Tuesday, 25 May 2010

A tale of three trail shoes

Although I've been an Adidas girl (road and trail; middle-range shoes primarily- they just suit my feet) for the past decade, I do occasionally try out other brands. Over the last 18-months I haven't been wearing Adidas' trail shoes as I've been experimenting by running in off-road offerings from Asics, Hi-Tec and Salomon.

As Gear Editor for Runner's World SA magazine I got to slip my foot into almost every new model by every brand available in SA. Good thing too that the demo size sent was usually my size. My size is usually just outside women's sizing curve so I've run in mens shoes (road and trail) 98% of the time in the past 17 years. Putting my foot into all these shoes made me curious and keen to broaden my horizons by trying some different brands and shoe models - trail.

Asics Gel Trabuco 10 & 12
I've always found the Asics foot-in-feel to fit well. My first Asics was the Asics Gel Trabuco 10, mens. I thoroughly enjoyed this pair and they did good distance with good comfort. They're slightly more firm than Adidas (particularly the Adidas Response TR model) so the sole has that bit more longevity before feeling flat.

I like that there are no bumps and other such mouldings in the shoe, especially under my arch. Toe box is a decent width, which is important because squished toes mean blistered and triangle-shaped little piggies. Also good toe protection on the front of the shoe.

Towards the end of last year I needed to replace these shoes so I went for the Asics Gel Trabuco 12, women's model. I did try on both mens and womens in-store and this time around the womens had a more snug fit. It seemed like there are a bit too much air around my arch (I like the upper from the base of my arch, inside mid-foot, to fit well) and also in the toe box area in the mens model. The women's shoe had a better fit overall.

Although I've done quite a few events and training runs in this shoe, I just haven't settled into it as well as the previous version, despite the good foot-in-feel. I've been picking up blisters on my little toes, left foot mainly and initially left heel was biting. Overall I'm just not feeling confident in this shoe, especially over longer distances. That said, the sole is a good one in terms of having enough firmness to handle rocks and things that prod into your sole; and enough cushioning to make running on hard-packed dirt roads and even tar quite comfortable.

This certainly isn't a negative on the shoe, brand or model but more a comment on how shoes do differ from one year to the next - whether upper fabrics or more major updates - and they can also differ between left and right AND, of course, male and female version differ.

Remember, ultimately shoe comfort comes down to YOUR FOOT and how well a shoe is suited to your foot shape. And this is unrelated to brand, model, price or colour (especially colour!).

For my feet, the Gel Trabuco 10, mens was a much better shoe.

Hi-Tec V-Lite Trail Eruption
I had only briefly (a few runs here and there) tried the previous version of the Hi-Tec V-Lite Trail Eruption before it was stolen in the 'Great Theft of Nov 2008' but could say from the get-go that the next version was much, much better in fit, feel and comfort (and styling).

I've been wearing the attractive women's shoe with super comfort, especially on rocky terrain and short distances. The BEST feature about this shoe is its toe protector, which, in my books, ranks higher than any other. It's made from quite a hard plastic. You can kick anything and your toes will be protected. Nice.

The distinguishing characteristic of the Hi-Tec Trail Eruption is its firm sole. You'll feel immediately that it is not very flexible. This does ease up a bit after a few runs but it still remains a firmer sole than say Adidas or Asics. I've found it pretty good on rocky trails and I ran most of the short course orienteering season in them this year; and the firm sole was even fine on the short stretches of road.

This said, I'm still very hesitant to wear these shoes on a long race, because of the harder sole. This is good for longevity of the shoe and I'd definitely recommend to heavier runners. Personally, I prefer a softer shoe for longer distances; my ankles are strong and stable, my foot muscles are strong and conditioned and I like my foot to flex over uneven terrain. Just personal preference.

