we spent a lot of time on that beach! Amanda has the sunburns to prove it, too.

Being so close to Sleeping Bear, all day I was eying this giant sand bluff with plans to climb it. Legend has it that some years ago my cousin Gabe set the family ascent record at 7.5 minutes while Ana holds the female title at 10 minutes. Both were teenage-fast avid cyclists, but could I keep up?

The bluff rises 450 vertical feet above Lake Michigan; marking our path using Google Earth shows the slant distance to be about 800 feet. As we approached this sand mountain my dad, a civil engineer, explained to me that typical sand has an angle of repose of about 45 degrees. Yeah, that looked about right:

Wow, this wasn’t going to be easy! The ants crawling up the hill formed in to humans as we got close enough to see the action, and crawl was the word of the day – I noticed that everybody who was going up was doing so on all fours!

Off we go! I was able to walk upright for the first two minutes before so much lactic acid built up in my quads that the muscles refused to respond to my commands. I was forced to rest a few seconds before I resumed the ascent, this time using all four limbs like everyone else. The terrain was atrocious! The sand was filled with rocks from pebbles up to softball size and my toes took a beating. Each step I took, my foot slid halfway back down the hill! Progress was frustrating to say the least. While my feet mashed through the sand and rocks my fingers were like pitchforks jabbing into the hillside until they became so tired that I had to walk on my knuckles just like a chimpanzee.

After 14 minutes I finally made it to the top! In retrospect I probably could’ve made it in 12 had I not burned out my quads by walking upright in the beginning. I can see why my cyclist cousins were so fast – you really need strong thighs! My lungs were fine but my quad muscles were operating above their lactate threshold the entire climb. Ana arrived to the summit in 15:45, then her sister Adrienne in 16:30. The three of us sat down (“collapsed” might be a better word!) to recover and take in the incredible view of Lake Michigan stretching to the horizon in front of us.

Finally we had company – Uncle Andy arrived at 25 minutes followed by his young daughter and her friend who impressed everyone with a 26-minute climb. My dad made it to the top in 31 minutes – not bad for a guy pushing 60 years old! He rides his bike a lot and that really helped him – he said that his lungs were the limiting factor, not his legs. Andy’s young son arrived at 35 minutes, toting his snowboard all the way! Last but not least, Aunts Therese and Kathy dragged themselves up in 36 minutes. Everyone made it!

Most folks on the hill had driven to the overlook at the summit and decided to hike down, then were forced to suffer the ascent just to get back to their car! Either that or walk a 7-mile detour. Luckily for us we wanted to do the climb, then got to enjoy the easy descent. Young Issac tried his snowboard but found it to be much easier on snow than sand. However, Ana and Adrienne had a fun technique of skiing down the hill that worked pretty well:

I opted for a straight run, but it was more like a high-stepping march, lifting my knees as fast as I could to keep my feet from dragging behind my body – I had no desire to taste the sand! Unfortunately Uncle Andy performed one somersault on the way down, but he said it wasn’t bad because his sunglasses didn’t fall off. 🙂

After maintaining an effort that was close to what my 5K pace feels like for 14 minutes just to reach the top, I ran down that same hill in just one minute! What a blast that was. It really did feel kinda like downhill skiing, but unless you’re as fit as sky-runner Matt Carpenter you only get one hard-earned “lift ticket” to the top!

My feet were very sore during the walk back to the cottage, but being able to splash them through the cool surf of Lake Michigan helped soothe the pain. Best of all, back at the cottage it was time to eat! Now that was a meal well earned. I can’t wait to go back someday and conquer the Sleeping Bear bluff again!