Friday, February 1, 2013

Yaktrax vs. Screw Shoes (vs. commando)

The Groundhog Half Marathon in Grand Rapids is tomorrow.  Last week, when I looked at the weather, it said it was supposed to get up to 45 degrees Wednesday, and then no snow the rest of the week.  That meant (I hoped) that the existing snow would all melt on Wednesday, no more would fall, and I would end up with a beautifully dry race course for tomorrow morning!  Too bad the weather is a fickle mistress.  This is what I get instead: 

Statement as of 4:08 AM EST on February 01, 2013
... Lake effect snow warning now in effect until 1 PM EST Saturday...
The lake effect snow warning is now in effect until 1 PM EST Saturday.
Hazardous weather...
* snow showers will continue into mid day Saturday. An additional 4 to 7 inches of snow is expected. After morning snows today... a lull in the snowfall is expected this afternoon. Then the snowfall will rapidly increase again this evening.
* West winds gusting to 25 mph will create areas of blowing and drifting snow. Winds will subside late tonight.
* Wind chill temperatures ranging from zero to 10 below zero.
* snow covered roads tonight through Saturday will result in hazardous travel conditions.
* Visibility will be under a quarter mile in heaviest snow bands.
* Frostbite and hypothermia threat increases tonight and Friday night as wind chill temperatures fall to below zero. 

Fun, right?  Luckily, this wasn't a "goal race", I just signed up for a fast and fun long run in my training for Rock CF, so I'm not too upset about the conditions.  I had been not-so-secretly hoping to get my PR and/or sub 2 hr half out of the way prior to Rock CF, but I'm kind of glad to not have to worry about it, honestly.  Especially because I didn't taper or rest at all for this race.

The weather forecast did force me to figure out what I'm going to wear on my feet tomorrow, so yesterday was spent experimenting with my shoes.  Luckily, it snowed here in Ann Arbor yesterday, so I had some material to work with.  Weird, because Wednesday I ran outside in shorts and a long-sleeved tech tee and ROASTED in the 55 degree temps, wishing I had worn a tank or at least a short sleeved tee.  Then Thursday (just one day later!), I had to break out the Buff for the first time this season to combat the wind in my face:

I had to decide whether to wear my Yaktrax, make some screw shoes, or go "commando" in my normal running shoes.  I've had the Yaktrax since last winter, but hardly ever wear them, so some experimenting was definitely in order.  I decided to do my planned 3-mile easy run in 1-mile chunks, changing shoes after each mile and then heading back out on the same mile course to ease comparison.

First of course, I had to put some screws in my shoes!  There are tons of other people who have already written up how to do this.  Here are a few I found helpful: SkyrunnerWhy Run, The Runners' Blog.

Here's what you need:
  • #6 Hex Head Sheet Metal Screws.  I used 3/8" throughout.  We bought some 1/2" ones too, but I didn't see the point in risking my feet getting poked!  I might have even gone w/ the 1/4" length, but my hardware store didn't have them.  I ended up using 46 in my shoes (23 per shoe), Jeff used 48 or 50 in his.   
  • A drill, with the appropriate bit thingy.  I don't know if it has a name.  Jeff got the drill set up for me.  Apparently you could do it by hand if you wanted to.  I wouldn't recommend it.   
  • Shoes to screw!
  • Cats optional, but recommended.   

And then, you just get screwing.  It was really easy to do.  The hard part was deciding where I wanted the screws.  Some of the blogs I read just placed them around the perimeter, and none really in the middle.  That made sense to me, since it seemed like having screws in your shoes on the real weight-bearing parts would be really uncomfortable, so I started with that.  

A quick 10 second video clip of me putting in a screw, and a photo of "version 1" of my screw shoes, with 13 screws per foot. 

I should note that I chose my thickest, most supportive shoes for this task, my Asics Foundations.  Some of the things I read warned about being careful with screw placement in shoes with Gel pockets (such as Asics), but I didn't know where they were or how to avoid them, so I just didn't worry about it.  They feel fine to me, and I didn't notice any gel leaking out onto the floor or anything ;).  Asics are all I wear anymore, so I wasn't going to add more injury risk by using my Brooks Adrenalines or Addictions instead.  I am already worried about the screws or the Yaktrax altering my stride or foot mechanics as it is, without adding different shoes into the mix.  

Time to run!  I ran in the screw shoes as pictured above for the first mile of my run.  I was surprised that I couldn't really feel the screws.  I heard them when I ran on dry pavement, but that's about it.  I didn't really slip at first, but toward the end, probably as more snow got packed into my shoes, I felt like they stopped working quite as well.  

