Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The First Step is Admitting You Have a Problem - My Running Shoe Collection Overview

Maybe this scene is familiar to you:
I came home from a run last week, took my shoes off, and put them... in a pile of three other pairs of running shoes.

The Wife often comments that my running shoes must breed like rabbits because they're all over the house. Now, I'm not sure how much of that is due to the fact that I'm not naturally the most organized/tidy person, and how much is due to the absolute number of shoes residing in our house. Nevertheless, I decided the little shoe mosh pit was a little unsightly, and so gathered them up and put them with the rest of my shoes. This got me thinking - exactly how many pairs of running shoes do I have exactly? How many do I regularly use? Are there any I could (GASP!) get rid of?

The Wife was out so I could safely proceed with this investigation without catching too much grief... at least not during...
I gathered up all my shoes and brought them downstairs and put them all in a row, like some kind of crazy family portrait. Here they are.

I probably could have taken a pic from the front, so that way all the shoes were equally visible. But really, what this excercise taught me is that I have a lot of shoes, and there was basically no way to put them all in one pic in such a way to make them all plainly visible. Also, this way you get to see our shibas. Hachiko approves. Oh, and I'm missing a pair that was at work when I took this photo.

Here's a shot from the other side. Inari is like "WTF mate?"

So, to make things a little easier to work with, I decided to put them into groups:

  1. Trail shoes
  2. Road shoes
  3. Retired shoes
  4. Undecided
First up, the trail shoes. These are shoes that I will grab if I'm headed out for a trail run, pretty simple.

Clockwise working our way from the top down, left to right we have 1) Merrell Trail Glove (there should be another pair in the amazon colorway right next to the grey/yellow one), 2 & 3) New Balance MT110, one in regular width and one in wide, 4)Montrail FluidFlex, 5) Montrail Rogue Racer.

The Trail Gloves are my absolute favorites of all of them. I've done two road marathons in them. I've logged hundreds of trail miles in them. Gone hiking, and worn them casually. They are, hands down my first love when it comes to shoes. But, sadly I haven't been able to run in them pretty much since last spring due to the achilles strain. Up until very recently, zero-drop shoes would put too much stress on my admittedly not-entirely-healed-right achilles' tendon.

The MT110 is my go-to shoe for gnarly or muddy terrain and are the shoes I have complete faith in to carry me the distance in long- or ultra- distance trail races. I got the size wide last year before Ice Age Trail to accomodate the foot swelling that typically accompanies a 6-8 hour run, and discovered that it just plain fits better, so the regular width hasn't seen much action since.

The Rogue Racers were my first pair of cushioned trail shoes, predating the MT110 (and a pair of MT101s which I returned to Backcountry) but they hadn't seen much use after I got the MT110s. That is, until this winter. I discovered that the 10 mm drop took just enough of the load off my achilles to allow me to really get back into running. And as such, virtually all of the miles I've logged since January have been in the Rogue Racers. They're a little too frowzy for my taste for long runs over even moderately technical terrain. Additionally, I've worked my way back to zero-drop on the road, and 4 mm on the trails, so I'm not sure how much action the Rogue Racers will see in the mid to long term. Good object lesson here though, like any tool - you never know when you might need something, so don't be afraid to keep (almost) everything. The RRs sat on a shelf for easily a year before I dusted them off out of desparation, and they ended up being exactly what I needed.

The Montrail Fluid Flex is the newest pair out of the bunch and I've only logged one run in them. They felt great: light, grippy and fast with moderately firm cushioning. But, I developed a blister on the back my left ankle where the heel collar was rubbing. The collar is actually fairly rigid feeling and isn't very soft. Maybe it'll break down and become more pliable, but for now it's got me wondering whether I should send it back to RunningWarehouse. I'll let the blister heal then try it again.

Next are the "road shoes"

