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What’s the best kind of shoe for fell running, trail running or road running? Can you have one running shoe for all terrains? Joe Williams explains different kinds of running shoes and makes his recommendations.
I have been worried about making this admission for a while, but now the time has come: I have an addiction to buying running shoes. There, I said it. On last count I have 15 pairs. That’s embarrassing! They all have their specific use and I can tell you what kind of terrain they are best suited to and which race they’d be ideal for. I can tell you how much they weigh and what their heel-to-toe drop is. Some of them I love and use frequently, others I don’t like much and they rarely see the light of day. Some are so old and damaged that I can’t use them anymore, but I can’t bear to throw them away because of the – smelly – sentimental value they hold.
Running shoes are highly personal, and what’s perfect for one person won’t work for another. I prefer shoes on the lighter end of the spectrum, but some people may like supportive, highly cushioned shoes.
I won’t bore you by going through every pair of shoes I have. Instead, here’s a few of the best shoes for specific occasions: fell running, trail running and road running.
I live on the edge of England’s Lake District. In good conditions in the summer you can get away with wearing trail shoes in the mountains. But in the winter, with wet grass, bog, steep slopes, snow and ice, you can’t wear trail shoes. Well, you can, but you will be slithering around a lot, constantly falling over, making ‘whooooah’ noises and generally making your better equipped running partner laugh to the point of hysterics. You may be given the nickname ‘Bambi’ for the duration of the run. You may vow never to wear US-style trail shoes into the mountains ever again. This may have happened to me…
If you are running on the high mountains of Britain in winter you need some out-and-out fell shoes. The Mudclaw 300s are durable, comfortable and have amazing grip on wet soft ground. They feel terrible in the running shop (make sure you go to a specialist local store like Pete Bland Sports to try and buy) but excellent on the grassy traverses of the Kentmere Horseshoe.
124km (77 miles) into the 2016 UTMB race and I was closing in on Champex-Lac aid station. This is a big one where you can have a hot meal, see your support crew and take a few moments to prepare for the final 46km (28 miles) of the race. It seemed my trusty Brooks Cascadia trail running shoes were failing me, compressing my toes and not giving enough cushioning. While eating and drinking, Maddy (my crew/sister) handed me the Nike shoes. They were dusty from having worn them for the first 79km of the race, but I happily slipped them back on and headed out for the death-march/shuffle to the finish. My legs were cooked, but my feet were now happy.
Those shoes saw me through 125km of alpine terrain. They have a wide toe-box for toe splay, a great fitting upper and a decent, but not excessive outsole for grip. But best of all they have a protective and moderately cushioned outsole that just looks after your feet for miles and miles. There are lots of shoes similar to these on the market, but these are mine. They are my 100 mile racing shoes and I love them.
About a week before the 2016 London Marathon, I was informed by a friend that my road running shoes (Saucony Kinvaras) smelled like they were rotting. They were right – something was growing or decaying in the fabric of the shoes. The grip was all gone on the outsole and the midsole cushioning was dead. I needed some new shoes, but now was not the time! Everyone knows that new shoes before an important race is a big no-no, but I had no option. I went to the running shop and picked up a pair of the Adizeros. And it was a good decision.
A week later and with a few easy runs in the shoes and I was standing on the starting line at London. It truly is one of the great running races of the world – even a mountain runner like me enjoyed it! The Adizeros carried me to the finish line for a new personal best and no blisters. The magic of these shoes is the midsole material: Boost. It is a springy, responsive and cushioned, even in the thin layer you get on the Adizeros. The fit is fairly narrow, but you feel fast as hell wearing them. I save them for races, special occasions and when I want to beat my friends at parkrun.
These are some of my favourite shoes for various reasons. But by far the most important thing in a shoe is the fit. It doesn’t matter how good the grip is or how cushioned they are: if they don’t fit perfectly you’ll hate them.
Postscript: After writing this article I realised how ridiculous it was to own 15 pairs of running shoes. So I sent seven pairs to be recycled at Runners Need. I’m now down to: