Shoes and Minimalism

This is my story about shoes.

My approach to shoes has always been indicative of my approach to running. In the past that meant that the shoe didn’t really matter; all I wanted to do was run in the mountains. But as I became more proficient in mountain running, and more aware of the mountain running scene (i.e., I read Born to Run), I began to learn about the different types of running shoes and the trends among runners. I happened to enter the sport at the beginning of the minimalist frenzy, and from the beginning I regarded it with skepticism. I was aware of how certain runners were known for cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running extremely long distances, and I heard about the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico running ultras in sandals, and I saw in those stories the same romanticism I saw in Born to Run. The public loves the idyllic stories about dedicated athletes just getting by and doing what they love: the crazy party girl who can still win 100-mile races; the dirtbag runners hitchhiking around the country setting records; the forgotten sandal-wearing distance-runner Indians living much the same as their ancestors in a mysterious mountain range. These images are romantic, but are they the truth? I didn’t think so. It seemed like too pretty a picture to be true.

Because of that I was prone to take more stuff on runs, rather than less. I figured the tried-and-true methods of the past were more difficult and less sexy, so they must be the right way. That’s how the adult world works, I was learning: if something is time-consuming, difficult and slow to show progress, it must be correct. Thus, I turned away from the example of the other young guys going too far on too little, thinking it shortsighted, and began going on runs with a backpack filled with things like sandwiches, space blankets, iodine tablets, a compass, a bivy sack, books, etc. To put it another way, I overcompensated to the extreme.

Over time, my views changed almost subconsciously. The more I ran, the more I understood what I did and did not need. The greater experience I gained, the better I grasped the fundamental principles behind long-distance mountain running. Namely, that by running we forgo traditional comforts and safety nets in lieu of confidence in our ability to return safely because we can move quickly. I gradually learned that I shouldn’t be taking a bivy sack on a mountain run; instead, I should be running only where I am good enough not to need a bivy sack. Barring disaster, I should be able to get myself out of bad situations by virtue of my ability to move quickly, rather than having to rely on artificial protection that hinders my speed, or I shouldn’t go to those places at all. With this knowledge I began to leave out items from my pack until after a while I no longer needed a pack. With adequate preparation and understanding of the terrain, summer mountain running in Colorado can be done safely and comfortably with a water bottle, several gels and/or bars, and a jacket. With enough experience, more than that seems unnecessary.

That said, shoes may be a different matter. I have learned to reconcile my skepticism of Born to Run in the following way: it is a book designed to entertain first, and give information second. The book is absolutely right that many trail running shoes of the past were astoundingly overbuilt, however, I have yet to see anybody win a competitive trail ultra while running barefoot, or wearing sandals, or FiveFingers, or some other iteration of the barefoot scene. While barefoot running is totally valid as a way to be strong and healthy, the science seems to indicate that the vast majority of people need some underfoot protection when running long distances. As for the young guys who were cutting all the padding out of their shoes and running super long distances, I can think of two in particular, one of whom races infrequently, at best, due to injuries and the other is now a farmer and hasn’t raced in years. Perhaps those are exceptional cases not to be considered in the overall pool, but their testimony seems compelling to me, so I have included it. Draw your own conclusions.

I drew my conclusions, and decided that minimalism is a very good thing to a certain point, beyond which the risks become too high. I started searching for lighter shoes, realizing that the extra weight in my old shoes was largely unnecessary. With lighter shoes I was a more precise runner, taking more care of each step, and this allowed me to become a better runner because I was more efficient. But lightness is not the only factor that matters – durability is crucial, as well. Especially in the mountains far from backup, shoes have to be able to withstand uneven, wet, loose and rocky terrain for hours at a time, or else the person wearing the shoes will be a sad sack, indeed. That’s why many road running shoes don’t work for mountain running – they lack the durability to survive the mountains for more than a few runs. I found that Montrail’s Rogue Racers worked particularly well for me, and I have worn many pairs since first trying them in 2010. Although they are by no means a barefoot running shoe, they are much lighter than I would have chosen just a few years ago. Despite my skepticism of the minimal movement, I gradually began to see its merit.

What Born to Run did for ultrarunning has been extremely positive. It put the sport into the mainstream consciousness and did a lot to show the public that ultrarunners aren’t crazy after all. Furthermore, the effect it has had on the shoe industry has been profound. Every company I know about is focusing on lightweight, low-drop shoes that provide protection without being heavy or bulky. Rather than the hiking boots that trail running shoes used to be, they now seem to take their inspiration from road running shoes, just adding more support and grip. Obviously those are generalizations, but nobody can deny that the trail running world has been consumed by the concept of minimalism, and nobody has remained untouched.

