Running long inevitably requires kit… maybe that’s why many of us do it The key with ultra marathon kit is getting it right for you personally so what I put up here won’t necessarily be right for anybody else reading this, however there are some clear winners brand wise when it comes to kit (IMHO).
I thought I’d pull together a series of posts which are not true kit reviews where I would go into the minute detail, rather just a list of what I use and a brief summary as to why. First up is footwear.
My General philosophy regarding shoes
Crikey, does every man and their dog have an opinion about shoes! Barefoot, minimalist, cushioned, neutral, supportive, lightweight, maximal, etc. Every bandwagon the marketing people can get us on I guess! My general principles for now are that I like minimalist shoes. The more natural the shoe feels the better, this means light and a sensible level of disconnect between the floor and me.
Minimalist differs from barefoot and standard trainers in that it has a differential greater than zero (barefoot) and less than 12mm (standard trainers have a differential or drop of 12mm this is the difference in height that your heel is than your forefoot). Without going into great detail here about what that means, I believe that a heel strike is inefficient and causes injury, we should run with a fore or mid-foot strike, then as our heel descends it stretches the achillies which fires that energy back at us (propelling us forward). If you put 12mm of foam under your heel you will minimise that energy return (as the achillies won’t be allowed to stretch fully) and also encourage a heel strike as there is no pain there when you hit your heel on the floor. I want as much energy return as possible please, so 6mm or less is my target.
One of the most frustrating things about shoe manufacturer’s websites is that they rarely state the drop for a shoe – the three most important elements for me when researching are: Drop, weight and a picture of the sole. Try for yourself and see how many shoe sites do this… you then have to question who they are really trying to sell to and do they understand their market – fashion or specialist
General rule/ Expectation setting
If a piece of equipment is exceptionally light then in general it means you’ll get less ware out of it…. you’ll also pay more for it… but toeing the line knowing you’ve carrying the lightest weight has not only a physical advantage, but a huge psychological one too. With regards to footwear, I’ve read somewhere that an extra 100g in shoe weight is the equivalent of 0.5kg on your backpack – this will be due to the same physics that results in the biggest gains on the bike coming from the wheels. Can I back up the statistic above, no, but it makes sense so I’m sticking to it ok!
Kit I Trust – Footwear
In the fells…
… it has to be Inov8 for me. Yes I know plenty of people have issues with the quality of the construction and the quality can be hit and miss, but if I’m honest I’ve rarely had any issue plus if it is a manufacturing defect they are very good at replacing kit. Their shoes are very light, so some of the accelerated ware issues are down to this, some are because few of us get to run fells only, there is usually some sort of tarmac or hard path somewhere, so this does wear down the sole of the shoe quicker. My weapons of choice are:
X-Talon 212 (I’ve not worn this pair out yet after 4 years, so not tried the lighter ones yet)
Mudclaw 333 (I ran the DBR in these and have run a number of ultras, they are now worn out on the sole, so I will be getting a new lighter pair – put simply, nothing is better when it is muddy. Nothing).
Notable mention: I’m yet to have enough road testing under my belt, but I think the Addidas Addizero XT4s are going to become a regular choice in the fells too. Especially during the winter where I think they will take my microspikes better than either of the above.
Long distance trail/ door to trail shoes…
… for many years I’ve chosen the Mizuno Wave Harrier 3s. They feel pretty minimal and last a long time. I must have run 1500 miles in my first pair before I changed them. I currently have an in use pair and a second pair in the box as I tend to look out for deals on the web. I usually manage to pay ~£50 for them which is pretty damn good if you ask me.
The Wave Harriers are my everyday training shoe and I’ve run long races in them too; e.g., Hardmoors 55 without any issue at all. I also notice a lot of people wearing them. However, a new pretender to the throne has arrived and I like them so much I’ve just bought two additional pairs (@ £40 per pair delivered I couldn’t resist!) The Addidas XT4. It’s got a 4mm drop so plenty of action for my Achilles and it fits with my shoe philosophy, the most incredible grip, it’s light, incredible grip, they feel fast, incredible grip and actually double as a fell shoe. There feels like enough cushioning to ensure you take the rocky paths in your stride, the most incredible grip… oh, and did I mention the grip? Worn by the Brownlee boys these are no leisure/ fashion trainers (despite the garish colours). A definite hundred mile trail shoe and since they are Addidas they will be easy to pick up on offer due to the volume that are out on the market. Pick up last season’s colours for £40-50 a pair – try them, if you don’t like them I’ll be very surprised. Do test your shoe size first though as they come up small. (I’m a 9-9.5 inov8 and a 10 in the Addidas.
On the mill/ road…
… it’s the Inov8 road X 233. Hmm, surprised me too given that they are not a road shoe company and thus their investment in understanding it over the years has been tiny compared to a firm like Asics. That said, they fit like a glove, are nice and light and just feel fast. They have a 6mm drop so they are reasonably minimalist. I use these for the road and treadmill and it’s fair to say that I love them although I don’t run much road.
Before these I’ve had various cushioned beasts and to be honest I would far rather run a marathon in these than any of the over cushioned shoes out there. I like to think that they also encourage me to be a little lighter on my feet too – more work to do on that front though. When I come to replace them I’ll certainly be checking out the road addizero range too from Addidas given how superb the XT4s are.
Sorry, but I can’t help but feel this is a load of tosh; besides if you don’t trust me, trust these guys: http://www.outsideonline.com/fitness/recovery/Stress-Tested.html
In the snow…
I cannot recommend kahtoola microspikes enough. These have totally revolutionised winter running for me. Snow on the mountains? Who cares! In hard pack conditions these bite and give rock solid dependable grip. One of my favourite ever running experiences was running the Helvellyn ridge in alpine weather conditions. Micro Spikes + blues skies + hardpack + Helvellyn ridge = the widest grin imaginable, zero stress, connection with nature, connection with childhood giddy excitement at the prospect of every down hill and a comedy sun tan. Perfect.
Naturally there is no solution to that snow thickness which breaks just as you push off, but microspikes have made it feasible and relatively safe to run very narrow mountain ridges in the snow. An item of kit that no mountain runner should be without. Yes they are that good!
… 9 times out of 10 I am a fan of the double knot. Simple, effective. However when it gets cold there is nothing worse than coming in from a day, soaked to the skin, desperate to get warm and not having the dexterity to undo your laces. A friend of mine packed a pair of pliers on the DBR in case that happened to him. There is a simple solution. Tie your lace as normal (single knot) then pass one loop into the other. Pull the lace (as if you are undoing it) so that the bow collapses on the other one and is only stopped in undoing the lace by the bow that you placed in the middle. This knot will not come undone whilst running. To undo it simply pull the other lace as normal – trust me, it’s a revelation. It does leave you with one long lace, but this can be adjusted for in the way you lace your shoes and you can always tuck the excess under the cross lacing up the shoe.
That’s all I can think of right now shoe wise… So what kit do you trust on your feet?