With the Leadville Trail 100 still six months distant, this is the time to experiment. When to taper, what to stash in drop bags, how to eat on the run — a list of items await my attention. Some issues take precedence over others, however. As I log several thousand more miles through August, it would behoove me to do so in shoes I expect to wear on race day. To my dismay, I have recently discovered that my current footwear simply will not do.
Be wary of hype
Like any fad, minimalism should be regarded with healthy skepticism. I’ll admit, I succumbed to the hype transitioning last year to thin, light shoes without regard for the lack of science to support the proclaimed benefits. In October, I purchased the New Balance MT101, a 7oz featherweight designed to provide a close-to-earth feel and promote a midfoot strike, and have worn them almost exclusively ever since. My form has undeniably evolved: shorter stride, quicker turnover, stronger foot/calf muscles, and my nagging hip injury (in the right sacroiliac joint) that sidelined me a month each in 2009 and 2010 has vanished; thus I think the change has been a positive one. An issue arises however during runs exceeding ~3 hours, after which the MT101s seem to deliver my feet quite a beating.
New Balance MT101: some shortcomings (or just me, perhaps)
While the MT101 features a proprietary (and effective) “rock plate” for forefoot protection, the compounding effects of repeated impact between foot and earth do not go unnoticed. It could be me: I’ve always had a mildly asymmetric stride, my left foot landing neutral while my right foot pronates slightly with every step (hence the reason my injuries always seem to emerge on the right side). But I would also argue that the MT101 simply isn’t built for the long run. During shorter, quicker efforts I’ll definitely continue its use — it’s a terribly comfortable shoe. For Leadville however, I’ll need something with a wee bit more cushion and a smidgen of support.
Searching for my “sole” mate
So where does one begin such a search? First, I sifted through dozens of online reviews to identify my options, and in doing so stumbled upon tales of others who had come to the same realization regarding the MT101. Apart from a little added protection, I still sought something lightweight offering that familiar feeling of trail intimacy. I compiled a list of candidates and placed a sizeable order through Zappos which included:
- Inov8 f-lite 230
- La Sportiva Skylite
- Pearl Izumi Peak XC
- Montrail Rogue Racer
- Saucony Kinvara
- Saucony Peregrine
Upon their arrival, I laced up each pair and took it for a strut up the street; it didn’t take long to rule out the first three for the following reasons: the Skylite’s cramped, restrictive toe box; the f-lite’s flatness and lack of rigidity; and the Peak’s awkward, clunky wideness. The Kinvara struck me as having great road shoe potential, but that not being my goal I crossed them from my list, leaving just the Rogue Racer and Peregrine to win me over. I decided to test the two contenders on a twelve mile route through the Flatirons.
Montrail Rogue Racer: a worthy runner-up
The Rogue Racer initially fit the best, so I gave them first dibs. For the first few minutes I strolled up the paved road comfortably and experienced a smooth transition onto Skunk Canyon’s more technical single-track; so far so good. Light as the MT101, the RRs allow rapid turnover and an ability to climb quickly. Despite the proprietary “Gryptonite” underfoot, their first drawback seemed to be lackluster traction on smooth rocks and roots. Additionally, the upper felt overbuilt, but never chafed or caused discomfort. As I strode happily up Mesa, I thought these might just be the ones… but then I hit the downhill. Immediately I noticed an unpleasant braking action attributable to a heel more prominent than that of the MT101. This may not have been so bad had the forefoot been elevated (thus cushioned) as well, but I felt the same ugly impact coursing through my forefeet with every strike. I returned home in disappointment; the RRs felt no better than the MT101 and weren’t meant to be.
Saucony Peregrine: a surprise winner
I’ve never had any luck with Saucony in the past. They always have a strange, pointy toe box and odd fit that makes them feel (to me) like elf shoes. However, the Peregrine is a whole new animal. Released early this year as a trail-worthy cousin of the Kinvara, the Peregrine boasts a number of remarkable features. I retraced my steps from the day previous and immediately appreciated their subtle softness on pavement. As I climb the canyon, each shoe’s additional ounce went unnoticed, eclipsed by my amazement at their ability to fly uphill gripping tightly on even the loosest gravel. The feature that truly sets the Peregrine apart from the rest, however, has to be the 4mm heel-to-toe drop. Even barreling downhill I maintained my midfoot strike whilst enjoying a slightly gentler (although not compromised) ride. Heck, I can’t remember the last time I bombed downhill at such speed — I guess I’ve grown accustomed to restraint and wincing with the MT101.
Now my review wouldn’t be fair without acknowledging drawbacks. One thing I noticed was an increased propensity for ankle turning, particularly during my first two weeks in the Peregrine. I suppose I ultimately adjusted to their increased overall height for this hasn’t been an issue of late. My only other gripe would be the unhealing cuts on my inner ankle bones, opened and reopened by a clumsy brush with the sharp tread of the opposing shoe while rounding a corner somewhere. That said, with my fingers-crossed, I think these are truly my new ultramarathon shoes. I feel confident they will carry me comfortably through my upcoming 50 and 100 mile races.
So I held off on publishing this post prematurely, as I wanted to ensure after a few weeks I still felt the same way about the Saucony Peregrine… and I do. I’ve worn them for three consecutive weekend marathons (and every run in between) without a hitch. With roughly 300 miles on them so far, durability appears sturdy and I will sincerely reaffirm my new love for this shoe. What happened to all the other shoes I ordered, you ask? Well, they went back to Zappos in the box they came in (thank you hassle-free returns and free shipping both ways).