Twenty-five years ago most trail runners used the same shoes for trails as they did for road racing. I used the Nike Air Pegasus and one of the best local ultrarunners Joe Schlereth ran in Nike Air Icarus shoes. The shoes were called trainers because they were made for high mileage and were more cushioned than racing flats. Joe ran 10,000 miles one year preparing for the Western States 100. He came in 3rd that year behind Tim Twietmeyer and Ann Trason.
In 1995 I broke one of the rules of racing and bought new shoes for the beginning leg of W.S. The race director Norm Klein told us the first 26 miles of the run were covered with snow. I bought a pair with deeper lugs for traction on the snow. I fell as much as anyone else. My choice of shoe was a moot point by the time I reached the Rucky Chucky crossing of the American River. I had not met the cutoff time and was mercifully pulled from the race. The 107-degree temperatures in the canyons had done me in.
In Wisconsin we screwed hex head sheet metal screws into the bottom of the shoe sole for running the trails in winter. This method also worked well for running on roads covered in ice and snow. I did finish W.S. in 2001 using Brooks Glycerin running shoes. I finished the Kettle Moraine 100 the previous year in the same model. I started the Kettle Moraine in a pair of Asics and developed knee pain in less than 20 miles so I switched to the Brooks shoes with no problems after that.
My point here is that after running scores of trail ultras, I was still running in trainers. Actually deep lugs and aggressive treads can cause you to stumble when you are fatigued and your ‘stride’ has become a shuffle.
Two things happened that led to my use of trail shoes. I became a lightweight backpacker and a civilian volunteer for the Fresno County Search and Rescue (SAR) team. Trails are highways in the wilderness. Searching off trails on slippery snow covered granite with a 20 pound pack required better traction. The deputies used Asolo boots and complained of blisters. I wore my trainers and complained of traction. It was then that I looked to trail shoes again. I went with the Salomon Speedcross and decided to use them for backpacking too since my multiday pack is about 25 pounds. Last year I replaced my Speedcross shoes with the Speedcross III with good results again. The soles are adequate for sharp rocks and they are sturdy shoes. My first pair lasted about 300 miles but 20 of those miles were off trail, which is much harder on shoes and those wearing the shoes. They are not good on wet rocks in streams.
Salomon Speedcross III
La Sportiva Anakonda
I was watching some trail running videos recently and saw some of the elite runners in La Sportiva Anakonda shoes. Trail running seems to be evolving into running/class 3 scrambling these days. Kilian Jornet with about 4% body fat and no pack can defy gravity with his minimalist shoes but I am not Kilian. Well, I’m not putting out six-minute miles (actually, I never did) but I am a 20-mile a day mountain backpacker that needs extra traction for climbing off trail. I am not wed to any brand. I have used the La Sportiva shoes and am still breaking them in. They have a rather ‘flat’ sole because the heal is not built up like most running shoes and is more like a racing flat. I was also surprised to see that the Anakondas and the Speedcross III shoes (size 12) were both the same weight at about 26 ounces a pair.
I am sure the minimalist style of running shoes will be in fashion for some time. They appeal to me because “less weight” has always been my mantra. Gone are the days however where I would run the trails of Yosemite with a tee shirt and shorts, water bottle, water purification pills and a flask of hammer gel.
Dale At Cloud's Rest