Tuesday, November 29, 2011

It's Not About The Shoes... Or Is It?

[Note: several of you noticed that this post was up briefly yesterday and then removed. Sorry for the confusion. I posted it yesterday in error and intended all along to post it today after editing and adding a few things to it]

After the other day's not so serious post I thought I'd write about something a little more serious today (although only a little more): Shoes. Specifically why I wear the shoes I wear and is there a specific type of shoe that I think works the best for

People ask me some variation of the following question all the time: "What do I feel like the main difference is between running ultras compared to shorter distance races?" My answer usually goes something to the effect that when you run for 50+ miles it stops being as much about how fast you can go at the fastest points and more about how fast you can go at the slowest points. That is to say, how much you can do to minimize the rate at which you slow down over time.

We can't run forever. There are things which break down as we run that we simply can't rebuild until we stop and tend to these things. No one that I've ever met can process calories as fast as they burn them when they are running, and no one I've ever met can run continually without muscle fatigue catching up to them at some point. In running shorter distance races (probably anything up to 3 or 4 hours) we can get by more efficiently with stored energy than with energy we take in on the run. This is to say that calories we get from eating a gel doesn't offset the time we spend fumbling to open, eat, and digest the gel. Same can be said of water, although the time before we hit this tipping point is much shorter with water (depending on the temperature somewhere in the 30-90 minute range). In ultrarunning though, not only is it more efficient to take in lots of calories/water while we run, it's pretty much necessary.

Ok, by now you're probably wondering what the hell this has to do with shoes. Don't worry, you're not the only one confused. I've kind of gotten myself off topic such that I can't remember what the point was about shoes. Oh, wait, I've got it: I think the same idea applies to shoes. When you think of why we wear shoes: cushioning, stability, protection - these are all things which we can get by without much of for some period of time, but if you go long enough you will hit that tipping point when the extra weight you are carrying around on your feet in the form of extra cushioning, stability, and/or protection begins to be offset by the time you are gaining from having less muscle fatigue and less damage to your feet. To some degree, the longer we run the more shoe we need to find this right balance.

In terms of what the "right' shoe is for a 50 or 100 mile race I think this varies a fair amount from person to person. For me the Montrail Mountain Masochist has been the "right" shoe for almost 3 years now. I have run almost every single step in these shoes since March of 2009. I think this shoe is nearly perfect in terms of it's balance between being lightweight but still enough shoe to help the body hold up after 50 or more miles. Any shoe I've worn that is much lighter (and thus has less cushioning) feels great for a couple hours, but then usually pretty horrible if I go much beyond that.

It's no secret that the basic trend in running shoes over the past few years has been minimal, minimal, and more minimal. In my mind many people are taking the minimal thing way too far in ultrarunning. I think extremely minimal footwear makes a decent amount of sense for shorter distance running/racing, but forultrarunning I think in many cases it's just not enough shoe for the amount of abuse that you're putting your body through running 100 miles on rugged trail. The trend that I see that I think is the most wreck less is that many runners seem to train in one shoe and then race in significantly lighter shoes. Again, in shorter distance races this makes perfect sense, as we all did this in track and cross country back in high school. But in my mind doing this in ultras is similar to trying to eat as few calories as possible during a 50 or 100 miler. I haven't yet seen a "low calorie" gel. Essentially that's what you're getting when you try to run 100 miles in super minimal shoes. It might be the perfect shoe for a half marathon trail race, but the point I'm trying to make is that the perfect shoe for a 100 mile race and a 13 mile race are not the same shoe.

