This year has been the year of the shoe for me. Or more accurately, many, many shoes. Trail running shoes specifically, but not just any trail running shoes – really, really comfy ones that can handle races that are now well over the 100km mark and still getting longer, without giving me debilitating blisters or devastating pain (or at least pain that isn’t caused by the sheer volume of distance covered alone)
Up until this year, I was lucky enough to have very few shoe and foot problems. I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I should have, either – when confronted with poor schmucks who tried to commiserate about their shoe woes, I just looked blankly at them. How hard could it be? It’s just a shoe. If it isn’t working, buy another one.
Since this blithe and naive attitude crashed and burned at the end of last year in a blaze of unending arch pain and weird blister patterns that persisted no matter what socks I wore, I have tried and abandoned many theoretically perfect styles and brands, desperate to find my perfect shoes as my races loomed closer and closer. My big goals for 2016, the Gorge 100km and the upcoming Fat Dog 120 mile, basically demand that I have as few “manageable” issues as possible going into them, because there are pretty much guaranteed to be bigger problems than my shoes to worry about.
As my coach Gary has repeatedly pointed out to me, pain and suffering in ultramarathons – specifically the distances I’m getting into – is inevitable. The challenge lies in postponing the inevitable for as long as possible, wherever possible.
So back to my shoes. A brief perusal of my ever-expanding shoe rack reveals a myriad of lightly-used but disproportionally muddy experiments (anyone a women’s size 8? Hit me up! Just don’t mind the smell…). Pearl Izumi N1’s, Inov8 270’s, Hoka Huaka’s have all been tried and discarded with sadness. In the spring, I had the opportunity to work with Saucony on their Runaways Vancouver campaign, which brought with it a plethora of exciting new trail shoe guinea pigs for me to try out.
The Peregrine 6’s were the ones I naturally gravitated towards first, being Saucony’s flagship trail shoe and a perennial “classic” in the trail running world. While there were many things I love about this shoe, such as cushy EVA foam and a long-distance friendly stack height of 25mm to 21mm, while retaining my ideal 4mm drop and featuring an impressively tacky rubber outsole, this same outsole also ended up being the dealbreaker for me. The tread noticeably flares out from the edge of the upper, and if you are a runner like me who likes to kick the inside of their opposite calf/ankle while they run (mud tracks, anyone?), this becomes a problem fairly quickly as the sturdy tread caused significant scrapes and abrasions on my opposite leg and ankle – which for the life of me, I couldn’t stop kicking and making worse. After collecting an impressive collection of enough scrapes to make people wonder if I doubled as a cat scratching post, this became a big enough problem to make me cross these ones off the list and go back to the drawing board.
Next up were the Nomad TR, which I started to break in with a sense of panic looming over me, as I was barely 6 weeks out from the Gorge 100km race at this point. A couple of 4-6 hour runs in them later, I was sold. Wider in the toebox than many traditional shoes, but not so wide in the midfoot and heel as to make me feel like I was wearing clown shoes, these shoes use a completely different (soft! Sleek! Non calf abrading!) outsole design than the Peregrine’s, instantly negating my beef with the painful tread of the aforementioned. With a stack height of 22mm to 18mm from heel to toe and a 4mm drop, these offer a little less cushion than the Peregrine’s, but on the soft and runnable terrain that the Gorge 100km features, they were a perfect fit. I happily lined up in them on race day, with backup options available at Aid Stations in the hopes that I wouldn’t need them. Approximately 10km into the race, I started noticing hot spots on the insides of my arches, which I hadn’t experienced before in these shoes. Odd. I crossed my fingers and carried on, hoping it wouldn’t get any worse, and luckily it didn’t progress to anything serious enough to make me change shoes into my (not great) backup options mid-race. However, this caused me some concern as I started to ramp up my training for a race that would be almost double in length, and combined with the fact that I started noticing the lack of a rockplate in these shoes, I decided to play Goldilocks for just a little longer to see if I could find “just right”.
Cue the Xodus ISO. What the heck are the Xodus ISO, you might ask? Good question – I asked that too. However, after wearing them for a 4 hour run right out of the box and feeling nothing but relief as my shoe woes from the previous 8 months seemed to float away before my eyes, I was hooked. These shoes are a long distance runner’s dream. Featuring the same 25mm – 21mm and 4mm drop of the Peregrine’s, the Xodus provide enormous cushion through the generous layer of EverRun foam that they’ve introduced to the 2016 model. I cannot say this enough –these shoes are so comfortable for long, fairly slow and high volume mileage, which is exactly what is needed when training for a 120 mile race. The tread is more similar to the Nomads than the Peregrine’s, and I (thankfully!) haven’t experienced issues with it taking a layer of skin off of my legs. However, it provides plenty of reliable grip, and after wearing these on a 85km weekend run that featured numerous creek and swamp crossings and traverses over fallen trees and slippery roots, I can honestly say that they can handle any terrain with ease. A fast shoe they are not, so if you are expecting a racing flat with a good feel for the ground, these are going to disappoint. But if you want an all seasons shoe that will perform consistently and needs no breaking in, this is your shoe.
So those are the pros. In the interest of full disclosure, here’s the cons that I found after putting approximately 400km on these shoes. The uppers started to wear on the outside of the right foot, despite the fact that the tread still looked brand new and barely touched. Also, the way that the toe lip curves over the shoe, I found that it was easy for small twigs and trail debris to kick up and become lodged in the top of the lacing system, which wasn’t a big deal but a bit of a nuisance to stop and remove. However, considering everything that this shoe does well, these issues haven’t been enough for me to stop loving this shoe.
Saucony has also recently released a new version, called the Xodus ISO Runshield, which features a beefier upper (which solves my issue with the wear patterns on the first pair), and a more flexible ISO-fit technology that moves with your foot.
I. Love. This. Shoe. They arrived a few weeks ago, and I promptly wore them for a 5 hour alpine adventure (snow slopes, scree chutes and mud pits? No problems!), followed by a total of 75km of trails over two days (how’s that for trial by fire??), and these shoes performed like champs. Zero issues, and the sleek new reinforced uppers protected my toes from any rocks and sticks that tried to jump off the trails at me.
So, ladies and gents, after a long, expensive, and sometimes painful search, I have finally fallen in love – and I feel like this time it’s for keeps. Stay tuned, because the ultimate relationship test, my daunting 122 mile (197km!!) race over 35-40 hours straight, featuring almost the same elevation gain as climbing Mt. Freaking. Everest, is fast approaching in – gulp – three days.
All I know is that, honeymoon phase aside, I have high hopes that me and my Xodus ISO Runshield are going to go all the way together.