If you’ve subscribed to my newsletter, you likely know I completed my first 100km in the hills of Lake District, UK.
But can you believe I was in a pickle for what trail shoe to wear for the race?
I put enough shoes on my feet; surely I could find the perfect shoe, right?
Well, I didn’t. So I went exploring, and I’d like to explain my journey as I hope it will help you find your next shoe, whether you’re running 100km, 50km, or 5km.
In all my reviews, I start with the fit of the shoe. And that’s for a good reason.
If a shoe doesn’t fit, it’ll never work.
So even if the shoe is made specifically to make you go 10% faster, if it doesn’t fit, you may go 100% slower! (as in…. DNF)
My feet are relatively average, with a little extra width in the midfoot.
They’re in between a straight and a fan shape.
My toe splay isn’t huge.
And my depth is fairly average.
All that means is I’m pretty lucky, and most shoes will work for me. The only barefoot shoe options that are not great for me are super wide, super deep options.
Brands I tend to opt for are Xero Shoes and Altra’s, with the occasional Vivobarefoot.
So that’s where I started my exploration!
Choosing the right shoe for the job!
Next up after fit is matching the features of a shoe to the race conditions.
For example. If running in wet, muddy conditions, you need a shoe with a good grip and adequate drains.
Alternatively, for dry, rocky conditions, you want a durable shoe with good breathability and protection.
But that’s not where it stops, though.
You must look in the mirror and reflect on your current running condition and shoe history. Have you run the distance before? How is your barefoot strength? What shoes have you used in training?
This is what I did, and I came to a conclusion you may be surprised with.
I chose a higher stack zero drop shoe
Higher stack!? But you’re a barefoot runner, aren’t you?
That’s mostly true, but I’m not married to the idea that minimal shoes are the correct choice for all runs. And this situation proved that perfectly.
I’ve never done 100km before. And in my previous 50km race in minimal shoes, I had a lot of knee stiffness.
The logical choice was to find a solution to lessen the load on my lower legs and knees. Or do a bunch of strength training to improve my resilience, but with 6 weeks to go, it was too late for that!
Lastly, I only choose zero-drop because that’s what I’ve done best with in the past. I’m not against a shoe with a tiny drop, but I’ve not had enough experience to jump into that now.
Altra Olympus – The stack height is way too high for me.
Altra Lone Peak – I’ve had midfoot pain in this model in the past.
Altra Superior – Too minimal for this race
Altra Timp – The outsole is not aggressive enough.
Topo – I’d not had enough experience in them to be confident in choosing a model so close to the race.
Hello, Altra Mont Blanc.
A higher stack trail shoe with a hint of rocker and an aggressive outsole.
It’s race-ready and zero drop. Sounds perfect, eh?
After 3 weeks of lacing, lacing, and re-lacing, there was no chance the Mont Blanc would work for me. The fit was all wrong, and my heel was slipping on every run (I’ve never had that in any other shoe).
I had 3 weeks left, and that’s not enough to find another new shoe.
Xero Shoes Mesa Trail II – I love this shoe, but that’s what I ran the 50km in. Too minimal
Vivobarefoot Primus Trail Knit – I wasn’t finding the fit too great, and it was still too minimal.
Last stop – Xero Shoes Scrambler Low
I was lucky enough to get these shoes for review in late summer. And to my surprise, I really enjoyed running in them.
The upper had a hint of old Altras, and the stack height was nicely in the range between high stack and minimal.
What the Xero Shoes Scrambler Low had going for it:
- The fit was fantastic. I never had any sore spots or blisters
- The outsole was aggressive enough for the English mud.
- The stack height was higher than the Mesa Trail II.
But there were drawbacks to these shoes, too:
- A little more minimal than I wanted.
- The upper became a bit little sloppy after +20km
- The upper holds onto a lot of water
But hey, that list isn’t too bad! At least they fit well.
That’s not what this post is about.
I wanted to give you a sneak peek into my shoe selection choice so you can learn from my thinking.
I also wanted to show you how hard it is to get right! And in the end, you usually have to compromise.
There’s likely no perfect shoe out there, but you must find the least-worst option! 🙂
So next time you’re looking for a shoe, use the following points.
- Get the fit right!
- Match the shoe to the conditions you’ll be in
- Compromise on all the aspects you thought were important in a shoe. 🙂
Oh, and by the way. I finished the race with zero shoe issues. Even though my feet were super wet, I never needed to change my shoes or socks once. In the end, the Scrambler Low was the best choice for me.