Before I go any further I must say, Yes, I have read the book, and I think it's an entertaining read, and I think there are some benefits to some of the thoughts involving barefoot running. I like that the "craze" has turned so many new folks on to running. In terms of ironic fads I think running around town in foot gloves is way more beneficial than say, trucker's caps. But I'm not talking about a cute fad. The argument that prehistoric man ran barefoot so it makes the most sense for us to tap into this lineage of experience as barefoot runners sounds really great in theory, but it doesn't work in the reality of trying to run 50 or 100 miles on rugged trail as fast as possible. This just isn't something that we've evolved to do. Running 50 or 100 miles on rugged trails as fast as we can find a way to do is something that 99.999999999999999% of humans in the history of the world have never done. Applying the "born to run" argument to racing ultras is akin to saying that at one time man didn't have clothing so we should roam around naked to give our bodies an opportunity to adapt to be able to better protect us from the elements. I guess this makes sense if you're hoping to be the last one in the nudist colony who's able to stay outside when the sun dips below the horizon on a winter afternoon. But no matter how much you get your body to adapt you're not going to be as warm as the dude next door who has on a pair of down pants and a down jacket. In this same way I can see the point that incorporating barefoot running into our training forces our bodies to adapt in ways that will make us much stronger barefoot runners, but I'm not, in this conversation, interested in that. I'm interested in what we can wear on our feet to be the fastest and most efficient we can be at the 99.9% of trail ultramarathons in which shoes are allowed.

One more rant about the barefoot thing before I get back to the main point here. Think about it this way: when we run an ultramarathon we pick our feet up and place them down, over and over, hour after hour, hundreds of thousands of times. I don't give a damn what cavemen did when they ran. What I care about are the options available to me. I can either put my feet down on a couple centimeter thick piece of foam that has been engineered and re-engineered by thousands of shoe developers for the exact purpose of absorbing the impact of these hundreds of thousands of footsteps, or I can put my foot (or my foot wrapped in a foot glove) down directly on roots, rocks, pavement, gravel, or whatever else I encounter over the course of 50 or 100 miles. Any guesses as to which one I'm going to choose? I'll give you a hint: It's the same choice that every other runner I've ever met who is trying to turn themselves into the fastest ultramarathon runner possible has also chosen.

I do think it's important to think about the bio-mechanics of barefoot running when choosing shoes (I think the lower drop you are seeing in many mainstream shoes as a result of the barefoot craze is a positive effect that will stick around for years to come), but in terms of the larger point I'm making here I think that is where the barefoot conversation ends. I just thought I should address the barefoot thing so as to avoid having dozens of responses wondering how I could ignore such an important part of the running footwear conversation. I'm not ignoring it, I'm just saying that I don't think it's all that practically applicable to the point I'm making.

Ok, so back to the larger point. How do we know then what is the right amount of shoe for us? In my mind there's no better method than good old trial and error. When you have the right shoe you'll know it. What you'll know even more is when you have the wrong shoe. If you're looking for somewhere to start I would say try to find the happy medium somewhere between what was popular 10 years ago and what is popular now. Somewhere in there for about 5 minutes I think the typical "popular" trail shoe made sense for racing ultras. The pendulum seemed to swing so quickly from over built "tanks" suited more for backpacking or thousand mile adventures to uber minimal shoes that would be great if we were all back in high school trying to run 3.1 miles over grassy hills as fast as we can. My guess is that at some point the pendulum will swing back and you'll actually be able to go into any running store and find yourself a nice solidly built pair of shoes, but not over built, weighing in somewhere in the 8-11 ounce range. I would even imagine that we'll start to see companies make shoes that are specifically intended for running ultras. I guess if I've made one point in this way too long post it's that I think the right shoe for ultras is quite different than the right shoe for shorter races. One could argue that Hoka has started the trend of making shoes that make sense specifically as ultrarunning shoes. I think the popularity of Hokas in the ultrarunning scene is a great indicator that what many people are wanting on their feet when running 100 miles might just be a lot different than what they want on their feet when running a 10k. Too bad Hokas are so stiff that they make me feel like I'm running in clogs. For now I would recommend just trying a pair of Mountain Masochist and then go up or down from there :)

Ok, that's my rant. If you've taken everything I've written here 100% serious: I'm sorry. My intention here was simply to touch on the general question of what type of footwear makes sense for racing 50 and 100 mile races, and does there come a point when you run so far that you actually want more shoe rather than less shoe? In my opinion there does. Would love to hear what conclusions you've all come to in regards to these questions. Do you wear different shoes in racing ultras (or in really long training runs) then you do in general training? And if so do you go to "more shoe" in races or "less shoe"? I'm sure there are a wide range of opinions on this topic, but I am curious to see if there is a general direction in which folks are going on this topic. Again, I'm curious specifically about folks who are racing 50 and 100 mile (or longer) races, as in my mind not much (if any) of what I'm saying here applies to anything below 3 or 4 hours.