This is a good thing, because despite the fear-mongering about shoe companies conspiring to hurt their customers in order to get them to buy more shoes, designers have begun to focus on the natural structure of the foot and how that plays into the individual movements involved in running. Runners aren’t just looking for padding to protect us from rocks; we’re looking for a tool that will allow us to connect with the environments through which we run. Muddy trails need big lugs, rocky trails need sticky rubber, loose trails need stiffness and smooth trails need very little of anything. The trail shoes on the market today are designed to maximize the experience of trail running, rather than the trail shoes of the past, which were designed to minimize the damage done by the trails. It’s a subtle shift, but a profound one nonetheless.

This brings me to the latest stage in my evolution of running shoes. First, I wore whatever they gave me, but as I became better at running I began to seek out lighter shoes that wouldn’t fall apart. Now, I am interested in specificity to a degree I have not needed in the past. No longer am I interested in just running; I want to be climbing and adventuring, too. Normal shoes can only do so much. To truly move to the next level of mountain running, specific shoes are required.

 

That’s why I have recently tried out Salomon’s Fellcross and La Sportiva’s Anakonda. They are both suited to specific terrain that eludes the range of most other shoes. The Fellcross is designed for mud in places like the UK (“Fellcross” being derived from “fell running”), but also works very well for places like the San Juans which feature steep grass, loose scree- and boulder-fields, and snow of all consistencies. The Anakonda’s value comes in the vertical world. They have sticky rubber, which means they are good for rock climbing. Those interested in the progression of mountain running will know that one major direction of the sport is into steep and technical mountains. And the Anakondas are suited to the task.

For most runs I still stick to my trusty Montrails (and this is a secret, but I trust you – Montrail and I are working on some pretty cool products along this idea of specificity right now). When the terrain requires something more specific, I like to test the value of specific shoes. The sport today is becoming so popular that companies can afford to invest in new technologies that will make shoes more minimal without sacrificing quality. That is the real benefit of the minimalist trend: it is placing the industry’s focus on creating high-performance tools for athletes, which will allow more people the opportunity to be their best. I wouldn’t pretend to know the best way to be a mountain runner, because for everybody it is different. The above is what I have learned from my experiences running long distances, and it is helping me move into the future more prepared to achieve my goals. I know I will continue to change my opinions on these matters as I learn and grow, but that’s the best part – it’s always a learning process, and nobody has the right answer. We’re all just doing our best to be our best. Besides experience, the best way to learn is from others.

So I ask all of you reading this:

  • How do you choose shoes, and why?
  • What makes you like certain things and dislike others?
  • What would you like to see in running shoes?
  • What would your perfect shoe look like?

The interplay of opinions is a powerful force. Tell us what you think. People might take notice.

There are 219 comments

  1. David

    I agree that good form is important, but I have to disagree that barefoot "forces" good form. I see plenty of Five Finger runners running like ducks.

  2. Nate

    Awesome. A comment from Hone. Somebody get this guy a blog. Bryan, maybe you can set him up with a column three or four times a week. The people need this.

  3. Yeti

    Great article by Dakota who seems to really have his finger on the pulse of ultrarunning culture and values. +1 to Lstmosl's comment. Unfortunately, this isn't the first time, nor will it be the the last, that Sage(and certain other elites) will use irunfar as a means to promote their sponsors(which btw, will inevitably change in a matter of time and then THAT company will all of the sudden have the best shoe). The dude can definitely run like almost no other, but really, so what? What does that have to do with the other 99.9999% of us? Most of us will never even come remotely close to winning a race, so why concern ourselves with what these individuals have to say? Hero worship? Boredom? Daddy issues? I don't know. What I do know is the sales pitch b.s. is getting really old, really fast. The community is trying to have a meaningful, helpful discussion on shoe choice and the accompanying injuries/success but is more frequently being subjected to advertising nonsense from certain elite runners beyond the boundaries of their blog/twitter/whatever. I'd drink their Kool-Aid with caution. They may be "better" runners than most of us but we love the sport just as much, and I'd argue more, than they do. After all, we do it for free.

    1. Jay

      Everyone has their own opinion, and nobody is really right and nobody is really wrong. I just wish that everyone would be a little more grateful when really good runners post on this site, whether you agree with them or not.

      And just a quick response to this statement, “They may be “better” runners than most of us but we love the sport just as much, and I’d argue more, than they do. After all, we do it for free.” How many years, and how many miles of running, simply because they love it, do you think it took to get to the point that they had the opportunity to make some money doing something that they love? Please don’t pretend that because someone gets paid to do something, they don’t love it just as much as the rest of us.

      Best,

      1. Yeti

        I'm equally grateful to all the runners who post to irunfar, but man, do commercials ever ruin the show. It's like T.V. before DVR, where's the fast forward button for christsake.

        1. Ben Nephew

          Did you say you wanted a commercial, Yeti?

