Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Thoughts on trail running shoes

First of all, Central Oregon is a unique market when it comes to running. Many of us have the opportunity to run on trails a majority of the time if not exclusively. Unfortunately, it’s not like that most places. These shoe companies that go to great lengths to design and execute fantastic road shoes often treat trail shoes as an after thought. The market for trail shoes outside of Bend is a fraction of the road market. Conversely, the outdoor companies that are trying to capitalize on the popularity of running shoes often struggle to make shoes that compete with the balance and ride of good road running shoes. These are generalities and of course there are examples of good trail shoes from running and outdoor companies. My point is that there are fewer options and the options don’t always address all the fit and biomechanical needs of every runner.

Should a trail shoe address stability in the same way that a road shoe does?

This is a loaded question and one that depends on many factors? How rugged are the trails? Is the runner accustomed to the terrain? Is the runner used to supportive shoes? The case could be made (and has been) that medial stability to address pronation is worthless in a trail shoe because foot strike is so inconsistent that the runner will ultimately need to adapt.

That’s great in theory, but I’ve helped many a hearty runner who finds that they need stability and cushioning in their trail shoes just as they do in any running shoe. I love trail shoes and I’ll grasp at straws with shoes in this category because we have more demand than we have great shoes. When something really works in trail shoes we tend to have great luck with them.

Is it a running shoe or a hiking shoe?

The two are pretty convoluted anymore. I certainly have my biases with individual shoes. We distinguish between the two based on whether we’d want to run in them ourselves. But who am I to say a shoe isn’t a running shoe when someone runs forever in them. We sometimes carry shoes that the manufacturer calls a running shoe but we think of it as more of a hiking shoe. Often such shoes can work well for certain ultra runners, hikers or people just in need of great stable footwear.

What about all the minimalist trail shoes?

This is an ever growing category in both the running world and the cosmetics driven side of the footwear world. I’m a fan on the running side and often stock them at the FootZone, but they are limited in that the runner must be willing to adapt to a lower profile, less cushioned ride. Many runners will find that these shoes simply don’t have the support and or substance that they need to cover the mileage they’re interested in. Others will find this is the perfect thing for that close to the trail, nimble experience.


1 comment:

Dave Bilyeu said...

All my shoes have been trail shoes - Adidas to Saucony. What's maddening to me is the companies who make a major change in a shoe that ruins it for my foot. Super Dave - you'll know the shoe I'm thinking of! I wonder if any of these companies actually take time to "trail" test their designs. I suppose they do some of that, but given how many new changes make shoes worse, I do wonder about that. I've discovered a danger in switching shoes that never occurred to me. My feet get so used to a shoe that the fine muscles correct my landings automatically. When I switch to a new brand, I'm "off" by ever so little and it confuses that automatic sensing my feet and legs were used to. I take new shoes on a really easy (flat, wide, no rocks) for the first run or two - saves a fall or a sprained ankle.