Mile 2, on to the Yaktrax.  They are easy to put on and take off, so I put them on my "normal" running shoes, no harm done.  In theory, if I wore them to the race tomorrow and felt that I didn't need them, I could stop, take them off, and loop them onto a race belt or put them in my pockets.  That's a big perk, for sure, although I wouldn't want to do it more than once during the race (it isn't *that* quick).  

I could definitely feel the Yaktrax under my feet.  Much more than I could with the screws.  They were also much more awkward on the dry pavement than the screw shoes were.  On smooth surfaces, like the smooth concrete on my front porch on the way out the door, they were actually dangerously slippery, I thought.  Once I got going though and the snow got packed in there a bit, I stopped noticing them.  Towards the end of the run, I would probably say that they were a bit better than the screw shoes were at that point in the run.  

Really, I didn't slip much at all in either option.  It made me wonder if maybe it just wasn't that slippery.    For the third mile, I took the Yaktrax off my shoes and went sans-grip-devices.  It really wasn't that slippery.  Still, I much preferred having the screw shoes or the yaktrax to nothing at all.  I hate that slip when you kick your foot back, even if it is only slight.  It really slows you down and wastes energy and makes you sore in weird places the next day.  So, I'm pretty sure I'll be using SOMETHING at the race tomorrow!

At this point, the Yaktrax had performed *slightly* better.  But, I didn't have screws in my shoes at any of the real weight/traction points.  The Yaktrax were basically centered in the middle of my foot, while my screws were just on the perimeter.  I decided I should try adding screws to the middle before I made a decision.  I was less afraid to do so after realizing how little you could feel them.  Plus, I can always take them out if I don't like them.  

Done, 23 screws per shoe! 
I went out yet again, though not quite on the same route, and only for 0.79 miles instead of a full one.  They did work much better than my original, less-screwed version.  There were one or two screws around the ball of my foot that I kind of noticed for the first few steps, but I was really paying attention and trying to feel them.  Pretty soon I didn't notice them at all.  As I was wrapping up my last lap, Jeff got home and decided to screw his shoes too.  It's much easier to take video with two people, (my short clip earlier is me trying to drill one-handed and hold the camera in the other hand), so here is Jeff doing his shoes:

He agreed with me in that he was surprised how little you could feel them when you were running!

So, what's the verdict for tomorrow?  It's still a tough call.  I have no idea what the course is going to look like, and all I really tested on was loose fresh powder and dry pavement.  Here are my impressions:

By device:  
  • YakTrax
    • Can remove mid-run if the course is mostly dry. 
    • Uncomfortable and awkward on dry pavement.  
    • From what I've read online, they are useless on ice. 
  • Screw Shoes
    • Stuck with them throughout the race if I start with them.  (Unless somebody wants to come be my pit crew and help me change my tires on the second lap!) 
    • Not bothersome on dry areas.  
    • Helpful on ice too (from online reading, haven't tested this). 
  • No traction device
    • I didn't even realize what I was missing!  I'm no longer opting for nothing when the sidewalks are iffy.  Slipping sucks.  

By condition: 
  • Dry
    • 1- No traction device.  Duh.  The problem is that you rarely have 100% dry routes if it has snowed recently. 
    • 2- Screw shoes.  Basically just a little clickety-clackety.  Otherwise no big deal.  They still feel like my shoes. 
    • 3- Yaktrax.  Yuck.  It was like I was running in something else completely, not my normal shoes.  I ran funny too.  
  • Loose powder
    • 1- Yaktrax, I guess, by a smidge.  
    • 2- Screw shoes, in a very close second.  Maybe too close to call. 
    • 3- No device.  Slipping sucks.  
  • Packed snow
    • ??  Not tested.  My gut, combined with online research tells me that probably Screw shoes and Yaktrax work equally well here, but that the screws win out in the comfort department, by being less noticeable, as they are on dry pavement.  So lets go with that.
    • 1- Screw shoes
    • 2- Yaktrax
    • 3- No device. 
  • Ice
    • ?? Not tested.  From what I've read, the screw shoes do well on ice, except for very thin black ice, while the Yaktrax don't help at all.  I buy that, given how slippery it was on smooth non-icy surfaces in the Yaktrax.  
    • 1- Screw shoes
    • 2- Yaktrax
    • 3- No device. 
**Note: I know there are other traction options out there, such as Stabil-icers and others.  This post is complicated enough as it is.  That's your problem to figure out.  I'm content with these two options!

