Screwed up winter running

Hanging at Overflow Cafe
Hanging at Overflow Cafe

It’s day two of my pledge to create something every day of 2015, and this morning finds me sitting in a nice coffee shop in Minneapolis with my oldest kid, chilling out while we wait for my car’s windshield replacement. Since it’s winter in Minnesota, it’s easier to just bring the car to the repair company and have them do the replacement in their garage, then to try to find a day where it’s warm enough for them to come out to my work parking lot.

Getting my cracked windshield repaired is not the main highlight of today. Later this afternoon I’m hitting a table and getting a massage from one of my wife’s classmates who is a massage therapist. I usually would never splurge on something like that for myself, but I’m currently nursing a very sore back, and I’m hoping a nice massage will help get everything loose again.

Why am I nursing a sore back? We woke up on the Saturday after Christmas to 4+ inches of snow on the ground. I decided I wanted to try and pad my 2014 running numbers with just a couple miles. I waited for the snowplows to pass and then got bundled up to head out. I waited for my watch to sync up with the GPS satellites, and for some reason this particular morning I had to reboot my watch while standing in my driveway. This should have been a sign that I should just go back inside.

I finally started down the street, and about a block and a half from my house I suddenly found myself slipping and falling down. I thankfully landed on my butt, but my left wrist is still a little sore from trying to brace myself. Because runners are stubborn, and those of us who run outside all winter are even stubborner, I popped back up and decided to try one more time. I made it about two paces before my legs were suddenly parallel to the ground, and 2 feet in the air. The part of me that hit first was my back, and it hit hard. At that point I knew that the day’s run was over. There wasn’t a sharp pain, but a complete and total soreness almost immediately after getting up. I could also tell that, despite not hitting my head, that my brain had taken a blow from the sudden impact. I’m pretty sure I got a very minor concussion from the whole incident. At least I probably looked hilarious to the people snowblowing their driveways.

I headed back home to nurse my wounds, and shattered pride, and that’s when I discovered that the road was basically glare ice. I slipped multiple times while heading home, though thankfully maintained my upright posture. What I figure happened is that when the snowplow passed, it compacted a thin layer of snow into a super-slick surface, and it would take a day or so of cars and wind to rough stuff up again.

Being a stubborn runner, I decided that I needed to do something to prepare for something like this in the future. The obvious answer was some form of shoe spike. There are many popular products out there, the most famous probably being YakTrax, that you can strap onto any shoe to give you very aggressive traction on slippery surfaces. In addition to being stubborn, I’m also occasionally cheap, and so I wanted to come up with something that didn’t cost much money, and didn’t require waiting for shipping.

That’s when I remembered reading about homemade screw shoes. These are regular running shoes that have sheet metal screws drilled into the bottom, to act like spikes. I looked up some plans online and headed to Home Depot. I picked up a box of #8 hex head sheet metal screws, 1/2″ in length, for about $6. Then sitting in my office chair with my cordless drill I went to town turning my Brooks Ravenna 5’s into winter beasts.

Screw shoes
Screw shoes

If you want to do this with your own shoes, a couple of reminders that come from the original article. First, make sure you get hex head screws. These screws have added edges, as well as a small lip that all greatly increase grip and traction. Second, I was able to get by with 1/2″ screws, but I did also pick up a small pack of 3/8″, just in case the forefoot was thinner than I thought. I ended up not needing to use the shorter screws, but it’s better to be safe than have a screw jabbing your foot while running.

I finally got a chance to try out the shoes yesterday on a quick 3 mile run around the neighborhood. By this time many of the roads were pretty clear, so I actually sought out areas of packed snow to give them a real workout. They completely met my expectation, and I didn’t have a single moment in my run where I felt like I would slip… at all… not even a little. Success!

The downside of screw shoes is that you are putting holes in your shoe treads. You can take the screws out, and the shoes will still work, but the integrity of the tread is slightly weakened. I specifically chose shoes that I owned that were older, and on their way out at the end of winter. I won’t be worried about trying to salvage them at the end of the snow season.

So that’s my story of a screwed up winter running season. At least I’m starting it our with a nice massage today!


Beer, running, and geeky things.

2 thoughts on “Screwed up winter running

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