Guess what?! Winter is here…and it’s here to stay for a while. Unless you live in the south [or some other mythical place, you poor thing] where winter doesn’t include snow and ice you’re waging a daily war with the weather. Are the trails snow packed? Are the sidewalks sheets of ice? Is it even safe to drive to work, let alone run for the fun of it?
If you’re busy living in the “winter wonderland” of snow and ice you have three options when it comes to running – giving up on running until spring arrives, running on the treadmill or risking it outside. Personally, I prefer the risking it outside option [primarily because I really like donuts and ice cream…and despise the treadmill] so that’s what I’ve been doing – running outside.
The downside of outdoor running in the winter? Falling on my ass or breaking my teeth when the ice gets the best of me.
My solution that has kept me away from this fate so far? Screws in my shoes.
Yup, plain old sheet metal screws that you can buy at a hardware store for about $3 [be sure to get 3/8” hex screws – short enough to avoid stabbing you in the foot and knobby enough to provide legitimate traction]. It sounds like a really easy task – buy some screws, find a screw driver and get to work. In theory, it is that easy. In reality, screwing a metal screw into the pliable sole of a shoe is a lot of work. Annoying, tedious work, not muscle work.
Luckily I work with a few ambitious guys who needed blog + video content so we used my shoes as the demo for a post + stop motion video on the Sierra Trading Post website…which means they had to help me out when I got annoyed with the screws.
If you’re looking for help with the actual details of how to screw your shoes check out this post on Sierra Trading Post’s blog or watch this video on their YouTube channel. This is how my shoe screwing process started and I’ve only made a few slight adjustments after running with screws a few times.
These are my tips/tricks to make the whole “screw your shoes” process a little bit better…
- Shorter screwdrivers work better since you can really push the screw into the sole – whatever you do, don’t give up…it gets easier!
- If you have them…use power tools! I’ve only used elbow grease and while it works it takes a long time…
- Buy screws BEFORE it snows. After our first real snow all the hardware stores were sold out of 3/8” screws for over a week! Apparently cyclists use these screws for their bike tires so they were a hot commodity!
- Drill the screws into the thick lugs of your tread, not between the lugs – this gives you more traction and gives you more cushion between the screws and the bottoms of your feet.
- Screwing your shoes will not ruin your shoes, you can always take them out – however that process is kind of a pain, so try to dig up a pair of shoes you can commit to snowy, icy runs.
- Experiment with where you put the screws. We started out with just screwing the perimeter of the shoes but since then I’ve added screws more centrally near the balls/heels of my feet for added traction where the majority of my weight lands on climbs/descents.
- The screws do wear down, but once you’ve created holes for the screws they are easy [and cheap] to replace as needed.
As for my experience with screwed shoes? Well, Sarah and I did a little [unintentional] A/B testing. On our trek to the Centennial trailhead on Saturday morning she was carrying her MICROspikes in her hand while I was walking along in my screwed Saucony shoes…she slide does the stairs on her bum, I scampered down on foot. Proof screwed shoes trump plain ol’ trail shoes…as one would hope.
My current screwed Saucony Xodus shoes post-modifications!
What about the screwed shoes compared to MICROspikes or other after market traction contraptions? Well, I spent 7 hours on the trails Saturday with three other runners wearing MICROspikes…and I had no problem keeping up with them on the snow and ice, nor did I come close to biffing it any more [or less…] than they did. I’d say the screwed shoes are pretty comparable to other traction devices. There may be a difference if you’re really pushing the pace and hoping to bomb the down hills but that wasn’t my goal on Saturday so I can offer up no personal advice.
Want more YakTrax vs screwed shoes comparison fun?
Check out this post where Boulder Training Mecca does some direct comparing.
On Sunday I ran/hiked up Bear Peak on my own with slightly modified screwed shoes [I added 4 screws under the balls of each foot] and survived without incident. No embarrassing plops onto my bum, no near misses, no tree hugging. However, on the steep descent down Bear Peak I realized it would also be handy to have at least a few screws under the heel of my foot so I got solid traction while scuttling down steep, snow packed terrain. I’ve added those screws [actually, just moved a few from the perimeter of the sole] but haven’t had a chance to really test them out yet.
Running on ice and dirt, no difference in gait or feel!
Overall, I think screwed shoes really work. My shoes kept the natural feel and I never felt any hot spots from the screws – this may be because I put the screws in very thickly treaded trail shoes. In the past, when I’ve worn Yaktrax, ICEtrekkers or MICROspikes my toes have always felt smushed, no matter the size of the traction contraption the tips or upper canvas of my shoes started to rub weird shortly after pulling on the device. This is one of the reasons I resorted to screwed shoes – my toes get to stay happy!
The one catch with screwed shoes is the fact you can’t just take off your traction. When you hit pavement or dry trails you’re still running with screws. This isn’t exactly a problem as it didn’t affect my gait but it makes for some very noisy pavement running. I’ve covered about 2 miles on pavement so far, it’s bearable. Also, if you head into a restaurant with tile floors [crazy slippery with screwed shoes!] or hardwood floors [screws scuff up wood!] you get to be the fool that takes off their shoes…which would probably much weirder if I wasn’t in Boulder at the time.
More examples of the terrain the screwed shoes took me on – this is pre-modifications + my first long run in screwed shoes.
Of course, adding traction isn’t the only option. You can skip the traction all together and just ice skate along the trails…much more advisable if you’re running on flatter, paved bike trails. But seriously, if you randomly come upon an icy stretch of trail don’t give up on your run, just change you gait a bit. Rather than really pushing off with your feet let your feet fall and pick up more naturally, without much force. Sure, you’ll end up running slower but you won’t lose your front teeth after a painful face plant!
Have you screwed your shoes? What was your experience? Any tips, tricks or recommendations? Share!