It’s Not About the Shoes

The shoes don’t make the man but they certainly can make a run more enjoyable. The only trail race I’ve done has been in a pair of road shoes. Afterwards, it was evident to me how important a good trail shoe is. There are obviously many more obstacles on a trail run but the way your foot moves and cuts is also a lot different. Theres a stability in the forefoot that’s needed that a traditional road shoe just doesn’t have.

About halfway through the Surly Trail Loppett I was resolute that if I ever ran another trail race I would have to invest in a good pair of trail specific shoes. Since I’ve decided to run an ultra trail marathon I also made the decision that I really needed to explore footwear and find the right shoe for me. For every other race I’ve competed in I’ve used one type of shoe only; the Asics Gel Kayano. The last six pairs of running shoes I’ve owned have all been a different iteration of the Kayano line. I love this shoe. I’ve tried other shoes but when I first tried the Kayano on it just fit me like a glove, or, I guess like a sock. Since then I’ve never had to look for a different shoe since each new pair that comes out fits me fantastically. There are some minor differences between models but they all work amazingly well for my foot type.

When I went to my local go running store to try to find a similar type of shoe for my foot I had a preconceived idea that I would find something under the Asics umbrella. I was disappointed to learn for as good of a road running shoe Asics makes, they make pretty underwhelming trail shoes. They might be okay for a very short trail run but nothing that I would consider for a 50k or beyond. So then I started doing some research and I tried on some different types of shoes, narrowing down what I thought would be my top three choices: the Brooks Cascadia 7, the Saucony ProGrid Xodus 3.0, and the Salomon XR Crossmax Guidance.

Allow me first to shamelessly give a plug for my local running store, TC Running Company (I don’t work there and have no affiliation with it other than that’s where I choose to shop). Every time I go in there the staff is so nice and helpful. It’s obvious  that their number one goal is to make people happy first and make money second. They clearly just want to get people out and running to the best of their ability. The previous time I came into the store I had tried on a pair of Saucony and Solomons but this time I was urged to also try two other shoes – Montrail and Scott – in addition two the one I really had my eye one, the Brooks Cascadia 7.  Here’s how all of the shoes broke down for me.

Brooks Cascadia 7


Based on a lot of things that I had read and a couple of people who I had talked to I really thought the Brooks 7 were going to be the shoe for me. I’d heard a lot about how comfortable they were and how they provided good traction and support on the trails. When I tried them on they did feel pretty good, but for whatever reason they felt like they were cut low on my foot. I don’t know how to explain it exactly but my heel didn’t feel that secure and the shoe itself seemed to sit a bit low on my foot. This isn’t the most horrible thing in the world, but I’m the type of runner that likes that sense of security in my shoes. I don’t want to be wearing a hiking boot out there, but I appreciate the feeling of stability. If my foot wear different, I could see myself buying a better of Cascadias (who knows, maybe I will next time) but not this time.

Saucony ProGrid Xodus 3.0


The first time I tried this shoe on I liked it quite a bit. It seemed rugged enough to handle most things thrown at it, but the upper seemed secure without being too heavy and cumbersome. When I came back and tried it on a second time, I couldn’t get past the aggressiveness of the tread on the sole. The lugs seemed to splay out on the sides more and the natural running motion didn’t seem very fluid. Next.

Salomon XR Crossmax Guidance


Salomon is pretty big in the trail running world, so I figured a shoe of theirs would be in contention. Sort of like it would be hard not to at least try on a pair of Nike’s if your were in the market for a basketball shoe. Guided by a TC Running Company employee, I was recommended that these shoes would be similar in terms of stability, cushion, and motion control as the Asic Kayanos I’m used to. They were ok, felt a little heavy and boxy. In reality I’m sure they’re not much heavier than most other shoes in their category, but when you’re logging a lot of miles in for an extended period of time, perception is reality and if they felt heavy and boxy to me in the store, how would they feel at mile 25?

Montrail Fairhaven

Fairhaven

I’ve owned exactly one pair of Montrail’s in my life. They were pretty good for quick hikes and they had a Gore-Tex lining which was nice, but I wold never consider taking these guys out for a long trail run. So when I saw them on the shelf my brain completely tuned them out right away. At the urging of the guy helping, I tried on the -—. Although I didn’t buy them – (the uppers seemed stiff and there was a weird, bulbous, cushioning spot right in the middle of my forefoot) i was genuinely surprised by how much I liked them. They did have good stability, the treads seemed right, and they were decently comfortable overall. Montrail seems to be making better quality shoes than I’ve been giving them credit for the last five years, since I bought my last pair.

