Shoes & Gear

How to get the right fit

How to get the right fit

One of the most common questions among new trail runners is which brand of shoes should they buy?  I have heard people say, “my friend says I should wear Cascadia’s, Hoka’s or New Balance 110’s because that is what everyone wears on the trails”.  While yes a lot of people do wear these brands and they all are excellent shoes it doesn’t mean it is the right shoe for your foot.  Some people have narrow feet, others have a wide foot and some people need more padding in a shoe like the Hoka’s will provide and others run better with a minimalist shoe like the New Balance 110’s.  So which shoe is right for you and how do you go about picking out the right brand?

First everyone needs to realize that nearly all the shoe manufacturers make a shoe that will fit your needs in one way or another but when you’re selecting a trail shoe you want an all around perfect fit.  My first suggestion is to put aside the preconceived notion that the cooler the shoe looks, the better it will feel.  In general they seem to make trail shoes as ugly as possible which alleviates the peer pressure of selecting a shoe because it is a sweet color or brand name.  Several brands of trail shoes are designed to provide the average trail runner protection from the rocks, tree roots, and gravel and the lighter, more minimalist shoes are designed for people who run softer on their feet and are looking to lug around less weight.  If you’re looking for a shoe that is going to provide your foot with stability and great rock protection I don’t advise going out and picking up the NB 110’s which do have a rock plate but since the shoe is so light and nimble it is not going to provide the same protection as the Cascadia’s , Hoka’s or La Sportiva’s.  

It is all about the fit
So what should you look for when you purchase a shoe?  Ultra Runners and trail runners performance can easily be hindered by blisters, hot spots, or bruised toe nails so first you want to make sure you get the correct size.  I have heard people say they buy whatever size shoe they wear but my suggestion for trails is to buy one size bigger depending upon the model. I know there are some women who prefer to buy a shoe size smaller because they don’t want to appear to have big feet, who cares! Remember this is trail running, we wear compression socks, short shorts, carry hydration packs, and wear ugly shoes. After you have chosen the correct size make sure you tie your shoe up correctly so your foot won’t move too far forward in the shoe on the downhills causing your toes to slam into the front of the shoes. Now check your heel movement and figure out how much support you want in your midfoot.  Does your foot move around in the shoe when it is tied up?  Try changing your socks to the same brand you’ll race in, if your still getting too much movement determine if either the shoe is not a good fit or you have the wrong size.  Hop on the treadmill at the running shop and set the incline so you can see how the shoe feels when you’re climbing, while going fast, and move your foot back and forth across the ground to make sure your feet are not slamming into the toe box when you stop.  If you’re getting a lot of heel movement in them don’t be surprised if you start developing blisters.  If your foot hits the front of the toe box you’ll probably get all kinds of bruised toe nails and eventually you’ll be posting on your facebook how you now only have 7 toe nails.

What I look for in a Shoe
My shoe of choice is the Inov-8 Talon 212’s because I have a very narrow foot, prefer a lightweight trail shoe with deep lugs for protection from the rocks, and no sand or gravel seems to penetrate the shoe which prevents any unnecessary rubbing and blisters.  I typically will get 300 miles out of a pair of these and if I was running on smoother more manicured trails there is no doubt that I could hit 500 miles.  My training ground is rock infested and makes the trails of Bandera, Texas look smooth like the top of a pool table.  For the Talon’s I wear one size larger than my normal running shoes and I have never had a blister, black toe nail, or bruised foot from wearing them.  Many shoes tell you to break them in before wearing but I will take these right out of the box before a race, slap them on my feet and go run 100 miles. I have completed two 100K’s and a 100 mile race by pulling the shoes right out of the box and going to race.  Does this mean it is the right shoe for you?  Absolutely not, it means it is a shoe that has worked wonders for me and in the area I train this is my shoe of choice.  I rotate between five pairs of Talon 212’s so they all feel the same when I go out to run.   I will be running the 50 mile USATF Nueces Championship this weekend by pulling out a new pair and throwing them on my feet and I expect nothing different as I have done this time after time.  Nothing better than being able to break a pair of shoes in at a race or on a long run.

Live and Learn
Before I wore the Talon’s my shoe of choice was the Cascadia 4’s and 5’s.  I swore by these shoes because of my perceived weak ankles on the rocks and the stability they provided until I became a better runner.  The Cascadia’s always gave me the feeling of comfort on my feet but they also felt heavier than any shoe I had ever owned.  For some this is ideal because the rock plate is excellent, the fit is right in between a narrow and wide foot, and the toe box is comfortable without being too roomy. I could easily run 500 miles in a pair of the Cascadia’s and not have any foot issues but when I started to run better and my downhill technique improved I wanted a lighter, grippier shoe, that I could bounce off the rocks in and that’s when I put the 212’s on my feet and they only come off when I hit the pavement.

Again I am not saying one of these shoes will be good for you to wear but if you put your feet through the right tests you’ll walk out of your local running store with the perfect fit for you.  Remember don’t get sucked into that cool color or design, let your foot do the deciding.  There is nothing worse than running an trails with banged up feet and who in the world wants to run a 100 miles with blisters and black toe?

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This post was written by:

- who has written 22 posts on Trail Running Club.

Started running for the first time in my life three year's ago after losing my Dad to a pulmonary embolism at the age of 58 and since he began running he has lost close to 100 pounds. On 9/23/2012 Jay finished a running streak of 923 Consecutive days with at least 4 miles while compiling over 9,400 miles with 975,000+ feet of elevation gain and completed 15 Ultra's in honor of his Dad who passed away on 9/23/2008. Jay holds a Bachelor's Degree from Michigan State University in Crop and Soil Sciences.

Jay's recent trail ultra running results:

• 13th OA at San Diego 100M in 22:01:26
• 10 Top Ten Ultra Finishes in 14 races
• 4th overall at Lean Horse 100 in 19:01:12
• 9th overall at Javelina Jundred in 2011 in 18:28:26
• 100K Javelina Night Run Champion in 2011
• Cave Creek Thriller 50K Champion in 2010
• Runner up in 2011 DRT Ultra Series

2013 Race Schedule includes:
• Castle Hot Springs 22M
• Phoenix Marathon
• 3 Days of Syllamo
• Miwok 100K
• Speedgoat 50K
• Pike's Peak Marathon
* Mogollon Monster 100

Jay Danek is sponsored by iRun Honey Stinger

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