Scotty K. said...


On the Hoka point, seeing them from afar (the internet), they definitely seemed to be ultra-oriented. However, I saw Simon Gutierrez run a local 5K here in Alamosa (part of an Adams State alumni event), in which he ran a 15:XX, pretty impressive by most standards, I'd say. So it seems to me that they may have better crossover into short races than some shorter distance oriented shoes would have for an ultra.

eric said...

i think that a lot, but not everything, you wrote applies quite well to any type of running, specifically "distance running", a relative term related to what your average long distance run is.

interesting post.

Olga said...

Thank you. Took words out of my brain. Neat previous laugh too.

Chris Boyack said...

Good post. Definitely up for fair discussion. I have been slowly moving towards less shoe over the past few years and have had good results. It is a long process, though. I recently ran the Slickrock 100 in MT101s and they felt 'just right'. Wouldn't have been the case a year ago. I think the body is good at adapting to whatever we choose to run in.

I do think the nudist colony analogy is a little bit off. Studies have shown (and I really hate that phrase) that impact forces to the body are actually greater in cushioned shoes. So translating that to the guy with the down coat - yes, he will be better protected and warmer, but relatively speaking the naked guy doesn't feel as cold. Or something like that...

Anonymous said...

Geoff, you seem to write timely on topics that are bouncing around in my head. For me, minimalist shoes are spot-on up to 50mi (well, depending on the terrain, on a super rocky course i would be hesitant or if it was mostly road). I'm 5'10", 140lbs, have a high-cadence, neutral stride, am light on my feet, so they work with how I'm designed/geared. Over 50mi, I agree with you. I made a lot of mistakes in my first 100 and not having enough shoe to balance the difference, I think, played a significant role. Over the last 4 months, I've cut back my weekly mileage in minimalist footwear to about 40% because - in terms of sustainability - giving my legs a break on recovery days by wearing a little beefier shoe, I've seen, has made a difference in terms of my legs feeling better and recovering quicker (short-term) so that I'm able to enjoy this gift of running for the rest of my life (long-term). Anywho, thanks for the post. See ya in a few days on the start line.

Brandon Mulnix - Owner Modern Photographics said...

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it" is something that comes to mind when it comes to the type of running shoe one might wear. I on the other hand found less was more. Big and Bulky caused injury and time off. I have run 100 miles in a pair of Soft Star Shoes RunAmoc Dash with no support and very little less than 4mm of rubber under my foot. I ran the entire 100 miles at Burning River in one pair of shoes. It wasn't Western States or Hard Rock, but 100 miles in one pair of shoes seems strange to many of the runners limping around at the finish line.
Not every runner needs minimalist shoes, but for the ones that do, the shoes work for ultra distance. Your post is a great post, but its written from your perspective. The other perspective could be the 220 pound guy that takes 26 hours to run the same race it took you 15 hours to run. That is why I enjoy reading your blog so much. Its written from you, someone at the front of the race.

Thanks for the discussion, but you can keep your thick shoes until I find myself side lined on the JV squad of the minimalist movement.

mtnrunner2 said...

I think people of superlative ability (such as yourself) may not always abstract that ability from the background of the issue at hand.

In this case, it may mean that people of high ability who have good mechanics can wear whatever they want and win ultras, i.e. good runners are (surprise!) good runners.

However, that's not the same as saying that supportive cushioned shoes are why they do it, or that over the life of a runner they are a good thing.

In other words, it still may be the case that someone who grew up barefoot running could clean up in the ultra world wearing minimal shoes. That happened in Leadville in '93-'94, and often happens on the world circuit in the marathon space (North Africans, who have sometimes grown up running barefoot).

Anonymous said...

Man, you're on a roll with the blog, Geoff!!! It's almost too bad you have to race this weekend instead of writing more!

The way I see it, football players hit each other harder because of the pads they wear (just like the impact of cushioned shoes) but why give up the advantage?!?! It makes about as much sense for competitive ultras as well.

