Wednesday, July 14, 2010

My Feet and Trail Shoes

Discovery of the right shoe is important in my decision that I might be born to run. I have, off and on, dabbled in trail running. And fall/spring skiing often requires a good pair of trail shoes. Pre-B2R, I had some Salomon and Montrail shoes. I went from Salomon to Montrail because Montrail was making some shoes -- the Hard Rock and Continental Divide -- that had some big fat heels. I thought that if I had a big fat heel, more cushion, and more support, maybe my chronic ankle problems -- problems that made running prohibitive -- would go away.

Of course, after I read B2R, I realized for the first time in my life that I didn't need to heel strike to run. And so I began my search for the perfect minimalist shoe. I didn't attempt to go barefoot, but I did acquire a pair of those funny looking Vibram Five Fingers.

Vibram Five Fingers (VFF)

A few moments after I got them (I was at work), I put them on and went running. I was in dress pants and a dress shirt when I started, but after short while, I left my dress shirt hanging on a post and kept going, shirtless. I also rolled up my dress pants to my knees. And I proceeded to run up through a neighborhood and then into the foothills. By the time I got into the foothills, I realized in my over-exuberance that I had some blisters. A few moments after that, I realized that they were bleeding. I limped back down to the neighborhood, and once I got on sidewalk and pavement, I removed the VFFs and walked down through an affluent east side neighborhood barefoot, shirtless, and wearing dress pants rolled up to my knees.

My review of VFFs: Not suitable trail running for novices like me. They might make my feet stronger if I do easy runs on grass and the track. Otherwise, they will be great drift boat shoes.

New Balance MT 100
I've related an experience with these below. The first time I ran home from work in these, I DNF'd. In hindsight, my failure was more operator error, rather than shoe error. I was practicing my Tarahumara/Pose/Evolution/Chi (google them) running styles, or trying to at least. Turns out that I was over-emphasizing the forefoot landing and was running on my toes, which strained my Achilles and calf muscles. Also, my body wasn't used to the strains of running. And, I think the MT100s were too small for me. (Initially, I sized running shoes like I sized ski boots. Luke has advised and I have come to believe that a thumbnail length in the toe is the way to go.)

My review of the MT 100s: I'd like to give them another try in a larger size because I think I could like them. They are very light, and they have small heel to toe drop. The heel is only about 12 mm higher than the toe. What prevents me from giving them another shot, however, is the fear that they don't have enough traction for the kinds of trails I frequent and the uppers won't hold me on top of the shoe. Running downhill, I felt like my foot was going to burst through the front of my shoe. Then again, they are good enough for guys like Anton Krupicka . . .

La Sportiva Fireblade
I got this shoe because Karl Meltzer used to endorse them. He now runs in moon boots. Anyway, I also got the Fireblades a bit too small and they hurt my toes on the downhill. Like all La Sportiva shoes, the Fireblades are well-designed and reflect Italian craftsmanship. They also have a small heel-to-toe drop, about 12 mm I think. The toe box was sufficient and the heel cup was nice. The things that have prevented me from trying to get a better size and seeing if I can make them work is (a) I feel like there isn't enough cushion in the sole, (b) the sole is a bit stiff, and (b) I like knobbier traction. I think I could very well grow out of these concerns as I get more trail running experience and better form.

La Sportiva Wildcat
Compared to the Fireblade and the Crosslite (below), the Wildcat is beefier. In particular, it has a thicker and more cushioned sole, The upper is comfy and supportive. And they have a roomy roomy toe box. I got these in the right size, but after a 12 mile mountain run, determined that they weren't for me because the heel was too tall. If the heel is too tall, I have a hard time running downhill on my forefoot, which causes me ankle pain. Most of my shoe search has been designed to find the shoe that allows me to run in a way that makes my ankle pain go away. Like the older Montrails, the Wildcat actually causes me to have ankle pain.

