The Trail Shoe

trail shoe 2

Trail running is different from road running and takes a while to adjust to if you are coming from a road running back ground. I prefer to run trails, but don’t get to do it as often as I would like. I would run exclusively on trails if I could. I love the smell of the trees, the sound of the wind in the leaves, the rumbling of creeks and rivers. The variation in the trail provides constant entertainment and challenges. Being out in the woods with no one else around is totally freeing. I feel more alive out in the woods cursing along winding single track, jumping rocks, splashing through rivers with trees flying by than I do at any other time.

Yeah, we know trail running is amazing and it is different we get it, but do we really need trail shoes or are road shoes all right? It depends on the trail.

Trail shoes will protect your toes from damage when you do catch your toe on a rocks and roots jutting up. For a simple well-groomed trail, road shoes will suit you just fine, but if you are dealing with rocks, roots, rivers, mud, steep ascents and descents, or sand I highly recommend trail shoes over road shoes.

Trail shoes drain water faster and more efficiently after you splash through a river or creek than road shoes will. Their aggressive tread makes mud, ascents, and descents much easier to deal with. They are typically more flexible and have less cushion allowing your foot to mold to the surface more than in a stiff road shoe.

trail shoe

Shoes are not the only thing that is different with trail running gear. You should consider trekking poles, hydration packs, handhelds, and gaiters.

I have used trekking poles on a few races. They get in my way on descents and I don’t think they help enough on the ascents for me to be inconvenienced by them at the marathon distance. They do help maintain your form with long ascents in the later part of long mountainous race. They can be useful when the trail is slick with mud; preventing some of the backsliding. They may be more worth taking on an ultra-event with a lot of climbing, but make sure you are used to  using them and can get a good rhythm going.

Hydration packs or handhelds are critical to have on trails. You never know what you’re going to run into out there, and often you are out there for longer than you expected. Take more water than you think you will need. Most ultra-aid stations are ten miles or more apart, which may not seem like very far, but if there is 2-3000 feet of elevation change during those ten miles, it becomes much farther. Water is worth the extra weight.

Gaiters will save your feet from sand, mud, sticks, thorns, and rocks. You can find gaiters that go up your calf or shorter ones that just cover your sock. Length of your gaiter is personal preference, the longer ones will protect your lower leg from scratches. You pull the gaiter on before your shoe. Once your shoe is on and tied, pull the gaiter down and attach it. Most use a strap of some type, which are replaceable, around the bottom of your shoe and then hook on to the laces at your toe. It’s good to carry extra straps that go under the shoe. I’ve used hair ties in a pinch. You can also just replace them straight away, with a thin metal cable with loops at each end.



Shoe Anxiety

Every spring and fall, Runner’s World magazine quadruples in size. Why? Because it’s the shoe review.  I can be totally satisfied and thrilled with the shoes I am running in, but the shoe review comes out, and I have to look, like a car wreck on the side of the road. I have to see what innovations the shoe companies came up with over the last year of development.

Many runners think, “Oh if I can just find the right shoe all of my running woes will be solved.”  No more knee issues. No more shin splints. No more stress fractures. No more ITBand syndrome. Only blissful mile, after blissful mile. I could never work in a running store because my shoe anxiety would be debilitating. Surrounded by the possibilities.

There are so many different brands and styles of running shoes. Motion control, stability, stability plus, and neutral. Minimalist, oversized, and zero drop. Road shoes, trail shoes, and hybrids. I almost think the less you know the better off you are. You can go in, talk to a sales rep., try on a few pairs of shoes, and walk out happy. Overjoyed, in fact, and confident that you have the shoes that are right for your foot and your running habits. If this is you, fair warning, you may want to stop reading now and remain in contented ignorance.

Running shoes are the one essential piece of equipment recommended by all runners. You have to get a good pair of shoes. It makes perfect sense. You are going to be spending a large amount of time on your feet. You will be colliding with the earth multiple times. You want something that is going to get you to the finish line as comfortable as possible.

So what’s right for you? I have no idea. My recommendation to new runners is to go to a running store, get a gait evaluation done, and try out the shoes they recommend on the treadmill. Find out what the return policy at the store is, just in case, and take home the most comfortable pair.

You should go at the end of the day when your feet tend to be a little swollen from being on them  all day. If you sit all day, get a half size too big. The surface you run on is your next question. If you run technical trails, you are going to want good trail shoes. If you run roads and nontechnical trails, you’re probably fine with a road shoe for both surfaces. Your body weight and miles per week are something to think about. Heavier runners and those that run over 30 miles a week are going to want more durable and cushioned shoes.

Pronation and arch height are two things that the sales rep. is going to pay attention to in recommending a shoe. I’m not going to try to explain all of those issues here, just be aware that they are issues, and they can change over time as your feet and ankles become stronger. You should be re-evaluated for shoes at least once a year, probably more for newer runners, just to be sure you still need those motion control shoes or if your once flat feet have become high arches.

But, what about minimalists? This is a tricky business. I am not pro or anti minimalist shoes. But, I think you need to have as much information as you can if this is the route you are going to take. Before buying them, you should pay attention to how your foot hits the ground. Do you heel strike? If you do, you may want to adjust that before trying minimalist shoes. Once you buy them, you have to transition to them slowly, very slowly. Such as a half mile increase a week and then back off if you have any soreness. You probably want to start on soft surfaces such as grass, trails, or the god-forsaken treadmill.

Minimalist shoes are going to affect your running in two ways, your impact with the ground and the extension of your Achilles tendon.  Your leg stiffness will adjust to lessen the impact on harder surfaces as you run, but concrete is still hard. You can help reduce the impact by increasing your cadence to 180 steps per minute (this does not equate to a faster pace, just faster leg turnover). Another thing you can do is make sure your feet are under your center of gravity when you land rather than in front of it. You do this by keeping your shoulder back, head up, and pretend you have a string pulling your chest forward and up toward the moon.  Minimalist shoes also tend to have a low heel to toe drop or even a zero drop from heel to toe.

What’s this zero drop? It means that the front of your shoes sole is the same thickness as the back of your shoes sole. Most shoes are between a twelve and nine millimeter drop.  This includes everyday shoes and running shoes. When you change to something smaller such as a three to zero millimeter drop, it stretches your Achilles tendon more with each step and can tear or completely rupture it if you are not careful about transitioning very slowly to the shoes.

Again, my recommendation is to start with a half mile in the shoes, if you have no soreness or pain increase to one mile the next week. Continue to build half mile by half mile. If you experience any soreness or pain, stop running in the zero drop until it’s gone and back up a half mile and start from there.

How often should you buy shoes? Most people recommend 400 miles. Over that time, the cushioning and support in the shoe become worn down, and the shoe is no longer doing a good job. Some research suggests once you’ve put 75 miles on your shoes there is no major deterioration after that, and you should pay attention to the wear on the bottom for replacement time.  Hoka One One shoes are supposed to last twice as long as your average running shoe or about 700 miles. 

Don’t even get me started on insoles…and socks. Oh my god, the socks!