I can't vouch for running fast in them, but I second the Mountain Masochist!!! I wore them for 43 hours at SBER 100 and 33 at Headlands 100. They were the most comfortable shoe I've worn for an event over 22 hours! (9 so far!) I like them so much that I'm going to toe the line with them at TNFEC (a no brainer on that easy to run course!) and even HURT 100! I just wish they had a knobbier (can't believe that word just made it through spell check!) tread option for muddy courses...

All Day!

David Hill said...

My issue here is that you are an anomaly. You run in what I would call a "tank" shoe, but maintain good form and have good mechanics. Most people will/do heel strike in a shoe like that and there's no way to convince me that is better for you than a mid or forefoot strike. You take much more shock up in the knees, hips, and back landing on the heel. Common knowledge but just saying. So I basically agree with mtnrunner2.

Personally I've transitioned down to zero drop, minimalist type shoes with very positive results: stronger below the knee, no injuries and much better form. I think Anton has it right - races ultras in a sub 8oz, low drop shoe that promotes good form while still giving him protection on rugged terrain. And to answer your one question - I train in 5fingers or other zero drop, light shoe and then bulk up a little for 50 or 100 miles, something with more protection and 4-6mm drop. I agree with you that doing an ultra race is less of a shoe than your normal trainer just makes no sense. Good luck this weekend.

Ben Nephew said...

I talk about this with runners all time. Over the past 7 years I have trained and raced in shoes ranging from 155 grams to 330 grams. I've probably put a decent amount of mileage on 50 different models.

I think you are being too conservative in your opinions on the shoe issue. It pertains to all distances, although the key issue with shorter races may be protection from stones and roots rather than cushioning. The overall objective should be finding the best shoe for the terrain you run and race on. Minimal shoes do seem to work for some runners on flatter, softer, less technical terrain. Speed also plays a factor, and shoes that I would not wear at short technical trail race work for someone who is not generating as much force on the downhills.

One of the arguments for minimal shoes is enhanced proprioception. Too much of anything is never good, and this holds true for feeling the trail as well. While being close to the trail helps with balance and overall confidence, you need a certain amount of protection. On most trails, the proprioception from running barefoot will make you slow down compared to running in shoes, and this process can occur without the runner being aware of it in shoes that are too minimal for the terrain. I have experienced this dozens of times on trail intervals as short as a half mile, 10 tempo runs, and 50 milers. I run my fastest times in shoes that are relatively light, but have enough protection to allow me to run hard on downhills and technical sections. The lightest shoes are usually not the fastest. These types of differences are often only apparent with hard and/or long efforts.

I do think you can adapt to less protection and/or cushioning, but it only goes so far.

The first year I ran the Headlands 50k I didn't have enough shoe and the last two downhills were incredibly painful. I went with more cushioning the next time and was much happier, and a little faster.

The nudist colony analogy fits. What doesn't fit are the impact force studies. Those studies don't translate to practical observations of late race muscle fatigue and soreness.

sharmanian said...


You put it the way I do when asked and I completely agree. Minimalist shoes (as with any other type of gear you buy) aren't some magic cure to make people better runners. Shoes don't need to be tanks even for really long distances but I can't see any advantage in really light, unprotected shoes over 100 miles of rocks.

Plus, aren't racing flats really just minimalist shoes and people have been using them for ages? The idea isn't really new. I wear them for roads and shorter stuff but they just don't protect me enough on long trail races.

Dominic Grossman said...

In regards to the millions of footsteps we take in races, I think this is a similar argument for minimalist running. Many minimalist runners would argue they're faster in a 100 mile race with a 7 oz shoe (myself included at Angeles Crest). If you have to climb 10,000 vertical feet, every oz adds on a significant amount of work from 500-1,000 ft-lbs per additional oz (just on climbing alone). Conversely if you're an efficient downhill runner, this can go positive or negative as a clunkier shoe can have more inertia to deal with that also slows down the runner or too minimal a shoe can injure a runner.

At the end of the day though, all competitive runners are minimalist runners by definition. No one is wearing a heavier shoe than they need to, and we're all choosing the lightest things that work for us. Whether you have a stride that demands less or more cushion out of shoes, you're going to experiment and wear the lightest thing that works.