Scott eRide Grip2

Scott wasn’t even on my radar when I went into TC Running. I hadn’t heard much about their trail shoes and I didn’t have anything to compare it to. So when they were suggested to me I agreed to try them on with some hesitancy. Much to my surprise, they were really comfortable and offered everything I was looking for. They felt stable yet flexible. The lugs on the sole looked to provide the right mix of traction and comfort. There is a noticeable hell to toe drop which initially concerned me, but it kind of forces me to run more on my forefoot instead of heel striking, which is a good habit to be in. Because of this drop, it also provides a good transition from foot to foot. Although the shoes doesn’t look very sexy (unless you’re an extra in the Matrix I suppose) it seemed to provide everything I needed. Bought!

Good construction
Solid soul

One of the cool things for me while training for the Afton 50k is learning about any activity I do and all of these little things about trail and ultra running that are so different from road races. At the moment am so absorbed in not only trying to get my body in a position so that it can handle a 50k, but wrapping my mind around nutrition, the importance of training my body in different ways, and understanding the equipment I’ll be using and how best to use it. These are the things that I get geeked out for whenever I go on a trip or start a new adventure outdoors. For me, the better I plan and understand what it is I’m about to do, the better the experience will be for me. Picking out trail shoes for an ultra marathon certainly won’t be the most difficult decision I’ve made over the past year, month, week, or even day, but understanding the mechanics behind what the shoe does and how it might affect my body is worth it to me put in the research and ask the right questions. Although the shoes probably won’t be the ultimate determinate of how I perform, it’s just part of the process of doing my due diligence to prepare head to toe.

Then again, it might be all about the shoes….

Ultramarathon For Newbies

The desire to push myself further comes and goes.  There are times when I get a bee in my bonnet and I have to do something right away to fill the impulse and need I have to get off the couch and challenge myself.

2008 was like that.  For really no specific reason, I felt the urge to sign up for my first marathon.  Now, I had never done a marathon before and never considered myself a runner.  In addition to playing a lot of team sports up to and including college, I was in track for two years during my high school career.  Not because I really loved running, but because I needed something to do.  Other than that, I held virtually no desire to run anywhere.

Signing up for the Twin Cities Marathon in ’08, it was therefore atypical of me.  Part of the reason I signed up was because my two brothers and father wanted to run as well, so the prospect of it be a family venture was appealing to me. But, I also wanted to challenge myself. I don’t think I’d ever run a 5k previous to this and certainly not a half marathon. Since then I’ve run the Twin Cities marathon and a handful of half marathons and team relays. My first trail race was last fall when I ran the Surley Trail Loppet through Theodore Wirth Park and it was an awesome experience.  I loved it.  It was a lot of fun, very challenging and although it gave me the desire to want to run another trail race it also inspired me to push myself further and more outside of my comfort zone.  If I can already run (and train) for a marathon, what more am I capable of?

Finishing is the goal.

So I’ve made the decision to go all out and try a trail ultramarathon. This should prove to be quite the challenge for me since I haven’t run a full marathon since 2008 and running a trail race is a lot different from what I’m accustomed to. I’ll have to learn how to hydrate and feed my body throughout the course of a 50k and I’ll have to come up with new ways to train myself to deal with the hills I will encounter. Fortunately the race I’m eyeing is in Afton State Park so I won’t have to deal with any sort of extreme altitude gains or mountains of any sort, but there is still a big difference in the way that I prepare for a race. So far the biggest change I’ve seen in my training is that the running emphasis is put not necessarily on distance ran but in logging a lot of time running. Which is freeing in a lot of ways because I care less about my pace and more about the overall picture. To help prepare myself for the grueling pounding my body will surely take I also want to place more of an emphasis on strengthening my core and my muscles. In the past when I would train for a race I would pretty much only focus on the running itself and neglect the strength and nutrition (if I go for a 3 hour run, I should be able to eat whatever I want, right?).  That strategy has worked in the past but this is a different ballgame so for this race I would like to lose some weight.  The less weight I have to carry for 31 miles the better.  I would also like to strengthen my core muscles so I that I’ll be able to be a stronger runner for a longer period of time.

The Afton 50k sign-up isn’t until March 8th, so there’s still time for me to back out and make this all irrelevant.  I’ve told enough people now so that I have some accountability and it’ll be harder for me to not follow through on my (lofty?) ambitions.

Side note: If you’ve ever run a trail ultra before, I’d love to pick your brain.   

Surly Trail Loppet: My First Trail Run

Phew.  This morning I ran my first ever trail race and half marathon, the Surly Trail Loppet held at Theodore Wirth Park.  I’ve run other half marathons and one full marathon, but never a trail race.  The prospect of running a trail race intrigued me.  The more I’m in the woods and on trails, the better.