          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRWQerpQLgE

          In a article like this, I think products plugs are to be expected. I agree that the plugs can seem forced in some race reports. I think the key is to put the testomonials in the proper context, does the athlete always race in those shoes, what does their feet look like after the race, are the shoes retail items or custom jobs, is the runner often injured, do they switch brands all the time, etc….

      2. Sage Canaday

        thanks for the support Jay! I've been running most of my life (15+ years now in racing…). Flat-out love the sport. It's infused in my identity and lifestyle, but there is also a passion. I don't ski, I don't golf, I don't rock climb -and I'm too uncoordinated for any other sports anyway. Running is what I do and it's in my blood and it's what makes me tick. I think a lot of us share that common connection (at least to the trails and outdoors and pushing ourselves) and that's what makes the community so strong.

        1. Jay

          Sage

          Back before I fell in love with trail running I used to kayak for a living. I kayaked all over the world and was able to become a World Champion, and a 3 Time National Champion, amongst other things. When I started making money in the sport people suggested the same thing about me. The crazy idea that they loved the sport more than I did because they did it for free, while I was getting paid to do it. Nobody stopped to thinks about the hundreds upon hundreds of hours that it took me to get to the point that I could make a living doing it. It was the hardest “job” that I have ever had, and I did it for the same reasons at 13 years old as I did at 30 years old. Because I loved it.

          I really appreciate your contributions to this site.

          Best,

    2. Sage Canaday

      I never said SCOTT's were the "best shoe" (no brand can say their shoe is the best as individual differences in biomechanics influence fit and comfort more than anything obviously) I also understand that maybe 95% of the community does not like blatant sponsor plugs…Obviously I'm biased and this is what I do for a living so I don't even try to hide the fact that I'm promoting a company much like an ad. I probably should back off as people see enough ads nowadays but the business side of the sport is interesting to me. In a competitive market brand recognition and exposure is paramount.

      That being said I ran in a $29.99 pair of Asics (I'd always wait until they went on sale) with fake gel cushioning all through high school in college. They worked fine for me and I had no idea what other kinds of shoes were out there. When I worked in a run specialty shop at Hansons for 2.5 years we didn't just sell Brooks shoes…I sold Nike, Asics, NB, etc and fitted a very wide variety of runners. I've tried running in Montrails, Hokas, and Salomon shoes. I've done running form videos on my YouTube channel and shoe reviews for different brands. Variations between people in foot shape, arches, and running form of course determined which models/brands that seemed to work the best for people and it was a night and day difference between some individuals.

      I hope you find a shoe that fits you well and that you stay healthy.

      Happy trails,

      Sage

      1. Daniel

        Sage, and Everyone Else (Including Myself) – There is no need to explain yourself to anyone on here.

        Your a runner, I'm a runner, and so is the next guy toeing the starting line, or watching the live comments on IRF. Doesn't matter if your training for a 5k, Boston Marathon, the Leadville 100 or the guy/girl who just started running today for the first time to keep in shape or to fight off health issues.

        Lets not forget this is a family bonded by the trails, road, vertical gain on a Flatiron or Peak/Summit!

        We live in a day and age that nothing is certain and even running is not protected or promised anymore. (Out of Respect For Those Lost and Injured at the Boston Marathon…RIP)

        That said, I would like to think that this article written by Dakota was not meant to be a pissing match between Sponsored Pro's Vs Average Joe.

        A shoe is a shoe find the one that fits you and how you run, and just run,jog,scramble, hike, or walk. Lets not loose sight of this simple form of movement and lets keep celebrating with races and events and hold positive/constructive conversations as runners and as a family of runners in the meantime.

        Dan

  4. Jay

    You don’t have to say that you are questioning someone’s integrity, to actually be doing so. You did post the words BEST SHOE EVER in capital letters in your response, even though nowhere is Sage's post did he use those words.

    I will tell you a little secret… If you want some of the best distance runners in the world to post here, which is what makes this website so great, collectively we should all treat them with a little more gratitude.

    1. lstomsl

      Well you have to admit the beginning and end of Sage's post read like they are straight out Scott's advertising copy. All I did was point out that he gets paid to say that stuff. All opinions are welcome but for myself I will put more credence in joe average's opinion who pays for his shoes and goes to the shoe store and tries models from different companies. That certainly doesn't mean I question they guy's integrity. I have no idea what he's like other than that he's way faster than I will be. I apologize to Sage if his feelings were damaged by my comment.

      But you can't argue with my larger point that not a single improvement in shoe technology over the past three decades has resulted in an increase in marathon speed. In fact the opposite seems to be true. Take this weeks Boston event, the winners time was only 8 seconds faster than the winning time in 1970. From 1975 to 1983 the winning time was bested 5 times by three different AMERICAN runners. Also bested by British, Australian, Japanese, and Italian runners. But 24 of the past 26 Bostons have been won by africans who spent most of their lives without running shoes. I'm open to any other explanation for this phenomenon but the take away message for me is that shoes simply don't matter. The only thing that matters is whether a shoe is comfortable for my personal foot and there isn't a single person in the world, no matter how fast they run, that can provide me useful information to make that determination.