La Sportiva Crosslite

I like these shoes. Compared to the Fireblade, the toe box is narrower. It borders on being almost too narrow for me. The traction on the Crosslites is awesome, and I really like the gaiter on the front. What I'm not particularly thrilled with is the heel structure. There is less cup in the Crosslite heel compared to the Fireblade and the Wildcat, and this causes some heel lift. As my shoes have broken in, the heel lift has subsided, but the cup could be better.

Another thing I have noticed is that compared to my Inov8 shoes, there is less cushioning in the forefoot. I prefer more cushioning, but I think I could get used to the relatively hard sole of the Crosslite.

Finally, I wish that the heel to toe drop on the Crosslite was smaller. At about 12 mm, it doesn't cause me to have ankle problems, but I would prefer less. I plan on taking a knife to the shoes or taking them to a cobbler to try to reduce the heel lift.

I like these shoes and run in them now and again.

Inov8 Roclite 295

These are the shoes I currently train in. They have a small heel to toe drop. They are super flexible. They have great traction. They are relatively light -- 295 grams. The have a roomy toe box. They appear to be fairly durable. All of these are characteristics I've been looking for in a shoe. The only issue I have with the Roclite 295s is that I feel rocks pushing through, and they hurt my feet, but this is a minor issue, and  I've decided these are great shoes for me.

Inov8 Talon 212

This shoe is very light for a trail shoe. And it's very minimal. Except for being as durable and having a roomy toebox, it has all the characteristics I like in the Roclite 295. In fact, the heel to toe drop in the 212 is even smaller -- 6 mm I think. Compared to the Crosslite, there is a lot more cushioning in the forefoot, although as they age, I think the cushioning will pack out. The first time I ran in the 212s was at the Wahsatch Steeplechase. I knew I was taking a risk, but I'm glad I did.

Compared to the Roclite 295s, the Talon 212s have a tighter upper. I like that because it holds my foot in place on the downhill.

Because the 212 is so minimal, there are a couple problems: (a) durability -- I've put about 30 miles on my shoes and the sole at the toe is starting to peel, and (b) the tongue on the shoe is so minimal that dirt and debris can easily enter the front of the shoe.

Hoka Mafate
Everything above this, I wrote a couple weeks ago. Since then, my feet have hurt almost constantly because I'm not yet conditioned for this running thing. So, I've got some Hokas on the way -- the exact antithesis of minimal running footwear. I'm hoping that I can still keep my running style, i.e., not heel strike, but have a lot of cushion for my wimpy feet.

Deep down, I know that my feet problem has less to do with shoes and more to do with needing to log more miles and ramp up gradually rather than going all in. But, if there is a shortcut, I will take it!

My Feet

Missing a couple toenails with others black and blue.  Seriously, is this normal?


Layne said...

Go big or go home right? You've tried a lot of shoes for someone who says they are pretty new to running. You must never be riding your bike these days.

I have the Wildcats. I haven't tried any of the other brands, but I've had such good luck with Sportiva's climbing shoes that is where I started with trail shoes too.

And your feet are looking nasty--True runner's feet.

Aaron said...

I'm probably going to ride/race a little less next year, and am thinking of picking up trail running. If I do, I'm sure I'll be checking this post for shoe recommendations... oh, and hitting you up for the shoes you didn't like (assuming you wear about a 9).

StupidBike said...

i'm no expert, but shoes, in general, need to be broken in before going ape shit in them. The 5 fingers in particular are suggested to let your body get used to them before going all out.

In the 80's, due to some olypian marathon runner, there was a huge craze of barefoot running, I ran 10 miles a day during highschool and tried the barefoot thing for a few months. My feet got real tough, but shoes felt better.

You are doing an awesome job of helping me feel less ocd. thanks

Ben said...

B2R has made a serious runner out of you. You've been through more shoes in the last couple of months than I did the years I was running.

Hope you find your solution to light, fast and good support. When you do finally find the right shoe, post it so we can all be enlightened in the Samurai's ways.

Oh and Happy Bday while I'm at it.

Faceless Ghost said...

The MT100s are my favorite shoes so far, although I haven't tried nearly as many as you have. As for the traction, I wore mine at the Grandeur Peak Fun Run with no problem.

