Run fast ... fall down

Run fast ... fall down

Monday, February 21, 2011

The whole gamut of trail running shoes

I thought I should put up a little review of the shoes I run in.
With the recent best selling book Born to Run (amazon link) and the 2010 Nature paper by Daniel Lieberman, minimalist running, and minimalist footwear are very common concepts in the trail running world right now. The basic idea is that if you run barefoot you'll run more like the way humans have evolved to run over the last 10,000 years, and not the way we've resorted to run since ~1970 when marketing of running shoes took off.

However, any running professional (such as a physical therapist, specialized running store salesperson, doctor, or coach) that I've talked with ask to see what type of shoes I run in, and their recommendation is has always been, in my case, standard issue neutral to moderate motion control running shoes. I always seem to get recommended something like Ascics 2160 which are road shoes, somewhat boring, and are precisely the wrong footwear to avoid overuse injury, according to the Harvard group mentioned above.

And if one looks towards the leaders of the ultra running community, we have people like
These two mindsets seem totally opposite, and many other leaders fall directly in the middle. So how is a wannabe ultra runner like me to figure out what philosophy to follow? I suppose the best way to know is to try them all. So I thought I'd give a quick review/my opinion of the shoes I run in. FYI, I mostly run slow, like 11 min/mi on flats and am 6', 145 lbs and wear size 11. I buy shoes on sale so I'm certainly a little behind on the latest, and apologize for reviews of models that are from last year.

Top left: La Sportiva Crosslites, Top Right: Saucony Pro Grid Xodus, 
Bottom Left: Hoka OneOne Mafate, Bottom Right: Vibram Five Fingers.

I'll give my quick opinions on each from most support to least.

Hoka OneOne Mafate review
These shoes are super cushy. They have the biggest sole I've ever seen and only come in gaudy bright neon colors. Be prepared to have thick skin if someone spots you wearing them, you may have to endure Sketchers Shape Ups jokes among others. However, they weigh surprisingly little considering their bulk. I could not find any good reviews of the Hoka OneOnes when I bought them (June of 2010, other than the huge endorsement from Karl Meltzer) and they only seem to be sold at a very select number of stores in the US, however Boulder Running Company stocked them so I dropped >$180 on this pair. I wear 11 in everything else, but needed 11.5 here. Since then, you can find many reviews online, but I'll just give my personal opinion.

I've had them for 8 months now but have been injured or recovering from IT band surgery for most of that period and haven't put a ton of miles on them yet, maybe 70. I'd say these are my go-to shoes for any punishing occasion. I'll wear them in races or long training runs, and even on road runs, as they seem to cause absolutely no discomfort in terms of rubbing, are perfect temperature wise, and take the shock out of every landing. However, my opinion is that they don't emphasize the importance of proper running form as it's easy to overstride without any penalty. So in my attempt to make sense out of the different philosophies of running shoes, I'd say it's best to use Hokas in races or the longest runs where you're trying to build endurance without the pounding, but to use much less shoe to reinforce proper mechanics on day to day runs. 
I hear the next model Bondi B is out now and will hopefully get a pair soon.

Some other reviews of these shoes can be found here:
Jeff Valliere's review
They even have a YouTube channel with some cool videos and reviews - Here you can find a commercial for Hokas that opens with the line "They'll make you sore on the uphills and fly on the downhills" -- Later in the day as this commercial confused me, it occurred to me that they said "soar" not "sore"!!

Saucony Progrid Xodus review
I picked these up as a first move away from the Montrails that I've run in for the past 5 years. I've gone from the Vitesse to the Hardrock, but at some point, I couldn't find the older model that I liked. Several pairs of the newer versions all had some issue with discomfort in the heel causing terrible blisters. I found out that Columbia Sportswear purchased Montrail and made some minor changes to the look of Montrails but it greatly impacted the comfort of them.

My main feelings on the Saucony Progrid Xodus are that they fit great and gave me a new hope that blisters come from problems with shoes, not problems with my feet. Since I've switched from Montrails, I've not had any issues. The Saucony's are hot, maybe because they're black but even running in cold weather on snow, I found my feet to be cooking and I'm generally always cold. The shoes are comfortable though, doctors/coaches that I've shown them to are all satisfied that I've chosen good footwear to avoid problems with my IT bands, they wear well (many miles without breakdown), and have become my screw shoes for winter runs.

La Sportiva Crosslite review
After not feeling like the New Balance MT100s are for me, I wanted a slight step up in terms of support. There was quite a bit of debate on the Boulder Trail Runner list comparing these to the MT100s. The proclaimed highlights are incredible traction, lightweight cushiony feel with little arch support.

My impression is that they have great traction on mud, soft snow, and perhaps rock, but the lugs are too hard and aren't as cush as I'd hoped. They do nothing similar to screws on ice, and I found myself slip-sliding all over the place. Although they claim good cushion with minimal arch support, I'd say the footbed is stiff and has a very uncomfortable feel in the arch, and in the lateral side of the midfoot, akin to some old Salomon XAs that I simply cannot wear. However this issue mostly went away while running in the Sportivas. They offer 1 step up from the MT100s in terms of support but mostly because they feel narrow to me and really hug the foot. It feels somewhat like a shoelace is tied tightly around the middle of the my whole foot. The sole feels hards and thus promotes good mechanics and for that reason I want to continue running in them, and I think they may require a bit of a break-in. I felt pretty good after a longer run that would have me worked in the MT100s.

Vibram Five Fingers review
Obviously these are least supportive "shoe" out of the group I'm describing today. They are widely acclaimed and are certainly a hot topic - videos all over youtube, REI calls them best sellers, etc.
I'm embarrassed to run in them, because of all of this hype. They feel like you're running barefoot, but offer great protection from little rocks or sharps. AND they do make my calves sore after even short jogs. I've yet to run long with these on my feet because they scream "stress fracture" to me for some reason. I find them a little too gimmicky, probably should have saved my money and just done some jogs on a nearby soccer field with my feet naked to achieve the same effect.

Interestingly, 3/4 shoes I mention here are black with gold trim. This must be the "in" color set for trail runners.

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