    2. Peter Andersson

      There are forums and there are forums, anyone reading comments in deep on this one is likely to know that S.C is a professional, pointing that out is like pointing out that the sun rises in the east.

  5. Steve

    Maybe I didn't see this mentioned, but despite all the other technical mumbo jumbo, price is usually top of my list. That usually means last season model, which also has the benefit of giving me plenty of reviews from people who have actually run significant miles in the shoe. Then there's the (now) standard: lighter, lower, still some cushion, and my personal preference of a tongue that doesn't slide to the side (I prefer the Peak 2 style tongue).

  6. Bryon Powell

    Can I encourage the parties who feel an emotional response to this thread and wish to comment to go out and run a few miles, take a deep breath, and then comment as if you were talking to a fellow runner out on the trail. I'm hoping we can keep things civil and friendly even when we disagree.

  7. Rob M.

    No, actually I never even considered that. I suppose a drill would work? But now that you mention it, I have noticed that another hole seemed to be missing where I would usually find a set for lock lacking properly. That may actually save a couple pairs of shoes I own – thanks!

    1. Ben Nephew

      A drill works, but if you have a nail countersink thing with a wide head on it, that works nicely when used over a piece of wood. Makes the difference between shoes being unwearable due to the fit to having a great fit and running in them every day.

  8. Caleb Wilson

    Joe,

    I can appreciate the principle you are talking about. But Dakota never said that being prepared wasn't necessary. He said he goes out as prepared as he needs to be for his skill level and the terrain he is planning to tackle.

    And an FYI, I was one of the runners who was with the group that reported Micah being found. He did not freeze to death or die from some type of exposure to the elements. The coroners report said the best determination on the cause of death was likely an arrhythmia while running due to idiopathic cardiomyopathy. He was dead within minutes because oxygen was not getting to his brain.

  9. John L.

    Dakota said "I have yet to see anybody win a competitive trail ultra while running barefoot, or wearing sandals, or FiveFingers, or some other iteration of the barefoot scene."

    Ruby Muir won the womens 2013 Tarawera in a pair of five-fingers. I believe in a pair of the "See yas", the most minimal pair they offer even.

    http://www.irunfar.com/2013/03/ruby-muir-2013-tar

  10. Jeff

    Dakota nails what I think needs to happen to satisfy runners looking to travel deeper into varied terrain, or that want a follow a more creative line in the mountains. When I first saw the trailer for Joel Wolpert's In the High Country I immediately wanted to replace the sole on my own pair of 110s with climbing rubber. Specificity not only comes from runners that want to switch things up, but inspires them to do so. Rather than just running the approach trail to my local crag I can then turn and solo up the easy slab sections or hit a granite boulder field without missing a stride. Bear in mind though, companies try to sell to you what you don't need (that's just what they do) and just like thinking we all need to switch to the new barefoot/low-drop/highly-padded/maximalist shoes to fix the weak spot in our training, it's not about what the shoes do what, but what YOU do.

  11. Dave

    Hey Dakota, when I look for shoes, the first thing I want is comfort. It has to feel like I am sliding on my favorite slippers. Then I look for the correct sole for the terrain. I've honed in on Inov8's f-lite 230's for the smooth trail, and Talons for the rough stuff. I do not want to even think about the shoes, they need to be a subconscious extension of my feet; light comfortable, and grippy.

    1. Trygve

      Talons are the best for the rough stuff. They are the perfect compromise of light weight, grippyness and protection. No other shoe gives me such confidence on super technical trails/off-trails.

  12. Matt P

    I'm a happy agnostic when it comes to shoes. I like what Dakota says about specificity & although I dream of the magic shoe for all seasons, I'd add that every shoe represents a trade-off in some department. Being less of a skeptic than Dakota, I guess, I went minimal after reading Born to Run. At the moment, though, I am "training low and racing high": that is, I have shoes with varying degrees of minimalism and low-dropness that I deploy in training, but when it comes time to lace up for Promise Land 50k in VA next week, I will reach for my Hokas. They are a godsend in this rock-bedeviled part of the world. (Oh I was a Hoka-skeptic at first, of course, but seeing Karl flying down the mountain at Grindstone last year shook my minimalist faith to the core.)

    1. Ben Nephew

      While it is not as risky as going high/low, doesn't it feel odd to train in one shoe and race in another so different? I've always found it helpful to train and race in the same shoe as much as possible, even when doing shorter road or track races. I'd always run into trouble with my calves, PF, etc. if I didn't put some quality miles in my flats or spikes. I'm not sure what the Grindstone course looks like, but do you ever have issues with the Hoka's rolling over on very technical terrain? That seems to be a common issue in New England. Years ago inov-8 had a 320 model where the midsole was softer than the original, and many had issues with rolling the shoe.

      1. Matt P

        Hasn't been an issue so far. I should add that I'll incorporate the Hokas into the end of a long training run. On my last 50k long run around Sugarloaf mountain, MD, I did the first three quarters in the zero drop Altra Lone Peaks (very comfortable, BTW), then finish the last portion in Hokas. This gives me time to practice technique. Maybe I just avoid injury because I'm chicken & others are really bombing the downhills, as the Hokas will allow you to do like nothing else out there.

  13. David

    Thanks Dakota for pointing out that barefoot running has a place in terms of improving form and increasing strength. In my experience that certainly was the case. Now for longer stuff on rugged mountain trails, 99.9% of us need some solid protection and at least some cushion. It's awesome that so many companies are offering cool products now that don't interfere with the natural gait all that much. In terms of what I look for in a trail shoe, in order of importance:

    1. Drop (0-4mm)

    2. Weight (sub 9oz)

    3. Protection (flexible rock plate is nice)

    4. Cushioning

  14. JP

    I rate myself pretty high on the tech-geek scale and am very happy that we now have some new metrics and terms to throw around on top of/besides heel to toe drop. Its exciting stuff!

    Interesting to hear comments about Boston marathon time progression. Of all the major races to talk about progression on, someone chose the one that is point to point and probably most affected by weather conditions year on year? Also, major marathons are paced to a point, but are almost always played out with tactics and surges (unless you're Steve Jones, YEEEE-UP!) and times are a secondary concern, expecially at Boston where times can't officially matter.

    Shoes may not matter a heap on the road, but I don't think many of us here are all that interested in road shoes for running 2:50/km in. Depending on the trail, I think shoe choice (thinking here my worst suited to best suited trail shoes) can make anywhere from pretty much no difference to halving your time on a section, no doubt.

    For now, I look for NB MT110s on the box, when looking for a shoe. The things I like about them: Great trail feel, just enough rock plate, amazing outsole durability/traction ratio on my local trails, fast draining, fit like a glove, they feel light and fast. One dislike is the uppers easily. Put a 5g mesh over the forefoot and they'd be absolutely perfect.

    One suggestion that I have for all running companies is why not make shoes in series with different midsole thicknesses? Keep everything the same, but have maybe 3 midsole thicknesses available? Surely this is cheap to do, same upper and outsole tooling, just cut the foam bits thicker or thinner. It would be ace to have 8mm/4mm shoes for fast short stuff, 10mm/6mm for 2 – 3 hours and 12/8 for long stuff. I know they'd get a bit more unstable as they got higher, but I dont think it would outweigh the confidence people would get from having the same fitting uppers and same gripping outsoles on every run.

  15. Mike

    So how did you intend your comment to be understood? If someone made the same comment about you would you take offense? If Sage believes in the shoe he wears and wants to plug it more power to him. I'm confident in my ability to choose the right shoe for me no matter who is endorsing it.

  16. Duane VanderGriend

    I choose shoes based on what I currently believe to be optimal, so I have changed with the changing trends on a path that started 15 years ago with high drop heel strikers that contributed to a year off running, and only biking, because of my knees, then on to running in water socks on pavement at 215 lbs. that contributed to a stress fracture in my foot, and then on to 4 mm drop lightly padded shoes and finally on to Stinson evo Hokas. I like any shoe that I can run in pain free and have discarded new pairs of shoes after just a few tries in rotation when they increased knee pain. I like light. I like 4-6mm drop. I like fat cushioning. Hmmm…Hoka didn't pay me to say that. My perfect shoe would weigh 3 ounces, would cushion my foot strike like a memory foam mattress, and would have a crisp toe-off.

  17. astroyam

    One important issue with shoe cushioning is the runner's weight. A 20 mm thick sole might 'feel' the same to a 200 pound runner as a 14 mm sole does to a 140 pound runner, for example.

    And that 'feel' relates to the fact that the heavier runner will compress a given sole more quickly than a lighter one, and thus it will feel like there's less there. The heaver runner needs a thicker sole to get the compression time that feels right.

    If you're big enough, a Bajada (if it had a 3 mm drop) might feel and actually be the same to you as an X Talon 190 feels to your 125 pound neighbor. This might argue in favor of varying sole thickness with shoe size…

  18. Jeff

    I just want a pair of shoes that will let me run road, dirt, and relatively technical trail all on the same run with a relative sense of comfort and confidence . . .

    1. Adam

      No, Trailrocs have a different geometry, not just more or less cusioning. The drop varies from 0-6mm. Also, the models below 245 lack a rock plate.