Also, based on the material advances trickling down the pipeline, there will be 8oz and 7oz shoes in a few years that offer the same performance as 9-11oz shoes today.. Some already do.

TrailClown said...

Crystal ball into the future: Every runner has shoes custom-made after going through a scanning machine at their local running shoe store. These conversations about mass-produced shoes will seem so strange.

Gancho Slavov said...


For the reasons you listed, I quite like the Masochist, although I think I slightly preferred its predecessor (the Streak). But after recently moving to the UK, I acutely realized that both have a major weakness. They just don’t seem to provide adequate traction in very muddy conditions or on wet grassy/boggy hills. I remember you alluded to a similar problem almost exactly a year ago, and I was wondering if you’ve brought it up with Montrail and if they are intending to do something about it.

Rob Youngren said...

Man it's like I just read my own thoughts put down to print! I've been effectively arguing most of these points towards barefooters and ultra-minimalist runners for a long time now. Most just can't comprehend running ultra distances to begin with ("that's just not natural man!" is a common reply) and don't understand why their hobby barefoot jogging a few miles a day, every other day on easy terrain doesn't translate well to high mileage and ultra distances on rough terrain. While I do dabble in some minimalism, i.e. I do appreciate the low heel-to-toe drop, but I also understand the need to full foot protection especially for the longer races.

*However*, one aspect you neglect is the possible benefit of minimal or ultra-minimal training sessions. While I totally understand that I won't be fast trying to race in huaraches or toe shoes, I do believe that doing a few short training sessions in such footwear periodically does have performance benefits: toughens up the bottoms of my feet, not just the outside, I'm talking about the entire musculature and bone structure. I also believe they've been good for my "recovery" days because running in these things is a definite speed governor and the enhanced proprioception, like others have said, feel great but also slow you down.

Anyhow, love your blog and good luck this Saturday!

Drew Gunn said...

I agree with many of your points. On my shorter training runs I will wear more minimal shoes to build strength and form, but anything longer I really like Newtons' trail shoe. It weighs about the same as a Mtn. Masochist, but fits me better. I don't see many of the Newtons at trail races, but they really work for me. I like that you encourage people to find what works for themselves, and not to buy into the hype. Thanks Geoff.

Wyatt Hornsby said...

Geoff et al: I'm on my third pair of Hoka One One Bondi B's (recommended to me by Speedgoat) and they are without question the best shoes I've ever worn. So long as Hoka keeps doing their thing, I'll be a customer. I tell people Hokas are best and worst thing that's ever happened to me as a runner. Best because they're ultra soft, light, super comfy and built for the long haul. Worst because they're $170 a pop. Contrary to how they look, they are light and perform well in almost every circumstance, except running down Hope Pass as I learned at Leadville this past year. Unfortunately, the Mafates do not accommodate orthotics (yet), but the Bondi B's do. Anway, I think the whole minimalism thing is overblown. There are only a few runners who can handle minimal shoes. For the rest of us, we'l reach our breaking point in them if we go far enough. This was yet another great post. Geoff, you contribute to ultrarunning in so many ways. Thanks for all you do!


Spencer said...

I agree with you to some degree. If I am running on a something that is a mix of mountain and trail, I want something thin, like a cross spike or flat, that I can somewhat feel the ground without killing my feet. If I wear something thicker, my feet kill me. I wore the new balance mt101 for a solo 50k that was a mix, not a good idea I couldn't really tell what I was doing, and it wasn't flexible enough. I did the same thing later with a thinner shoe, worked great. But, if I was running all mountains, think scree and jazz the mt101's work great. And if I'm running roads, I have to go with a thinner shoe, otherwise my gait gets screwed with. I agree with you too, 99.99% of the world wasn't trying to blast out really fast 100 milers when they ran barefoot. They were just moving over land and stuff. I mean watch Erwan Le Corre, the guy can move well over tough terrain, but at the same time, he's not going to be blasting out 6 minute miles down scree covered trail. I just really think it comes down to efficiency, and what works for you.

Thomas Bussiere said...

Interesting responses!

