Friday, January 14, 2011

Minimalism and My Shoes Choices for the New Year

The shoes to the left are my New Balance MT101s with the mud and timing chip from the North Face Challenge 50K. This race will be the last one for these shoes. I've made a decision to try to limit the differential from heel to toe on my shoes to a 6mm drop or less. These are 10mm so they are outside this window. They are really a good shoe and have served me well, however, I have found the extra heel to slowly erode away at my form and allow for a little more sloppy running than I'd like.

I found my way to the New Balance MT100 and MT101 (the 101 was an update to the 100) because I got a very bad rock bruise while descending a 6.5 mile 3,600 ft climb on a very rocky trail/road here in Eastern Oregon wearing my Vibram FiveFinger Treks. I spent the better part of two months slowly trying to recover while still wearing the Treks and the trail version of Soft Star RunAmoc running moccasins without much success. I kept re-bruising the same spot on the ball of my right foot. This led me eventually to the New Balance MT100 as I was continuing to crank up the mileage for my first 50k and couldn't afford to simply take the time off to let the foot heal. I have since then slowly made my way back down the minimalism spectrum to where my go to trail shoe is the Inov-8 F-Lite 195 and X-Talon 190, both of which have a 3mm heel-toe drop and not as much cushioning as the MT100/101s and weigh hardly more than a FiveFinger.

I know for most people the MT101 is a minimal shoe...I supposed it is to me too or I wouldn't have considered it. However, with the 10mm drop it allows for my heel to land much earlier (read microseconds) than it would without the heel. Even if landing on the forefoot or mid-foot (natural foot strike for barefoot running) in these shoes your heel inevitable lands earlier because of the heel lift. I tried, without much success, to cut the heel down on my MT100s, but it was very hard to get an even cut all the way through to ensure a consistent surface on the rear half of the shoe. That said, the MT101s are now relegated to being used sparingly only when I feel that my calves or tendons have been overworked and need a little break without actually taking time off.

Because I started my running career in Vibram FiveFinger KSO's I became a staunch minimalist and was not willing to compromise with a shoe that had any cushioning or heel on that time FiveFingers and barefoot were really the only option. Since then many companies have come forward with more minimal offerings in a wide spectrum from completely zero drop to moderate heel heights (4-6mm). I've also, through my experience had to temper my initial barefoot enthusiasm and now look at shoes as tools to use if and when appropriate. My guiding axiom for shoe selection is: "Don't wear more protection than necessary for the terrain to be run on."

Now, I know this can be different for some people than others and believe that shoe selection is really a personal issue. It includes being able to read your body and know it is responding/recovering to the running you are doing. I've found that road running requires less cushioning than trail running, and the technicality of the trail also changes shoe selection. Note: I have NOT found arch support, pronation control, or much cushioning (around more than 10mm of cushioning) necessary for any running condition, therefore probably 90% of shoes on the market are quickly not considered. This is my bias towards minimalism and for carrying the lightest and least amount of shoe possible on my feet for the task at hand. I want the shoe to adapt to my foot rather than my foot having to adapt to the shoe.

For me, I have used or plan to use these shoes for the purposes listed below. Some of the shoes listed I have owned for over a year and a half and some I have yet to try but plan to. Also note, I'm an experimenter and therefore like to constantly try new ways/approaches to gear and training. I by no means feel that the amount of shoes I own or list are necessary to run. A pair for road and a couple of different pairs for trails are all that would be necessary to the serious runner. I may get there someday (which would be part of the goal for a minimalist), but part of that process is finding what works well and what doesn't.

Here is the list (YTBR indicates "yet to be released" and as so I've not tried them, but intend to use them for the category listed):