      Another idea that seems practical to me is making a lighter less durable version of a shoe for racing, and a heavier, more durable version for training, but without altering the level of protection between the training and racing version. As Ben Nephew suggests, training maximal and racing minimal is quite dangerous, especially for ultrarunners, who routinely race at distances that they never do in training. Whether it's a Hoka or a Hurache, your feet are going to adapt to the level of punishment it receives during training, and suddenly subjecting them to more punishment on race day seems like a recipe for surefire injury. On the other hand, shoes cost money, and the lighter shoe is invariably going to be less durable, as well as less protective. Moreover, if your trainer weighed more and lasted for more miles, but was no more protective than your racer, you'd build leg strength from lifting the extra few ounces, and have a physical and psychological edge when you put on your lighter, yet no less protective, racer.

      1. Ben Nephew

        In terms of the trailrocs have different geometries, I think most runners can tolerate the difference between 255 and 245 in training and racing, for example. Going from 235 to a 255, or 6mm or more increase in differential is harder to tolerate without a good deal of acclimation.

        I'm not sure it has to be all that complicated for ultrarunning, at least once you get beyond 50k. I never wear lighter shoes than I train in for 50 mile; I actually usually wear the exact shoes I've been training in for that particular race. Even for 50k I don't put on a lighter shoe on race day, but I might train for the 50k in a lighter shoe. I basically run 50k's in 2 arrow shoes, and 50 milers in 3 arrow shoes.

        My logic is that you have to be healthy to do the consistently hard training necessary to improve, which makes me relatively conservative in my training shoe selection. There is a fine line between adapting to a level of punishment from a very light shoe and getting injured, and I've never seen the advantage to walking that line. Most runners can't feel the beginning stages of stress fractures, tendonitis, etc. As Adam pointed out, you might not want less protection on race day, and my race experiences consistently lead to the conclusion the advantages of a little more protection and/or cushioning in the second half of a 50 miler outweigh the costs in grams.

    2. JP

      Right! As pointed out below, its not quite there, but its close and I'm happy that you brought it up. Thinking about it some more, a lot of inov8s lines are like this, but they invariably add a bit more of some other thing as they get heavier. roclite, xtalon, f-lite, theyre all v similar within series.

      Sidenote:

      As a 110 wearer, i dont mind trailroc 245s. Roomier toe box, but not enough rock protection for me and the grip isnt as good. Comfy, though.

      1. Adam

        Exactly. I too train and race in the exact same shoe (usually Merrell Mix Masters, I wish my toes could adjust to Inov8s!). I've become quite cynical about the whole concept of a "rotation," which seems to be cultivated by bloggers who get free shoes. Of course, it takes some time to find the right shoe, and the right shoe for a 100 mile trail race isn't necessarily the right shoe for a 50k skyrunning-style event, but generally I think it's best to settle on the one shoe that is optimal for most of the training and racing you do, and wear it for everything. That way, you can focus on getting stronger and faster, rather than on wearing a new pair of shoes every time you go out the door. Ideally, the shoe becomes an extension of your foot, and when you do run into a problem, assuming you've done many hundreds of injury free training miles in the shoe, you can isolate the cause as something related to overtraining, and not to your particular footwear choice.

        1. Ben Nephew

          I should mention that while inov-8 is a growing company, there is still basically one guy that designs the trail shoes. They keep him locked up in tower surrounded by crossfit guys for protection. The trail guys wouldn't be very useful in that area. The point is, thanks for the feedback, I'll make sure he sees these comments. It's very possible that comments like these will be used to update current models and/or in the design of new models. I can tell you that some of the comments are similar to wear tester reports.

          JP, where do you run?

          1. Adam

            I'll add that the thing that blew me away about the 245s was how well they protected my feet from rocks despite being so agile and low to the ground. I've never experienced anything like that in a shoe with such a low stack height and virtually no cushioning. Maybe I just need to put in some miles adapting to narrower toe boxes. The point about the increased sure-footedness and less blistering that comes with a tighter upper is a good one.

          2. JP

            Ben, I am in Canberra, Australia.

            Trails here are usually dry and hard, sometimes with loose gravel on top and sharp rocks half buried a lot of the time. There just isnt a lot of top soil here. Compared to a lot of pics I see from around the place (here), the trails I run are less groomed and more rocky.

            Its the half buried rocks that are sometimes hard to see at speed that poke into the 245s a little more than the 110s. The grip is a bit better on 110s as new shoes, and i think the 110s grip holds together longer (stays sharper edged?) than the 245 lugs do over time.

            I have very limited experience in the 245s, and I'm sure others will have other opinions!

  19. Max

    Give me a light, flexible, luggy shoe any day. Then give me it's mellower cousin with a rock plate and a bit less lugs for 100's.

    I want a shoe that's snug and secure over the foot yet isn't constricting, like those pretty new roclites I got on. I'd also like a shoe this minimal and aggressive that can also last more than 100 miles on steep, rugged scree slopes.