Salomon S-Lab2 XTWings
I've been trying Salomon on and off for many years; the first XA Pro, the ladies Comp model, then the XA Pro 3D and, briefly, Wings (before the theft of Nov 2008). While I've never had a specific complaint about the Salomons, they've never been an ideal fit. Bit too much space in the arch and a too roomy toe box is about the sum of it. I do find the sole of the XP Pro 3D to be quite hard and I've never been crazy about the Salomon lacing system. Some love it; I'm a bit indifferent and I lean more towards traditional laces.

I was delighted to receive a pair of the Salomon S-Labs in mid-August last year. The foot-in-feel is one of a slipper, not a trail shoe. The upper is heat moulded (no stitching) and very soft compared to a traditional trail shoe. Actually, more soft and less structured than even a road shoe.

I wore them mostly with jeans, 'scared' to take these softest-of-the-soft shoes on to trails. And then a did few short runs, just testing them. No problems.

I've been wearing them a lot for the last two months, taking them on runs at Groenkloof and Suikerbosrand. My main complaint about this shoe is the absence of any toe protection. Lose your focus for a moment and kick a rock with your toe and it hurts - bad. I've got two blackened toenails from this. On a forested trail (or a typical US trail), no problem. But up here on the highveld we have rocks, rocks, rocks.

Aside from this I've been enjoying the low profile sole (you feel closer to the ground - not as much lift) and the slipper-snug fit, which wraps around my foot. The sole is thinner than most and I almost see this comparatively to a regular trail shoe as a racing flat is to a regular cushioned road shoe.

And then I took the 'daring' decision to wear them at Mnweni Marathon in the 'Berg, two weekends ago. It was a bit of a psychological thing - like it would be to run a half marathon in a racing flat. I paid attention to my footing and had a super run. These shoes don't have much in the way of aggressive tread so they do slip on loose surfaces; you have to concentrate on foot placement. I was a bit concerned how they'd do going down Rockeries Pass - was fine. Yes, I did feel my foot shifting forward in the shoe, bumping my toes against the front of the shoe. But perhaps the softness of the upper, short toenails (as they should be for running) and the way I place my foot minimised the impact that could occur. I had no problems and few slides.

I finished the race unscathed, except for one sore toenail, which I whacked into a rock mid-way. The final 8km on smooth trail and dirt road was super. These shoes are a good ride on dirt road too.

A friend had told me some months ago how he enjoyed the shoe but wouldn't take it on a long race because it just doesn't offer much in the way of support and that the soft sole means the shoe is trashed quick-quick. I think what makes a big difference here is that I'm 20kg lighter than him. I wouldn't recommend this shoe to a heavy person who is harder on shoes.

Looking ahead...
My Hi-Tecs are due for retirement and I'm not wearing the Asics at the moment, favouring the Salomons. I'm keen to see what Adidas is doing and to see what they've done with the current version of my long-time companion, Adidas Response TR. I'm also keen to try Brooks; the fit is not dissimilar from Asics and Adidas.

Salomon will certainly be updating the S-Labs; I just hope they don't change too much when it comes to fit because I'm really enjoying these and at the moment they're top of my favourites list. And, I also think the upper will fare very well against Abu Dhabi's desert sand - also easier to stitch my sand gaiters on to them.

But there's also something VERY exciting in the pipeline. Hi-Tec is bringing out a new shoe (Hi-Tec Infinity) in Feb next year. We (SA) will get it before Europe and US. Last week I put my foot into a demo shoe - my size too! - and it felt superb. They're going the route of the Salomon S-Lab; heat moulded, no stitching upper, slipper feel. Tread on the sole is a bit chunkier than the Salomon. *sigh* Long time to wait; I'm first in the queue to try them.

1 comment:

adventurelisa said...

A comment from Lee Besnard, Salomon Brand Manager, backs up my comments about protection, and verfies the reason:
"This shoe was designed purely for speed and as a result it has been stripped down to make it as light as possible, but the trade off is that the durability and protection offered by this shoe is slightly compromised."