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.
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.
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 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?
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 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!
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….