  • Road Training: Vibram FiveFingers (KSO, Sprint, Bikila), Luna Sandals, Terra Plana Evo, Soft Star RunAmoc Lite Street, Inov-8 Road X-Lite 155 (YTBR).
  • Road Racing: Vibram FiveFingers (KSO, Sprint, Bikila), Terra Plana Evo, Mizuno Wave Universe 3, and Inov-8 Road X-Lite 155 (YTBR).
  • Non-Technical Trail (elevation gain less than 100ft/mile and minimal rocks): Inov-8 F-Lite 195, Inov-8 F-Lite 230, Leadville Luna Sandals, Vibram FiveFinger Trek (probably sparingly), Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 (YTBR, when muddy/soft), Merrel Trail Glove (YTBR), and New Balance Minimus Trail (YTBR)
  • Hardpack Technical Trail (elevation gain > 100ft/mile and worse footing and/or rocks): Inov-8 F-Lite 195, Inov-8 Roclite 285, Inov-8 F-Lite 230, Merrell Trail Glove and New Balance Minimus Trail (YTBR, depending on the level of rock protection for both of these and probably only on shorter runs)
  • Soft/Muddy Technical Trail and Off-Trail: Inov-8 X-Talon 190, Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 (YTBR, if enough protection from rocks), Inov-8 Roclite 285, Inov-8 X-Talon 212, and Inov-8 Oroc 280 (for off trail and very slippery conditions only because they have metal tips embedded in the shoe)
  • Winter Training (temps below freezing, with snow/slush/ice): Inov-8 Oroc 280 (especially great for ice), Inov-8 X-Talon 190, Inov-8 F-Lite 195 (cold hardpack snow), Inov-8 Bare-Grip 200 (YTBR), Inov-8 Road X-Lite 155 (YTBR, for road), Terra Plana Evos (for road), InovCrescent Moon Gold 12 running/racing snowshoes (deeper packed snow), Crescent Moon Gold 10 snowshoes (backcountry snowshoeing)
  • Recovery/very occasional use: New Balance MT101 (to relieve achilles/peroneal tendons and calves)

Ok, that is quite the listing, I realize, but hopefully it was either interesting or helpful to someone :). You might have noticed a lot of Inov-8 shoes in the list and this is partly because I'm a semi-sponsored runner for them (see sponsors page). But mostly (and this is the reason I applied for sponsorship with them), it is because they have a whole host of neutral trail shoes with a 6mm drop or less with more sole types for specific off road uses than I thought existed (all the shoes listed above besides the MT101s are 6mm drop or less). So far I have been very impressed with their shoes and gear and hope to get extensive time in some of the models I haven't tried yet. If you are looking for trail shoes, especially for technical terrain, I think Inov-8 has the most options for the minimalist runner.

Yes, New Balance (w/the Minimus), Saucony (w/the Peregrine), and a few others (Altra, Stem) are starting to come out with minimal trail shoes, but so far these companies are only offering one model for trail running, where as there are 8-10 Inov-8 shoes that I would say fit the minimalist criteria for non technical and technical trail running. More selection means being able to choose the most appropriate shoe for the task at hand and this hopefully leads to the most enjoyable and injury free running experience.

I promise not all my running posts this year will be so gear oriented :). Hope you all are getting out in some form or fashion this's tough in someways in the winter, but it has its charms and rewards too.


Big Poppa said...

So, why a 6mm drop? Why not 5? Why not 4? I have to admit that it seems to me a little arbitrary to choose one number. If you find the perfect 7mm drop shoe, will you skip it? I would assume not, but I would like to know where 6mm comes from. Also, Merrell is coming out with their 0-drop Trail Glove in February, has GREAT reviews. It is fun to follow your adventures!


David Henry said...

6mm because that is what a majority of the available shoes from Inov-8 are an I feel it is a significant difference from the standard shoe which is 12mm. Inov-8 has 5 levels of cushion and drop they go from 12mm to 9 to 6 to 3 to 0. There are currently three 3mm drop shoes and 1 0 drop from them an the majority are 6mm with a handful above that. The other minimal shoes I'm considering such as the minimus are all either 4mm or zero drop so I picked 6 to give me the most options and I think 6 is still a flat enough shoe that I don't notice the heel as much as say with the mt101s. Really the number is not of great significance and I really would prefer zero.

By the way, I have heard about the Merrell shoes and list them in the post under non-technical trail and hardpack trail. Talk to you soon.

David Henry said...

Typed on my iPod touch and I re read my comment and it seemed a little direct. Not intended. I always appreciate the comments :).

Big Poppa said...

Definitely didn't sound direct, thanks for elaborating. I read about shoes a lot, but don't buy or test many. I have my VFF, Luna's and now some MT101's. I don't really notice the heel lift, maybe because I am not used to the cushion, little as it is. Anyway, it's nice to hear your view on shoes, simply because you obviously spend a lot of time thinking about and testing shoes.

P.S. We're praying for you guys as the due date approaches, you guys will do great!