Sunday, February 6, 2011

Winter Running Shoes ... No Such Thing!

Single digit temps again!  And my bony feet rattling around in my rock-hard running shoes sound like a bag of hammers being dropped on the concrete as I "clink and clank" down the frozen blacktop.  Ya know how in the summer, sometimes you just glide along for miles ... like a well oiled machine ... like you can run forever?  Well in the winter, my running feels like one of the old westerns where I'm hog-tied to a horse, being drug through the desert ... the frozen desert!

I've been doing a little research lately on the ambient temperature effect on running shoes.  And I've found pretty much what we all know to be true ... shoes are drastically effected by temperature, just like we are.

It makes sense I guess ... I mean have you ever checked out your rubber garden hose after it's been left outside during an overnight freeze?  It's stiff as road-kill!  Or on the flip-side, ever tracked any of that black-tar stuff from the street in on your shoes on a 100 degree day?  Road tar is made up partly of rubberized-asphalt, and it melts when it gets hot.  It only stands to reason that the rubber on the soles of our running shoes will have a similar reaction to the dipping and sky-rocketing mercury.

I work for a chemical manufacturer that makes spray-on liquid rubberized-asphalt products for construction.  Most of them really begin to drip and run when applied at temps over 80 degrees.  Conversely, they are almost impossible to spray when it gets below 40 degrees.  Rubber is a great, versatile product, but it is very vulnerable to changing temperature.

I really started noticing the temperature effect on shoes in the summer months.  Typically I get about 300-400 miles out of my Brooks Trance 9 running shoes.  Now, understand that I'm 180-185 lbs, a notorious heel-striker, run almost every day, and average about 10-15 miles per run - with a long run on the weekend.  My shoes get more than a typical 3-5 mile, every other day workout.

But during this summer punishment, I noticed the soles would wear-thin in non-typical places.  As the pavement heated up, the rubber in my soles got softer and softer.  The cushioning was great, to an extent.  But I felt like sometimes it was almost too cushioned.  Like some of the support in this Stability shoe was breaking down.  Like I could feel every tiny rock or crack in the pavement through the soles. As a result, I really saw severe wear & tear at about 150 miles, but I usually made them work until the 250 mile-marker.  (hey, I'm not made of money!)

Fast forward to winter.  I seem to get much more mileage out of my shoes when all the leaves are off of the trees.  The rubber soles seem to stay much harder in the cooler temps, thereby not breaking down as quickly.  In 55 out of 67 days since December 1 in Kansas City, the temperature has been below freeing when I've started my run.  (partly because I usually start running between 4 & 5 am) The biggest problem when the temperatures are below freezing, is the lack of response from the rubber soles.  I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm running in hard-soled cowboy boots.  Like my old bones and joints are getting an extra dose of jarring with every step.  My body is stiffer and not as flexible because of the cold, and so are my shoes.

As a result of logging so many miles in these frozen rubber soles, I seem to have more connective-tissue soreness during the winter months.  The knees sometimes feel a little achy.  My ankles and arches are always sore.  And I've battled Achilles tightness at times.  I NEVER struggle with these problems in the summer months.

This winter, I mixed in a pair of Brooks Ghost 3's, which have a little more cushioning that the Trance 9's.  And in the past I have tried the Asics Gel-Cumulus 10, a pure cushion-type shoe, during the deep freeze.  These shoes were a little softer than my Trance 9's, but not much.  I've also used trail shoes, mostly for the additional traction on slippery roads, but they are stiff as well. I can never seem to get the added cushioning I'm looking for when I can see my breath.

There are shoes that are marketed specifically for cold temps.  The UK Gear PT-03 Cold Environment Waterproof Running Shoe is advertised to have an optimal performance temperature range of -4 to +50 degrees F.  They also have a "Desert Environment" version of this shoe that performs best at temps of +77 to +122 degrees F. (ummm, I'm not stepping out of the a/c at 122 degrees)  They were developed by the British Military and now marketed to runners.  But I have read user reports claiming the winter temperature range doesn't seem to be as advertised, and that these shoes are just as "clunky" in the winter as every other shoe ... but I've never tried them.

All this is just a long way to say that I just don't think running shoes are made for extreme temps.  They seem to function best at temps of around 50 to 75 degrees.  But then again, so do I!

What do you think?
Is there such a thing as a "Winter Running Shoe"?
Do you change shoes in the winter?
Do you suffer more joint pain in the winter? great today!


  1. I agree with your research. I think you are on to something here. Perhaps we will soon see an All Weather-ly Running Shoe. :o)

  2. Interesting post!
    Yes I do think I suffer more soreness in the winter months! I can't wait until fall/spring training when its so much more enjoyable!

  3. I wear the same shoes all year long. They certainly look worse in the winter. Maybe you can invent the perfect running shoe for winter. I'll buy it!

  4. I'm in the south, so I don't need a winter running shoe, but it's funny. I feel my absolute BEST in the winter. Maybe it's because we don't get extreme winter temps, but for me, my legs feel SO MUCH BETTER in the winter.

  5. I also rotate about 3-4 pair of shoes and since doing this, I can get 500-600 miles on my shoes. Prior to rotating, I was LUCKY to make it to 400. (i'm a large runner too) Sounds like I'm lucky to get so many miles.

  6. This makes a lot of sense. I never thought about it. I don't have the cold extremes but certainly have the hot extremes. I'll have to watch my shoes in summer/winter to see the diffence.


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