Thursday, January 27, 2011

How to Screw Your Shoes

This post has two meanings. I'll be starting with the homemade ice spikes first before getting to the retirement of the shoes.

Homemade Ice Spikes

Not to be confused with the official Icespikes or Yaktrax or even Microspikes. No, these are spike that you do yourself. But before we get to that, let's back up a bit.

Some of those products above look quite lovely. And I'm sure if I lived in an area that got enough snow to warrant their purchase, I'd have a fair collection of them (along with some snow shoes). But seeing as I live in the south and snow is rare enough that an inch will close schools, I don't see the point in spending that much money on a product that I'll use once or twice a year.

So once I got a feel for what I was looking for and how little I wanted to spend, I stumbled across a great site that gave some steps on how to make your own spiked shoes for running in the snow. I won't post the link because I can't remember where I found it. And because it's enough to do on your own.

The steps are pretty simple. Get an awl (or ice pick), some small screws, and something to put the screws in with. Mark where you want the screws to go. Poke a hole in the sole. Put the screws in. Go run.

Yes, it's that simple. But there are some words of caution. Like, don't get a three inch long screw to put in the bottom of your shoe. I mean, seriously, use some brains. Mine are short and have a hex head on them so I didn't have to fiddle with a screw driver. They're about half an inch in length (total) and are machine screws I believe. Check the pictures and you'll see what kind I got.

Anyway, you prime the spot with the awl (like pre-drilling a hole) and screw them in. I put them on the higher spots so they'd give me the best traction and kept them evenly placed so I wouldn't have too many in one spot. I also kept them as symmetrical as possible on both feet to avoid any lopsided running. All in all, it went smoothly.

Now, for the running on snow part. I've worn them twice on what artists like to call "mixed media" for a total of about 17 miles. Not quite enough to be a definitive answer on how they work, but certainly enough to form a solid opinion. I'll break down each surface below and give you a run down (pun intended) of how the spike worked.

Asphalt - It felt like and sounded like I was running in track shoes. No, those have spikes in the toes. More like golf cleats. Click clack click clack. No loss of traction, but the feeling of the road was off a bit. It felt just like you would think, like you're running on spikes. The upside was the people in front of me heard me coming and moved out of my way.

Slush - Very hard to run in slush. I think this is mostly because you don't know if the slush is soft, hard, or somewhere in between. The slush itself is a challenging surface and the spikes help. But I did notice this was one of the few surfaces that I would lose a lot of traction on. Not enough to slip, stumble, or fall, but enough to move my arms to balance myself.

Ice - You notice the grip the most on ice. You know the ice is slick and you know you should be falling. Instead your foot slips just a little as you push off with each stride. I think this is mostly because you have less weight over your toes as you push off the ice. Combined with fewer spikes to grip and you have a bit of a slip.

Snow (loose) - Piece of cake. The hardest part was lifting your feet over the top of the snow, but with 4 to 6 inches of loose powder, it was easy enough to run through. No slipping at all.

Snow (packed) - This is where it got a little tricky. Packed snow that's smooth was no problem. It felt and acted very much like ice. However when the snow was packed by a tire, it could result in some slipping. This was especially true with tractor tires that have a very wide and open tread. Smaller car tires (and even truck tires) would pack the snow enough to make for a smooth foot plant. But tractor tires left tracks that would make for a foot plant that had to deal with a high and low every 2 inches. The end result was some slipping, but mostly due to the odd angle on which your foot could land and push off from.

Dirt - Just like snow, very easy to run on. No slipping and no noticeable clogging of the spikes.

Gravel - Just like the dirt, easy to run on but your hear a click or clack every now and then from the spikes hitting a rock.

Mud - Light mud was no issue. There was no slipping and very little build-up on the spikes. Thick mud though was another problem. Not only would I slip worse than the slush, it would cake up your spikes like mad and take several strides before it came off. Assuming you could get out of the thick mud to begin with.

Water - I didn't run in a river, but ran through plenty of puddles and such from the melting snow. The biggest thing I noticed was how the water would freeze or stick to the strides in the snow and ice. In other words, getting your shoes wet may result in them freezing. Having been around snow long enough, I should have expected the reaction, but it was still odd to feel it as I ran. Some strides felt like having Velcro on the bottom of my feet, but the spikes didn't seem to add to or take away from this reaction. If anything, they helped get a better grip on the next stride in the snow and ice.

Overall, this was a cheap and easy solution (about $2 and a couple of minutes work) to running in the snow and ice. I can see no short term impact on my shoes from having them spiked and they run almost like a normal shoe would. I would recommend using a cordless drill for installation and removal since it'll save some time and muscle power. Beyond that, they worked great and I'll certainly be using them again.

Retirement of the Shoes
I have long been a Saucony fan. In fact, I often refer to myself as a Saucony Snob. Their gear is great and I've been running in their shoes for years without complaint.

Until now.

Back in August of 2010 I ran a 50k and totally trashed my feet. I used BodyGlide, changed socks, and even changed shoes. It took some time to finally realize that the shoes were too small. Instead of a size 10 Wide, I should have been in a 10.5 Wide. That extra half a size makes a difference. Since it took so long to realize the source of my foot issues, I still have some size 10s that I run in. Namely my Ride 2s (two pair) for the road and my Exodus 2.0s for the trail.

But my pair of TR 4 that I used as guinea pigs for my spikes just don't cut it anymore and I'm sad to see them go. I ran nearly 20 miles of my 50k in them before switching to my Brooks Cascadias (my only non-Saucony shoe). But after several longish runs in my TR 4s, I have to say that the toe box is just too small. I know the shoe is a half-size too small and that's a large contributing factor. But compared to the Rides or the Exodus or even the Kinvara, the toe box is even smaller than I'd expect. This leads to some toe pains (and sometimes blisters) on the middle toe of each foot. I've experimented with these shoes since the 50k and socks, terrain, speed, etc. don't matter. It's the shoe. And aside form the toe box, the soles just aren't thick enough or sturdy enough for me on the trail. Thankfully the Exodus fills my needs for trail running (and I'm hoping the Peregrine will when it's released).

Which means I now need to decide if my TR 4s will end up as my casual shoes or if they'll end up in the trash. I hate to give up on a shoe, especially from my favorite company, but my toes just can't take it anymore.

You can see my measurements in this gallery if you'd like.

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