  20. brian

    I like adidas kanida TR4's because they cost less than 50.00, i get 500 miles on them, and they protect my old basketball turf toe. I would like to try some nicer shoes though, when the budget permits.

  21. Anonymous

    Know what I like, no, I adore? Dakota's fresh way of laying it all out there. Even though he is sponsored by Montrail, this article was not a veiled advertisement as it could have been. Also, not only did he poke a pointy stick into the widely popular minimalism bubble, but he also called out the frequent injuries of a famous runner, whom I believe is a friend of his. I like a guy with flat out honesty, especially if he cracks me up!

  22. a pace

    Thanks very much Ben– I run the 190 & love everything about it but for the toe bumper, being a clumsy sort, apparently. Lugs are perfect for me, since I have 8 months of winter & a good deal of scree on the mountains. Been thinking about the trailroc 245 & about the roclite, so I appreciate the suggestions.

  23. Ejch

    I remember the first pair of Montrails I had were won at an Adventure Race in NC in 02"I fell in love and was crushed to hear they sold out to Columbia and discontinued a great shoe that could take a beating and lasted forever. When I called the company a rep said that the shoe was too good and they weren't selling enough of them because they never wore out. Now I read this story and I doubt they'll have anything good enough for hard cores who rack up the mileage and like to tear through hills and streams. There more recent stuff has been crap. I just don't trust the brand anymore. Same with the Brookes trail runner. It's so hard to find a decent trail runner out there. Give me a good shoe and you have a customer for life.

    .

  24. Trygve

    One thing that puzzles me wherever I read shoe reviews or discussions about trail shoes, is how usually the one complaint people seem to have about nearly any shoe is that the toebox is too narrow. I have yet so see someone praising a shoe for having a snug and narrow fit around the toes. I agree that it feels nice to be able to wriggle my toes, especially on longer runs, but the benefits of a narrow toebox are greater in my opinion. My foot doesn't slide around in the shoe, I don't get blisters on my toes, my footing is better in technical terrain. In steep technical downhills the snug and narrow shoe is the best.

    1. dogrunner

      I agree that a shoe that lets your foot squirm around inside is not good, but the reason I ask for a wide toebox is because I have a wide forefoot. Regular running shoes are already snug, narrow is painful. Why the heck would I want to run in bound feet? I don't, neither do you (I bet). So wide enough for me means a wide size. Then my foot will fit securely, without the flesh being tightly compressed and bones jammed together!

      1. Trygve

        Of course. The shoes shouldn't squeeze the toes, but I like it when they are tight. I've noticed people talking about how shoes should allow the toes to splay. I don't see why that should be an advantage.

        1. dogrunner

          For me, splay refers to the natural spreading that the metatarsals and toes do when body weight is applied (this is probably most relevant for forefoot/midfoot footstrikers and maybe less so for heel strikers). It feels to me like that is a necessary part of the kinetic, reflexive feedback loop that signals leg muscles to contract for support/stability at the right time and lets my legs relax otherwise. If my feet stay squeezed it seems to interfere with neuromuscular signaling. I have experimented a lot with this using barefoot, VFFs, wide shoes, tighter shoes, etc and it just feels right with a wider toebox, with just enough cushion so my feet don't get beat up, low/zero drop and completely neutral shoe. The midfoot and heel should be snug so the foot does not squirm around inside the shoe and any sort of lateral extension (stabilizing "features") on the outsole messes me up too. My epiphany came years ago when it dawned on me that my balance was a lot better barefoot than in shoes. I don't run barefoot, but I have tried a lot of shoes to find what works best (for me).

          1. Ben Nephew

            The key to trygve's point is technical terrain. I can run much faster on difficult terrain in a stiff, very tight shoe, than something that has a relaxed fit with a lots of flexiblity. It's the difference between playing soccer in tight leather cleats vs. road running shoes. This is of course much easier to tolerate in shorter trail races, but I still prefer a relatively tight fit for 50k's and 50 miles. Even with a good fit, a flexible shoe may induce more friction between your toes and between the shoe and your foot than something that fits well but is less flexible.

  25. Andy B

    Having run meaningful distance from barefoot on up through the cushion/protection range, I'm currently using Stinson Evo's, as well as a pair of PureDrifts. Apart from the drop being the same, couldn't get farther apart in terms of cushioning (but surprisingly not so far apart in terms of road/trail feel). I flip back and forth between 'em, somewhat dictacted by terrain but mostly by two factors: what I'm feeling like when I'm heading out the door, and what the next day's run looks like. I've found that I love the feel of both for somewhat different reasons, but the Hoka's save my legs for the following day, without a doubt. Was a benefit explained to my by the good people at Boulder Running Company, and they were right. Trust those guys if you have the chance to work with them.