Also, the Crosslites, Fireblades and MT100s have a 10mm drop, not 12.

And yes, the missing and bruised toenails are normal.

How are you liking the moon boots?

troy said...

been on a few runs in the mt100 the traction is great except for in small broken gravel. but not much gains traction on top of "trail marbles". they were nice on the pheif loop. great for smearing on boulders and zero torsional movement in the sole. i know what you mean about staying on top of the shoe but with proper size and snug lacing you might like em. from the looks of your toes i think your foot was literally "bursting out of the shoe" whatever though, just fun to be out connecting with the real world. thanks for the blog.

Jens said...

Jared, is it possible that you are a serious gear-junkie? I mean, we probably all are to some extent, but buying eight different pairs of shoes in a couple of weeks...well, if you have the dough...

My five cents (ok, this is all common sense, I think, but as you published the post you are basically inviting smart-asses like me to write their version of the holy gospel):

The right shoe is the one that fits your feet. Om. It should be the only criteria. Not: Lightness, craftmanship, looks, stiffness, whatever.

Don't buy them online, go to a specialist retailer. Have them take a look at your feet, at how you run and whether there is any suppination/ pronation. Are your feet the same size?

Stick with one pair for a couple of weeks. Start slow. As some other commentators suggested, they might need to be broken in. If you still have issues after a couple of weeks, try a different model.

I own a pair of VFF. I love them. I run with them in forest on nice, soft ground. I would not run on a rocky trail with them. There is a reason that humans came up with shoes and mountaineering boots and it's called scree-slope....

Your feet: I can see why you might have problems with a lot of shoes. Seems like the second toe is longer than the big toe, while all of them point into different directions. Mine don't look any "better" or more "normal" (crooked toes are the norm, I'd say), but this is even more of a reason to check out a specialist. Maybe even a podiatrist or a pedorthist? OK, they might charge something for their service, but maybe in the elong run (ha, German humor !) that's cheaper than buying a new pair of shoes every week.

OK, rant over. Note that there is always this:


Jonathan Shefftz said...

“A few moments after I got them (I was at work), I put them on and went running. I was in dress pants and a dress shirt when I started, but after short while, I left my dress shirt hanging on a post and kept going, shirtless. I also rolled up my dress pants to my knees. [...] walked down through an affluent east side neighborhood barefoot, shirtless, and wearing dress pants rolled up to my knees.”
- SLC is a more tolerant place than I had thought. I mean, isn’t this the kind of thing that would get you arrested in many communities?

“Initially, I sized running shoes like I sized ski boots. Luke has advised and I have come to believe that a thumbnail length in the toe is the way to go.”
- I also used to do this. My ski boots are 26.0/26.5 so I balked when a specialty running store advised a size 10. But they turned out to be right - love that extra toe room!

brian p. harder said...

Well, Jared, your feet may look and feel like shit but at least you won't have much road rash trail running instead of cycling. I'll try to stop crashing. I, too, am the recent owner of some Five Fingers. Impressions to follow later.

Lots of advice here in your comments. Having read B2R myself, I cringe when commenters throw out terms like "supination/pronation" like these are diseases. That's what has screwed up everyone's feet in the first place. Sure, go see a podiatrist and he'll screw you up further and take your money in exchange for some fancy footbeds that simply compound the problem - at least if you buy into McDougall's thinking.

Your problem, office boy, is probably just lack of foot conditioning like the rest of us. Shoes simply prevent that process from happening. How long it takes is anyone's guess. But, my little ADD stricken friend, it will probably take longer than a few months. Just guessin'.

As inspiration, I submit the antics of Pat Csizmazia from Sun Valley, all-around athletic psychopath. On any given day, you can find him deep in the backcountry, running ridge tops, BAREFOOT. Yes, it can be done.

Stay with it. We're watching with great interest.

Jon Allen said...

Your feet... very normal. In fact, not enough black toenails, which means not enough trail fun!

Anonymous said...

Any chance we could get an update on this article? I'm in the market. Looking at Hoka's and La Sportiva.