Thursday, January 29, 2009

Running Studs

No, this is not about good looking guys in shorts and have to find someone else's blog for that...This post is about winter running and an experiment I tried after reading an article in the January issue of RunnersWorld.

The article discussed how you can modify your regular training shoes to have better grip when running in winter conditions by installing plain old sheet metal screws. Traction has always been a problem of mine partly because my shoes of choice have a very low profile tread design, partly because of the location of my long runs (country roads that are not necessarily cleared and are hilly) and the fact that most of my marathon training takes place in the winter months, but also that I have hurt myself before and seem to have come close to more serious pulled muscles and ankle injuries.

Last Friday, I stopped by Canadian Tire and bought a pack of 1/2in. self tapping sheet metal screws. They are the ones that have a hex head with raised edges. I would have preferred 3/8in. but they were out of stock. There are 24 in a pack so I figured that was more than enough. When I got home, I pulled out my trusty cordless drill and a hex-head bit and brought it into the den along with my shoes and the screws. My wife looked at me strangely as I placed a screw under my shoe and proceeded to drive it in. "You're putting the pointy end in that way?", she inquired like I had no idea what I was doing. I pretended I did and showed her the picture from the article. I proceeded to strategically place the screws into the sole of my shoe (3 near the heel, a few at the midfoot, a few under the ball, and a couple toward the toe - see picture below). I realized I had put fourteen on one shoe which meant I only had 10 left for the other. I removed one and decided I would test which configuration worked better ; thirteen or eleven.

The next day, I set out on my run. The screws gripped very well in the snow and on the ice. I can't say which was better but I did notice I was missing some traction for an adequate toe-off in both feet. I also noticed that the studs didn't make me lose traction on clear pavement, but they did make a clippety-clop sound. I suppose they would wear out faster as well. It wasn't long before I found myself seeking out the shoulder of the road in order to run on the packed snow and ice with my newfound traction.

Week 2, I took a different route this week where there was much more snow. Traction was still very good. A couple of problems with this type of running, and confidence; you don't know how hard or how deep the snow is and there may be water inderneath. The first can be an opportunity for disaster or just get your feet wet. Seeking to run in the snow instead of the pavement, I once stepped on a hard ice chunk embedded in softer snow. This caused my ankle to roll outward. I felt some pain but ran through it and it subsided. A friend of mine once told me he severely fractured his foot this way a few years back. I have also started wearing gaiters over the tops of my shoes so that snow doesn't get in. This helped immensely to keep the snow from coming in the tops of my shoes. The second situation I encountered during my week 3 run; The temperature was at just about freezing, and it had rained overnight. The shoulder of the road was a mixture of snow, ice, and slush. It wasn't long before my footfalls sank through the snow and into the slush underneath. I felt the water infiltrate my toebox, but the traction was still fine.

After this last run, I decided to wash my shoes and inspect the studs. Aftrer three long runs, the rear studs toward the outside of my heals were almost completely worn down. I will have to use pliers to take them off. The rest of them look in pretty good shape. I also checked out my orthodics and found the the pointy ends of the screws had actually left indentations in my insoles under the balls of my feet even though I don't feel them protruding through the bottoms of the lasts. This means that the pressure from my weight while running actually compressed the outsoles of my shoes so much so, that the screws came through and into my shoe. I will have to switch these out for 3/8 in. screws if I don't want to ruin my insoles and orthodics.

So the experiment was a success, the studs actually do aid in increasing traction. But there are some considerations and adaptations that have to be made.

Keep on running.

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