    I think at the end of the day, it's just a great time to be an ultradistance runnner. We've got an embarassment of riches in terms of product designed to keep us happy and safe in the hills, and that's a pretty good thing no matter what.

    1. MS

      I think you are right … I run in Hoka Stinsons and Brooks Cascadias on the trails and Hoka Bondis and Brooks GTS on the road … Its as if you recover faster if you change things up every run … That's the one thing the trails afford that the road cannot … Variety … The spice of life

      1. Pez

        I agree. I use Hokas for ultra and recovery runs. I train in salomons, TNFS, La sportivas depending on surface, etc. great article btw

  26. Mark MW

    I'm in a sort of different segment of the "less is more" camp in that I start with a sort of thick shoe and make it more minimal through lots of mileage in the shoe. Currently I run in a four year old Mizuno. The shoe fit me well so I bought three pairs of the identical shoes four years ago($29 on clearance!). Up until recently I was rotating two of the pairs (6500 miles over 3 1/2 years between two pairs of shoes). I just rotated in the third pair that I will only be wearing on dirt because the tread is almost gone on the other two pairs. My experience is that I've had fewer injuries as I've added miles to my shoes. I haven't had to take a day off due to injury in over a year. Approximately 70% of my miles are trail miles by Breckenridge. The other 30% are treadmill (for days like today when we get 15 inches of snow overnight….). I'm nearly 40 and I've never felt as good as I do now. The consistent training is helping me to my personal best race results yet. I've decided, for me, that having a reasonably thick sole to protect my foot on rocky terrain in a well fitting shoe is all I need and then run the shoe until it literally falls apart. The other side-bonus is that I haven't gotten a significant blister in almost two years!

  27. Astroyam

    Hi Ben, seems that the new 232s and 252s are an answer to the same feel as the 195s but with more cush and protection, whereas the 245s feel different imo. Have you tried them and do they seem to work well?

    I

  28. Ben Nephew

    Astroyam,

    You are correct about the 232 and 252's. They are also wider in the forefoot, so if you have narrow feet and like a tight fit you might prefer 230's or 240's. I've raced a lot in the 230 in the past. I'm wear testing 252's right now. I can say that the 245's are just as fast on singletrack as the f-lites, but I set my road 50 PR in f-lites, which probably wouldn't work in 245's. If you do a mix of road and trails and don't run into much loose or wet terrain, the 233 is a very fast shoe on most trails with great protection that you might want to consider.

  29. Ben Nephew

    If anyone is still following this, I've been asked by the guy who makes the shoes at inov-8 what my idea of an ideal ultra shoe is. I'll be giving him my personal opinion, but I think it would be useful to get others opinions as well. He's been directed to this dicussion. The most useful comments would probably be those that are related to a current inov-8 model.

    Thanks,

    Ben

    1. dogrunner

      Ben,

      I'd love to hear the discussion on this, but I wonder how different opinions will be from the preceding discussion? In other words, if someone prefers low drop, modest but not soft cushion, light weight, adequately wide toebox, good traction, light weight, why would any of that change? I am glad that Inov8 is interested, though, bc I have always liked the inov8s that fit me (which is not the majority because they tend to be too narrow and tapered up front).

      1. David

        Inov8 seems to have done quite a bit to fill out and fine tune their line up. As a minimalist runner on trails, I'll take the Roclite 243 up to a marathon (wish it was cut a little wider), trailroc 245 for a 50M and trailroc 255 or Roclite 295 for a hundo. The mudclaw 265 looks awesome for winter action.

        1. Ben Nephew

          David, where do you run? I'm feeling left out with the 243's. Terrafly 313's might be something to consider for a 100, don't be put off by the grams until you compare with the trailroc 255's or the 295's. In the winter, I really like having Goretex. The Orocs are great for both the winter and transitional trail conditions in the spring.

      2. Ben Nephew

        Comments similar to David's can be very useful, and it also helps when runners identify specific shortcomings relative to other brands. "I'd wear inov-8's if they made a…."

        It's true that some of that has already been discussed in the extensive comments, but much of it was very general. What you described above could be the trailrocs, but some are not satisfied with particular features.

        On the topic of specificity, wide to some is not wide to others. Which models have you found to be too narrow?

        1. David

          I run in Colorado, either on Boulder trails (Bear, Green Mtn) or higher up when the snow isn't too bad. I have the roclite 243 and trailroc 245. The 243 is really great but feel it doesn't have the cushion or protection for an ultra on rugged trails, and is cut fairly narrow. The 245 is solid as well, but honestly the shank in that shoe feels clunky (once the shoe broken in) and wish it was a smoother ride. I assume the 255 would have more cushion for going past 50 miles. Happy to give feedback here but also feel that shoes are such a subjective thing, surely others have a different take on these models.

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