Since I first started running in high school, my training has been predominantly on the roads. The high school cross-country races were on trails, but all of my training (and marathons) occurred on asphalt/concrete. When I started training in April to pace a runner in the Leadville 100, I transitioned my training to the trails. Training on the trails was primarily driven by the need for “specificity” – or training on the type of terrain one would be racing (pacing) on. Leadville has come and gone, but my plans are to continue running on trails, as it’s a hundred times more enjoyable than running on the road.
With the focus on trail running, I decided it was time to get proper trail shoes. My current running shoe is the New Balance 860v2 (9.5 EE). I don’t remember exactly, but I believe it’s a cushioned, motion control, road shoe. I absolutely hated it on the roads because it was too stiff and clunky, but loved the stability on the uneven, rocky trail terrain. The cushioning also helped on the long runs, especially as I tired (and my form went to hell). One drawback of running on the trails with a road shoe is the open mesh. While this provided excellent ventilation on hot days, it also allowed a lot of dirt to permeate the fabric, creating a nice muddy mess (and increased friction). The 860v2 also has a 12mm heel to toe drop, making it impossible to run with a biometrically efficient forefoot/midfoot strike. The latest trend is toward “minimalist” running shoes. Minimalist shoes (or barefoot running) encourage a more efficient running form. I won’t go into it here, but read “Born to Run” for more information. My initial venture into minimalist shoes was the Merrell Barefoot shoe. In short, the zero heel drop and minimal padding were a bit too extreme for me. The zero heel drop puts a lot of strain on the Achilles tendon and requires a lot of time for the body to adapt to it. I also desired more forefoot padding/protection. I decided to try the New Balance 1010v2 shoe instead. The 1010v2 is a minimalist trail shoe, with a 4mm heel drop, a bit more forefoot padding, and a rock plate for protection from…well, rocks. This shoe filled the happy middle-ground between the armor-plated protection of the 860v2 and the minimal protection of the Merrell.
I ran a couple of flat, two mile test runs in the New Balance 1010v2 shoe to ensure I wouldn’t have Achilles/lower calf problems with the 4mm heel drop. The short test runs felt fine, so I tested it on my regular seven mile trail route on Monday to see how they felt going uphill/downhill and on rocky terrain. I increased the distance today, running my ten mile trail route. My initial assessment is positive. The shoes are light and agile, and fit like a glove (not clunky and stiff like the 860v2). I’m also able to maintain a faster turnover on downhill sections. The huge heel and 12mm heel drop on the 860v2 caused the heel to strike first, especially on downhills. The 4mm heel drop on the 1010v2 allows for a forefoot strike and a much faster turnover. Additionally, the tighter weave in the fabric keeps most of the dirt out of the shoe. My only concerns right now are: 1) how well they will ventilate on hot days; and 2) how they will feel on long runs. The weather forecast calls for 100 degree weather on Saturday, so I may test them out on a 20 miler. This would test both concerns. We’ll see…I may play it safe and opt for the 860v2.
Here’s a summary of my run today. The faster turnover is evident in the faster times on the downhill sections.