It’s not me, it’s you. Or is it me?

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I have a love/hate relationship with my running shoes. On the one hand, I love them because they’ve kept me going when the going gets tough, and I log many, many miles in my trusty sneakers as I explore treacherous, slippery trails, wade through creeks, and scramble over boulder fields. I develop a bond with my shoes – we’re a team, and we’re working together. My garage is a graveyard of retired shoes, and the holes in the uppers and bald, tread-less soles speak to the love we once shared together. I have a great deal of difficulty parting with these sad, decrepit shoes once they’ve exceeded their shelf life, despite their failing form and decidedly unsavoury aromas. They have all shared in my victories and defeats, and they’ve been my biggest supporters – some more than others – in this crazy journey I’m on.
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, my shoes are very important to me. I’ve had a few fleeting periods of time over the past few years where my shoes did everything right, and I religiously stuck with them over and over again, hoping they would be my 4ever solemates.

Last year, those shoes were the Pearl Izumi N2’s. I went through four consecutive pairs during the bulk of last year’s training, they never once needed breaking in or caused me so much as a single hotspot, and I wore them with great success at both of my longest races of 2015, the Gorge 100km and Fat Dog 70 Miler.

Approximately 40 miles into Fat Dog, however, I started getting some pretty serious pain through my arches… not a good thing. Much of this can no doubt be chalked up to my body’s reluctance to run for +16 hours straight (shocker), but I nonetheless flagged the issue as a potential problem. Months later and still wearing a (new but otherwise identical) version of the same shoe, I kept noticing that this burning pain would return after only a few hours on the trails. Not good. Was it my shoes, or some sort of stress fracture, or a combo of the above? I wasn’t sure, but the first thing that had to be revisited was my footwear. I went back to the drawing board, and for the past few months I’ve been cycling through shoes trying to find a pair that works. And for the record: Yes, this does mean that I’m currently ignoring the possibility of a more serious problem like stress fractures, but allow me to live in ignorance for just a little while longer until I’ve satisfied myself on the shoe front – aka, that it’s me, not you.

I’ve learned two things through this exhaustive testing process (that kind of feels like speed dating, oddly enough… swipe left, swipe right, move on):

• It’s expensive. Shoes are not cheap, and this is an especially painful truth when you are cycling through a pair a month trying to find “the ones”.

• It can also be literally painful, as the trial and error phase invariably involves fun experiments like trying out shoes without rock plates (a whole lotta ouch), or wearing sizing that feels fine until you try to run downhill after your feet swell up slightly (my toenails will never be the same). Also, apparently my left foot is slightly bigger than my right foot? At least, that’s what the blister patterns tell me…

Anyways. I am now four months into my shoe experimentation, and have so far tested out the Inov-8 270’s (the lack of a rockplate just didn’t cut it for my wussy feet), the Salomon Speedcross 3’s (great tread on technical terrain, but sizing is a bit weird and they are either too big or slightly too small), and I’m currently dabbling with the Pearl Izumi N1’s (yes I know, almost full circle, but there are subtle differences in the design which give me cause for optimism). All I want is to find the shoe that has everything – the perfect cushioning to go far, the perfect tread to grip slippery roots and forest service roads alike, and the perfect combination of light materials and durable support. Essentially, I want one shoe that does it all. Is that too much to ask?? 🙂

I haven’t figured out the answer to this yet. My experiences so far tell me that every shoe sacrifices some aspects in the interest of others, and that I need to prioritize what I want out of my shoes. However, I’m not quite willing to concede defeat yet.

Looking for opinions! Is there one shoe that “does it all” for you, or should I be content with a shoe that does “some things very well and some things well enough”? What shoes are you loving right now?

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2 thoughts on “It’s not me, it’s you. Or is it me?”

  1. My first go to shoe for many years was Montrail Masochist for their amazing grip. As I went longer (only 50 mi) I LOVED the Altra (Olympus I think…lotsa cush, but not as much as Hokas, meh grip but worked great for Fat Dog)- my feet were the ONLY thing that didn’t hurt! Altra’s newer line didn’t impress, so I took a gamble with Saucony Xodus – it seems to have the cush of Altra, plus the rocking “vibram” grip of Montrail. It depends on our feet of course. I like a BIG toe box, and a flexible sole as the stiffer soles tend to make my Achilles work harder. Just my opinion.

  2. I got into a conversation with a R4L guy at REI the other day with an interesting perspective on shoes…it went a little something like this:

    (Keep in mind that I’m a relatively noob runner….but you know that…)

    ‘There really is no perfect shoe, and the life of a shoe will change as will your legs and feet while you are using that shoe…his suggestion was to rotate through different shoes and run in series so that the subtle changes in support, fit and form will help your feet/legs develop more completely…strengthening muscles that might otherwise not be used with one single shoe.’

    Also, this fellow couldn’t say enough about the benefits of barefoot jump rope as a means of helping to train for running.

    Currently employing this method with a pair of Pearl N1’s, N2’s and Patagonia Tsali 3.0 (Sadly discontinued)….it has been a pretty big change for me…and my knees have been thanking me…just some thought for consideration

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