I wish I had more time/conditions to test in so I could be sure about those last two conditions, since that is mostly what I will likely encounter on most runs anyway.  As for tomorrow, it is a 3 loop repeat of a 4.4 mile loop, so the chances of loose powder are basically zero.  I won't be running at the front of the pack, so the runners in front of me should have already packed the snow down.  Even if I was at the front, it's a repeating loop, so the 2nd and 3rd loops would be packed anyway.  I figure I'm either looking at packed snow or dry pavement, depending on whether they attempt to clear the snow or not.  Judging by the website, I think there will be snow!

"Ever see the movie?  The course will give you the opportunity to relive the same day several times.  A total of 6 loops of approximately 4.4 miles on a CERTIFIED course (Yes!  You can qualify for Boston!) will have you feeling just a little case of deja vu.  Plans are to have two aid stations plus the finish line area.  Map is here.  Don't plan on the course being free of snow.  It's paved, which means no underlying rocks and roots, but that's about all we're promising."

Okay, there will DEFINITELY be snow.  This is from their facebook page:

The course is covered with about 8 inches of fresh snow.
You can drop bags on a tarp we'll have in the big tent
We have a big tent. It's heated.
We don't have online tracking 
There are a bunch of online weather services. This isn't one of them.
Punxsutawney Phil is an old, nearly blind groundhog who can only seem to see shadows. He's not nearly as cool as Grand Rapids Gus."

They also added that they will not be plowing!  So I guess that means there won't be any dry pavement!

So....I think I'm going with the screw shoes.  If my assumptions are right about ice and packed snow, they are the clear front-runner.  And I'll carry a small screwdriver in my little SPI belt knockoff thing, so I can remove any that might become problematic, since I've never run long in screw shoes before.  I'll bring the Yaktrax too, maybe test out the course Friday night or Saturday morning and make my final decision then.  Does anybody know where I can get snowshoes??  8 inches of fresh snow w/ no plowing...not sure if screw shoes and/or Yaktrax will even make a difference at all!

I'm pretty much going to wear what I am in the picture at the start of this post:  tights, skirt, long-sleeved tech tee from a race, light jacket, fleece headband, mittens, buff.  I expect the buff will mostly be relaxing around my neck, and the mittens will spend most of their time in my pockets (it's supposed to be pretty "warm" tomorrow, at 25 F), but it will be nice to have the option if it gets really windy.  I'm opting for the jacket instead of two layers of long-sleeved shirts because it is easier to take off and put on if needed.  Plus it gives me extra pocket real estate.  I think that should be perfect.

There was one more hiccup in the race planning.  Jeff and I got a hotel in Grand Rapids for tonight, so we won't have to make the drive Saturday morning.  (We booked it at least a month ago).  Then yesterday, Jeff says: "I think we have a problem with the dogs."  I look at the dogs, and see nothing out of the ordinary:

Me: "What's wrong with the dogs?" 
Jeff: "We have a problem with the dogs for Friday night."  
Me: "FUCK."   

We completely forgot to make arrangements for the animals so we could go out of town.  For a short trip like that, we would normally use Jeff's parents, but they are in Florida right now.  We could conceivably board them, but Callie doesn't have her Bordetella vaccine because we usually don't board her because she doesn't really play nice with strangers (people or dogs).  Plus it's expensive.  Aargh.  I seriously regret getting dogs sometimes.  They're so much stress.  Not just this, but everything.  They're going to be 7 years old this year, so I still have a good 5 years left to deal with them.  Ugh.  (And you wonder why I think I shouldn't have kids?!?)  Jeff ended up asking his friend (ex-girlfriend, technically) to come let them out to pee late Friday night again Saturday morning, so we're just going to do that.  We'll be gone from like 3pm Friday (today) until maybe 3pm Saturday, so that should be fine.  They're big dogs with big bladders.  I'll take them for a walk before we leave today to hopefully burn some of their energy and clear my conscience.  

Oooh, I'll wear my Yaktrax to walk the dogs.  They'll get some use after all.  The big benefit is that I can put them on any shoes at all, and switch them around easily, rather than committing to just one pair of running shoes.  

Wish me luck!  Here's hoping I don't sprain an ankle at this race tomorrow! 

1 comment:

  1. Good luck! This race should be interesting. No plowing, huh? That is unfortunate and will make things a bit more challenging. Hopefully, there will be a good turnout with plenty of folks ahead of you to stomp that snow down into something semi-manageable.

    Keep warm & have fun. My wimpy butt (well my feet) will probably be on a treadmill Saturday. :)


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