Right away you probably noticed something. Yeah, that's right, the Montrail FluidFlex and Rogue Racer make another appearance. That's because these are the shoes that I will pick from if I'm going to be out on the roads, not just the "road shoes." Ya dig? Similarly, I used to do a TON of road running in a pair of Merrel Trail gloves, but since I got the Bare Access I have reserved the Trail Gloves almost exclusively for the trais.
As noted earlier, I've done pretty much all of my running this winter in the Rogue Racers and since the trails were not in great shape this winter, and not great for my healing injury, most of those miles were on the road. And you know what? It makes a damned fine road shoe. The same can be said of the FluidFlex. Great road shoe, with the added bonus of probably being a really good trail shoe on all but the most technical of terrain.
That brings us to the bottom two pairs, from left to right: Merrell Bare Access and Altra Instinct. I've got about 100 miles on the Altra Instinct, but I rarely reach for it as my first choice. For me, they're kinda like the minivan of shoes. They're the kind of shoes where you can never go wrong in them... but by the same token nothing about them really blows my skirt up. I never feel fast in them, and I definitely never feel "sexy" cruising around in them (read: clown shoes). But I keep them because, well, sometimes I don't need a pair of shoes that makes me get all hot and bothered and makes me want to take my top off. Sometimes I just need a pair of shoes that will get me where I need to go, get me home safely, and I that I know won't hurt me. I'm sure there's some kind of dating metaphor in there somewhere.
The Bare Access I got last Summer and I've run in them here and there. In many ways, they are like the perfect road analogue to the trail glove. Light, firm, flexible, perfect fit. As I've now worked my way back to being able to run in zero-drop shoes, I think I'm going to be logging a lot more miles in the Bare Access. I also think that they will probably be the first pair of running shoes that I actually wear out. I've noticed a decent ammount of wear on the lateral heel, and it's only a matter of time before I totally burn that sucker out.
Next in our showcase are the "retired" shoes
Clockwise from the top left we have: Nike Free (unknown vintage and model), Saucony Kinvara, Vibram Fivefingers Bikila, Vivobarefoot Evo II. The Nike Frees are, like a good many people, the shoes I started my little running adventure in. Interestingly though, I bought them as casual kicks and ended up just throwing them on one day and going for a run. I don't know what version or model they are. I want to say they are first generation 5.0, but I'm honesly not sure. I only have one of the two sets of insoles that they came with and those are labeled 4.5. Anyway, these days they're a bit narrower than I prefer so I pretty much just use them as casual shoes. They're still crazy comfortable.
The Kinvaras were one of the first pairs of running shoes I bought after I started "running" as a dedicated activity. Up to that point I had been going all in on the minimalist train, mostly running in Merrell Trail Gloves or huaraches. I got a pair to try as they were highly recommended by Pete Larson over at Runblogger. However, these were the shoes that taught me that not every kind of cushioning works with everyone's body. This is where I learned that my knees do NOT take kindly to squishy midsoles. I know a lot of people dig on that kind of softer ride, but for me it does something wierd to my form that results in a one way ticket to the hurt locker aboard the pain train. Choo-choo baby. Over time, it's become a little less dramatic than that one run where my knees ended up hurting so badly mid half way that I had ended up having to give up and walk 2 miles back home barefoot, rather than keep wearing them. Also, they only give me problems when running. So, since they are otherwise super comfy, I often use them as my "recovery shoes" - the pair I wear after I total jack up my feet and legs. After my last two trail 50k finishes I think I wore them exclusively for at least 3 days.
Finally, are the Bikilas. What can I say about the feel of the Vibram Bikilas that hasn't already been said in a zillion reviews on the web? All I know is that they feel super fast, and I always end up feeling like Pre blazing through my neighborhood, hair blowing in the wind (not actualy blazing, but it feels like it anyway)... right up until I, without fail, develop a blister on the instep of one or both of my feet. So yeah, they're fun to throw on from time to time, but they don't see much action. Admittedly, they're the shoes I keep around so when people go "do you have those toe shoes?" I can honestly say, "yeah, but I run in other minimalist shoes because they're better."
The Evo II are also one of my first pairs of running shoes. They're actually great shoes. With the insole removed, there's almost nothing I own that provides better ground feel. They have a nice a wide forefoot, wider than anything else I own. They're also kinda cool looking, and are still unusual enough that I get questions about them during races and stuff. Initially, I suffered the same heel biting issue I'm currently dealing with with the Montrail Fluid Flex. But, after some time, and prodigious use of body glide, they got to the point where that's no longer an issue. Honestly, the only problem with them now? 1) They're kinda heavy for what they are, 2) I have so many better shoes now, and 3) they stink. Seriously. Last April I wore them for a day of hiking in the Blue Mountains in Australia. During that hike we ended up trudging through some little streams and stuff and by the end of they day they had acquired the most horrendous smell. And it didn't really wash out either. I'm not sure if we were wading through a stream of wombat piss or something but man... As a result, they have largely sat, in a bag, in a corner. Out of sight out of mind. Actually, it was for this post that I pulled them out for the first time in a while and gave them a little sniff... Tentatively, I'm willing to give them a solid "maybe." Anyway, the Evo II are a lesson in what can happen sometimes when you use your stuff hard, the way you're supposed to. Occassionally, stuff gets really screwed up.
Which brigs us to our final group, the "undecideds"
Left to right, Inov-8 f-lite 195 and Skechers GoRun.
These are the shoes where, honestly, I haven't run in them enough to form any kind of opinion. I think I've run in the Inov-8 like twice and the Skechers like 4 times. The only thing I know is that I can't wear the GoRun without socks as I get blisters from the footbed. Other than that, only time will tell. They're both pretty darned comfy though, and the f-lite 195s are potentially another great all around pair of shoes. The GoRun may end up being a tiny bit too goofy for me, but I'm willing to keep an open mind.
So anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little romp through my "little" shoe collection. If there are any pairs that you have any specific question, drop a comment and let me know.


  1. I blew a fortune on minimal shoes. I would buy one pair, not be sure about the fit, buy another pair (often the same on, just one size smaller). Run a bit. After a while I would find something wrong with the shoes and try another model. I cannot cannot be sure that a shoe fits well if I don't run in it and wear it for a while. Then I have to sell them for a loss, because I can't return them. I could just keep them around but I need to de-clutter.

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