Friday, January 29, 2010

Chariots of Fire, Or Something Like That

You may or may not know that I'm prone to weird dreams that are of the "liturgical disaster" variety.  I still have these, but I had one last night that merged with a running dream.  I shall tell you about it:

The Scene:  A well-cared-for outdoor area with trees, open spaces, bushes, and prairie grass.  Kind of like a golf course or a nice cemetery without the graves and dead people.

The Dream:  I was part of a service of lessons and carols that was taking place in the outdoorsy space.  There were a number of groups doing each lesson/carol in a staggered fashion traveling around the space.  The theme of the service was Easter.  At one point, I realized we had forgotten something, so I offered to go back to the base and get it.  I start running, and I look down and realize that I'm not wearing any shoes.  This gives me great joy.  At first, I don't know exactly what to do.  I run down a dirt road, then through some prairie grass.

Before reading on, hit play, then start reading:

I'm now running through some trees and I'm starting to really get into the barefoot running.  The theme from Chariots of Fire starts playing (see above) and everything is in slow motion.  Up ahead, there is another group of people, and a big lawn sprinkler is shooting in a large arc.  I see this sprinkler, and in my mind, I see myself getting to the sprinkler, leaping into the spray with a fist pump into the air.  Epic.  As I get to the sprinkler, I miss the water, the music stops, slow motion stops, and I chase after the sprinkler desperate to get wet.

Well, after failing the epic leap, I walk into the building and find Mr. Justice (my high school athletic director).  He tells me that he heard from the NCUR people, and they suggested that since I was just accepted for a third time, that I should frame a pair of my shoes.  I asked if my dress shoes would work because they were old and worn out.  He said it shouldn't be a problem.

I walk out of the building to go back to the service of lessons and carols.  In the distance I can hear the organ—which is actually built into a truck—playing This Joyful Eastertide.  I'm excited, and run back, only to realize that I was supposed to do a reading and didn't have a service folder.

Crazy, huh?

Monday, January 18, 2010

They're like tire chains…for your feet.

The toughest part about running outdoors in the North is not the cold.  Rather, the main difficulty is physics—particularly friction and the lack thereof.  See exhibit A:

Exhibit A

Well, today I found a solution to this problem.  When I got out of the shower and got dressed for the day, there was a knock on the door.  Who could it be?

A box!  And not just any box—this box had my new Yaktrax!

What are Yaktrax?  Well, the best way to explain them is that they look and behave like snow chains for car tires.  They are a rubber webbing with metal coils along the webbing.  The idea is that the coils will dig into snow and ice and provide more grip.  It's the same principle behind spiked shoes, except that the Yaktrax design allows them to be used on dry pavement (to a degree).

Do They Work?
So, what does a runner do when they get a new piece of gear even if they just showered?  Go for a run!

They aren't that difficult to put on although I spent a few minutes trying to decide if they were left-right specific.  Turns out they really aren't, but I can see the benefit of having the loose end of the strap on the outside of the foot.  Here's what they look like while on my feet:

The type that I bought are the Yaktrax Pro—which means they have a nifty strap across the top to keep them on the shoe while running.  You can get the regular Yaktrax without the strap for things like walking.  Being careful to avoid my authentic-imitation-fake-linoleum hardwood floors, I went outside.

How Was the Run?
From the first bit of ice/snow that I hit, I was shocked at how much grip there was.  It was just like running on dry pavement.  The toughest part was getting used the amount of grip.  In snow, runners shorten their stride and their form diminishes because so much work needs to go into maintaining a semi-vertical orientation (or, for the engineers out there, we need to keep our center of gravity directly above the contact point so as to ensure there is as much of a normal force as possible).  After a little bit of time getting used to the grip, I was able to approximate my normal stride fairly well.

**Disclaimer**  While they resemble cool things like slingshots, Yaktrax cannot do cool things like suspend the laws of physics.  There is a grip limit, and they aren't as effective when you step into a pile of softer snow/slush.  They still grip well when they hit the pavement, but you still must compress the snow/slush down to a hard-packed state under your feet—they aren't snowshoes.

One downside is that while they are great on snow, they aren't as great on bare pavement.  I'll admit that picking a day toward the end of a thaw wasn't a great idea, but as long as I stuck to the snow and ice in the road, I was fine.  (Imagine that—I would rather run through snow than dry pavement!)  Running on the bare pavement seemed to transmit a bit more pressure onto my feet along the coils, so it could be a bit painful after a few miles on the pavement.  But if I can go miles on pavement, why would I be wearing these?

One last comment:  make sure to take them off before walking into your apartment!  They hold a bit of slush, and that slush flies off and lands on your authentic-imitation-fake-linoleum hardwood floors.

After 1 run, I strongly recommend Yaktrax.  They're superb for running, but I might even wear them on snowy days for my walk to the bus.  From what I've read, they don't last as long if you are on gravel or dirt paths, so probably not the best choice for hiking or trail running.

Check out Yaktrax here, and I bought mine at Dick's.

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