Wednesday, 1 August 2012

How to choose a Trail Runner

With the continuing growth of our Flight Club Trail Running Group we thought it wise to go over a few basics on TRAIL RUNNING SHOES. One of the most appealing aspects of trail running is the ease in which a “nube” can comfortably slide into the sport.  That being said there is one item of gear everyone on the trail should equip themselves with – Trail Runners.

I know, I know, of course the guy selling the trail shoes says they’re essential… SCAM!  But in all seriousness, trail running may be easy and fun to get into, but that doesn’t mean it is impossible to injure yourself while doing it.  Like trekking, hiking, cycling, or any other sport that takes you away from the city streets, being out in the woods, potentially alone, makes you vulnerable.  With that being said, here is all you need to know to arm your feet! 
(That sounded weird, but you got it right?)

Road and trail shoes are as different as Batman and this guy.

Will the real Batman please stand up.  

The big difference between road runners and trail runners is the out-sole.  Roads are flatter, harder and have less diversity in their surface compared to trails.  Whether you are on crusher dust or wood chip single or double track, trails offer a softer, constantly fluctuating surface.  You need a shoe that will react to the terrain underneath it, grip when it needs to, bite in while going up or down hills and do everything in its power to keep you on your feet when encountering a wet root or rock (a trail runner’s arch nemesis.) 

When you flip a trail runner over you will notice pronounced, soft lugs.  If you are ever unclear as to whether the shoe in your hand is meant for the road or trail look here first.  No lugs means road shoe.  Flat lugs that are raised from the bottom strip of rubber means you may have a hybrid “door to trail” shoe in your hand.  Really big aggressive looking lugs are great for wet and soggy or slushy days. 

Saucony Cortanas: Flat lugged road runner.

Brooks Cascadia: Aggressively lugged trail runner.

Salomon XT Wings: Mildly lugged door to trail hybrid.
A lot of trail shoes will have the typical cushioning and support you might think of when picturing a traditional running shoe; but things are changing.  There has been a recent movement in the running community that has left runners with more options than ever before, the barefoot or minimalist option.  Dropped heels, minimalist and barefoot shoes all encourage the runner to shift their gate cycle from heel strike, to a mid or fore foot strike.  The idea is lessening the impact on the body, improving posture while running and feeling the ground beneath your feet. 

If there is less stability and less cushioning in your shoe your foot will tire out quicker.  Having more stabilizing muscles engaged and landing on the mid to fore of your foot really does feel different and may take some time to build towards distances you are used to.  Ask the person you are potentially buying shoes from if they know what the shoe is built for, what kind of cushioning or differential it has from heel to under toe.  The differential refers to the amount in millimeters of cushioning under the heel compared to under the toe
There are tons of different styles and differences amongst trail shoes.  If the person working at the store doesn’t know all the answers, hug them, they are trying really hard I am sure.  Do a little research based on where you want to run and what kind of distances you hope to get to.  From there you can figure out what best options the market has for you. 

The Merrell Trail Glove has NO cushion and is considered a BARE FOOT shoe.
The Salomon Fellcross is a 8mm drop or differential.  MINIMALIST shoe with long distance cushioning.
The Saucony Peregrine is a ultralight MINIMALIST shoe with a 4mm drop. 

Waterproof or Not Waterproof – That is the question.

Sometimes people come in to the shop and they say things like “Do you have a waterproof jacket that is as breathable as a non waterproof jacket, that is really warm but packs up small, doesn’t ever tear, has a lot of pockets but not too many pockets, is made of gold, white gold, can tell the time and deal with my angry girlfriend when I come home late?”  Although the outdoor industry has made tremendous strides with technological advancements, gear still has its limitations. 

When it comes to waterproofing a shoe, particularly a low cut runner, there is a reality to face – it will be hotter than a non water proof shoe and can still take on water if you mis-judge the depth of a puddle.  Some people love them and swear by them.  A Gore-Tex shoe is great for keeping morning dew off your foot and can add some warmth to your shoe for the fall and winter. 

I like a non waterproof trail runner.  With a nice, light weight merino sock you can hit puddles, “squelch” the shoe dry as you keep on moving and air them out over night to dry.  Most trail shoes have excellent drainage and are made of materials that can handle the muck and mud. 

So that’s it.  Good grip, the right fit, cushioning for your style of running and an internal struggle over whether you want waterproof or not.  Once you put those pieces together, your shoe puzzle is complete. 

Now go run.  With the right shoes and a little luck, you might even look as good on the trails as these two...

- B -

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