More Trail Running Shoe Options
La Sportiva Fireblade Review
Every once in a while you forget your preconceptions and leave constructs behind as you fall in love with something you’ve got no business falling in love with… and such as been my story with the La Sportiva Fireblade.
You know how the story goes. Maybe your friends tell you about the new girl in town. Though you’ve not yet met her, man, you sure would like to… and you go to bed dreaming as if you had. Then a few weeks later, you’re at a party or a bar, see her across the room and, wow, your friends were right. Time to check her out yourself. So you go strike up a little conversation and it just feels right. After an enjoyable hour together, you two part ways, but before you do you set up a date for the following day. Uncharacteristic? Yup. Against “the rules?” Yup, but who cares. The next day you get together and 6 hours later you two are still enjoying one another’s company despite all your differences. How wonderful.
Of course, I’m not writing about having a fling with some new lady friend in Asheville, but rather of the La Sportiva Fireblade. Mike Mason tipped me off to the Raceblades recently and after some enlightened feedback from La Sportiva employees and team members, I picked up a pair of the Fireblades at Foot Rx in Asheville on Friday. Almost immediately I hit the trails in the Fireblades and liked them enough to race 40 miles in them the next day. A gamble which paid off.
I should start that two things would have kept me from picking up these shoes had it not been for the recommendations I received.
- The Fireblades are a low profile shoe. I’ve never trained in a low profile shoe and never raced further than 10k in such a shoe. I was also particularly worried as I have chronic problems with my right Achilles tendon.
- I had never really taken a look at La Sportiva’s shoes. That’s partly because too few stores carry La Sportiva shoes and I had never bought a new brand of trail shoe without first trying them on in a store. Beyond that, I guess I really didn’t know what La Sportiva was all about, and because of that I didn’t look any further. That was a mistake – La Sportiva is a trail shoe company. The primary problem with La Sportiva is consumer perception and knowledge. I think I represent the average American ultrarunner in having previously thought of Montrail, Inov-8 and Vasque as the major specialty trail shoe companies out there. Is it any coincidence that these three companies have had the largest sponsored ultrarunning teams in recent years? Regardless, at least for me, it’s time to recognize La Sportiva as one of the big-time specialty trail shoe companies. Hopefully, La Sportiva’s increased on-the-ground presence through race and runner sponsorship will help others take a second (or first) look at La Sportiva’s shoes for their trail running.
Ok, so finally, what’s the Fireblade like. It is a very lightweight, nimble trail shoe, but not a fell running shoe. Think more along the lines of a trail version of a road racing shoe, rather than the Montrail Highlander or many of Inov-8’s shoes. As you would expect, some foot protection appears to have sacrificed to lighten the shoe to 11.89 oz/337 g. However, the increased nimbleness of the shoe more than makes up for the lesser protection on all but the nastiest of trails and, even then, the trade off for a lighter shoe is worth considering.
The forty miles of the Mount Mitchell Challenge provided a great mix of terrain types on which to test the Fireblade – pavement from flat to steep, nice dirt single track, moderately gravelly fireroads, boggy stretches, and very rocky trail, as well as wet rock face, ice – both obvious and hidden, and wet roots/stairs. The only two times I slipped all day were once on some brown ice and once when cornering at too fast on nice dirt single track. I doubt anything short of spikes would have saved me on the first slip and the second fall was more my fault, although an extremely nubby shoe may have kept me upright. I doubt this would have been an issue had I been paying attention rather than racing a buddy. Overall, I’d say the Fireblade has more than adequate traction for most trail conditions, but they would not be the shoe to wear in extremely muddy or icy conditions if you have a collection of shoes in your closet from which to choose.
As for the rocks, well, I’m used to running on them, quite literally. I often frequent the rocky trails of the Massanutten and Shenandoah Mountains. On these ventures, I’ve almost always worn beefy trail shoes. This practice has led me to be fairly lazy and actually run on top of large rocks rather than around them. This meant, that while I was pretty good about picking my way around the rocks at Mount Mitchell, I would occasionally plant my foot directly on top of big pointy rocks while barreling down the mountain. Much to my surprise given the light weight and minimalist design of the Fireblade, they protected my foot remarkably well. I did feel the rocks a bit more than I would in, say, the Montrail Hardrock, but the rocks never produced any pain nor even any feelings of discomfort for that matter… it was just that I could sense the rocks. Come to think of it, this might be an advantage of wearing the Fireblade for two reasons. First, the feedback from rocks may help the wearer to choose better lines over time. Second, while I’m no sports physiologist, I’d imagine any sensation transmitted to the sole of your foot may aid in proprioception and help avoid ankle injuries. [Am I right, Loomdog?] On that note, I’d guess the low profile of the Fireblade is also beneficial in reducing ankle sprains and similar injuries.
The Mount Mitchell Challenge has more road than I would have expected – I’d guess over 10 miles in total – and I had no problems in the Fireblades. Anyone who’s been trail running for awhile has had at least one pair of trail shoes that they absolutely hate to wear on the roads for any length of time. Although I only have the 10 road miles of MMC and another 3.5 road miles this week in the Fireblades, at this point I would be comfortable trying to cover significant sections of pavement in them. In fact, I plan to try them out as a road trainer for both some shorter easy runs and some faster workouts. The best tests I have so far for the Fireblades on pavement are a 2-3 mile downhill on the Blue Ridge Parkway and a half mile off-the-face-of-planet downhill coming into Montreat. I felt comfortable and smooth in both of those stretches.
The sizing of the La Sportiva Fireblade seems to be pretty close to other shoes. If anything you might want to check out a half size larger than your normal trainers. I picked up the men’s 9 (my normal size) and they ran the slightest bit small through the ball of my foot. I will solve that sizing issue by switching from my thick RBX Ultra Cushion Smartwool socks to
something thinner like the Smartwool Adrenaline Light – something I want to do anyway.
One of the most amazing things about the Fireblade was how well it fit out of the box. Normally, it takes me at least a few runs in a new pair of shoes to get each set of eyelets tweaked to the proper tightness. The Fireblade lacing is slightly unconventional and made it very easy to adjust the shoe’s fit right out of the box. After my first 5.5 mile run, all I had to adjust was the bottom-most eyelet on one shoe after the run and I’ve been set ever since.
If you don’t want to take my word for the Fireblades, here’s what La Sportiva, N.A. has to say about the them:
Lightweight performance trainer for any type of trail running. Light, flexible and sticky. This shoe is designed for Mountain Running(r). A sturdy heel cup mixed with a triple density midsole and a high tensile composite RockGuard protects the foot from gnarly terrain. The Fireblade is a stable, mid cushioned shoe ideal for mild pronaters and neutral runners.
La Sportiva also points out that the stretch mesh tongue guard keeps dirt, pebbles and trail debris out.
You can also read up on the Fireblade:
- in Trail Runner Magazine’s review by my favorite shoe reviewer, Adam Chase
- in Outside Magazine’s review (Gear of the Year)
- in Snowshoe Magazine’s review by La Sportiva team members
- in the comments of my post asking about La Sportiva shoes
- at La Sportiva’s PR firm’s site
As always, be sure to check out the comments for more great info from iRunFar readers such as:
- Specific instructions for screwing the Fireblades for better traction on ice
- How the heel/toe height relationship of the Fireblade is very similar to that of road shoes like the Asics 2100 series
Check out iRunFar’s review La Sportiva’s Raceblade.