Leading up to this race, I figured I could train the same way I have been, while maybe mixing in a trail run here and there.  Unfortunately for me, I was unprepared for the beast that lie before me.  I had been training as I usually would for a road race, but a trail race is a different animal entirely.

First of all, the hills are killer.  The beginning of the course featured a lot of hills and I admit I was overzealous on tackling these hills.  Normally, I pride myself on being able to handle hills pretty well so I figured that when the challenge arose, I’d be able to tackle these hills just the same.  Three quarters of the way through the race, I was regretting my early strategy of hill domination, and wished I would’ve taken a more conservative approach.

Tired, tired legs at the finish

My respiratory endurance felt good throughout the race, but it was my legs that failed me.  Had I done more hills during the course of my training, I could’ve handled this better.

The course itself was beautiful and was well run.  The terrain varied quite a bit with steep climbs, steps, paved surfaces, wooded areas, and lots of singletrack through the woods.  Part of the course used the mountain biking trails that wind through Theodore Wirth.  I absolutely loved running through the woods.  At times I had to remind myself that this race was in the middle of an urban area such as the Twin Cities.  There were specific times I can recall, where I was running on singletrack with two other runners right behind me.  As we ran through twisting singletrack, dodging trees no more than two feet apart from each other and jumping over boulders and fallen logs, I was struck with the solitude of it all.  All I could hear was the panting of our breath and the padding of our shoes on the dirt trail.  I’m sure they wanted to pass me, but the sense that we were running through the woods together in unison, was a much different feeling than I’ve ever had during a road race.

The Course

I loved the race, but wasn’t in love with my time.  When I signed up, my mindset was that since I had never ran a trail race before, I was just going to enjoy it for the experience and not try to over compete.  For me, that’s easier said than done once I get on the starting line.  Although I finished a respectable (I think) 44th out of 218 racers (male category), I felt like I could have done better.  But that’s part of racing, right?

If I was to put a message in a bottle and send it to myself before I run this race again, here’s what I’d say:

  1. You need trail running shoes.  Sure they’re not mandatory and people run just fine without them, but I can definitely see how they’d be beneficial.  My feet – and specifically my toe box area of my foot – felt like it was slip-sliding around.
  2. Run more hills in your training.  I know your son was sick that last week before the race, and you can’t always take him out in the BOB after daycare, but isn’t that what the incline feature on your treadmill is for?  Do something!
  3. Sometimes, walking up the hills actually is a good idea.  Don’t scoff when you see other runners do it, because while you’re busy exerting all your energy “running” up the hill, they’re saving theirs waiting to pass you on the way down.  Sucker.
#1 Fan
Hopefully, I’ll be able to put these ideas into practice and run it again next year.

Trail Run: Hyland Park

Next weekend I’ll be running the Surly Trail Loppet through Theodore Wirth Park.  I’ve ran a few half marathons and one full marathon, but have never ran a trail race before.  I’ve been training for a little while on paved and crushed limestone trails, but haven’t run on any “real” trails.  So, to help me train further for this, I decided to do my long run at Hyland Park.

I’ve been searching for good trails to run around the Twin Cities for a while and haven’t yielded many results.  One of the last times I was in TC Running to buy myself the newest Asics Kayano, I asked an employee who was helping me where the best trails to run around the TC were.  Hyland was all he could come up with.  So, with this half-hearted recommendation in mind, I decided to check it out.

After parking in the Richardson Nature Center parking lot, I hit the trails not really understanding where I was going. My goal was to run 11 miles at a moderate pace.  I wasn’t really trying to push myself too hard, just get the mileage in.  Although it was overcast, Hyland is a beautiful park and it had no shortage of locals barbecuing, tossing a frisbee around, biking on the paved paths, or out for a leisurely stroll.  I saw only one other person running the trails with me.  Not sure if that’s telling or not.

Check out my run here.

Generally, it was a lot of fun to run the trails as opposed to the paved paths and crushed limestone paths I’m used to.  I love the sense of being more out in the wild and running on natural surfaces (yes, I know I’m still in a suburban park, but it feels different).  The trail surfaces ranged from running on grassy areas, wood chips, hard packed earth, and soft soil.

Careful, don't take one of these trails into someone's backyard

My one complaint is that although the trails are marked and there is occasionally a map on the trail, they’re still not marked that well and it got confusing where to actually run.  As a result, I ran 12.5 miles instead of my goal of 11.  One time, I saw a narrower trail off the main path and I thought, “Alright!  Even more off the beaten path, I’m there!”.  Nope.  Ran into someone’s backyard.  Sorry.

If you’re looking for an alternative to constantly tuning on your typical path or streets, I highly recommend changing it up and try out trail running.  Hyland Park is a good place to start.