Mountain Masochist for all my trail races (50 & 100). Why fix something that works great! Feels light, protective, good support, and gets the job done for me. Bottom line, use what works for you. There is no one shoe that will make everyone happy. You just need to find what works best for you, and don’t assume it will work best for everyone. Also, for us middle-of-the-pack runners, you would get more "bang for the buck" by focusing more on training than worrying about an oz or two for shoe weight.

Caveman – If they had trail shoes like we have, I’m 99.99999% sure they would have used them.

I would like to hear more on your food (Cal intake) and water strategy for 50 and 100! Liquids, solids, salt, gels… This is an area I struggle with after the first 40 miles.

Anonymous said...

This is pretty funny!:


All Day!

Roger said...

Wow, great bit of stream of consciousness followed by some of the same clicheed comments that mark the difference between 'The Barefoot Movement' and barefoot or minimal running for the sensation of whatever benefits it offers.

The assumption that heel striking = always bad, an 'overlong stride' = always bad, prancing on tippy toes = 'natural'. If it's so natural, why think about it so hard? If the body's an expression of nature, but we're never meant to touch the ground with our heel, wtf did it grow there for?

People embracing thin footwear for purposes it doesn't suit would do well to sort out what is actually known and proven from assertion and assumption.

Thanks for saying what's on your mind Geoff.

Geoff said...

some thought provoking responses here. at least a few I'd like to respond to:

CB, there may be studies out there that show this, but to me the most important study of all is reality. until i actually start to see runners running 100 mile trail races barefoot (or with vibrams or whatever) and doing it quite well and quite consistently i'm not going to take much stock in these studies. What is actually happening in the type of running that i'm talking about is the most reliable study of all.

Brandon, many good points... especially the, "if it aint broke, don't fix it" comment. fwiw, i have never used more than one pair of shoes in any race i've ever run.

I agree entirely that a heel strike is pretty bad news over the long haul, and yes, many shoes out there push runners toward a heel strike. in this regard I think using barefoot or uber minimal footwear to help learn a midfoot strike can be a very helpful tool for many folks, but then once you've figured that out and you're going to try to run (and train for) 50 or 100 miles on trail as fast as you can I think most people are going to pay the price if they don't put something on their foot that gives them a lot more support, protection, and cushioning then the shoes they have been using in shorter runs to correct the foot strike thing... and essentially this is what you are saying you have been doing. I just think the amount of shoe that most people need to try to race ultras hard (especially 100 milers) is a bit more than you do. I think the example of Anton that you bring up essentially reinforces my point. Tony is an incredible runner, a great guy, and someone I have learned as much from as any runner, but it's hard for me not to question his footwear when he's been injured more than he's been healthy in the last several years. This isn't to say that his injuries have definitively been a result of what he's wearing on his feet, but I'd certainly think twice about anyone's footwear choices who are spending more than half of their time injured, especially with the types of injuries that Tony has had - almost all of which have been injuries that could potentially be a result of wearing too little shoe for the amount of running that you're doing.

Geoff said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geoff said...

i do agree that this conversation applies to all distances/types of running, but i think the range of shoe that makes sense at 100 miles is a lot different than the range of shoes that makes sense at 5k... and in this particular case i'm interested in exploring the idea of what range of shoes makes sense for the 100 mile distance. and yeah, i couldn't agree more about the proprioception point you make. feeling the ground under your feet is great until you're feeling it too much, and when you are trying to run as fast as you can down technical trail you can definitely feel it too much.

i agree with your point about the hundreds of thousands of footsteps. it's definitely something that works both ways. in my mind though, the time lost from a shoe being 3 or 4 ounces heavier than another shoe is not typically going to be as much as the time lost if you end up having completely fried muscles in the later parts of a 100 miler. I do believe that we can adapt to less and less cushioning over time, but i also feel like no matter how much you adapt there is going to come a point in a 100 mile race when we can have too little cushioning and if we get to this point we are going to lose way more time hobbling to the finish than we will ever gain by being a few ounces lighter. and thus, your comment about all competitive runners being minimilasts makes a lot of sense. we all kind of try to go as light as we can without being too light. i guess the whole point to my post is that i think we're at a time in the sport of ultrarunning when a large percentage of runners are going too light.

the traction on the masochist has really been the only thing i could say negative about this shoe. montrail has injected a little more butyl into the outsole which should make it grip better. i believe they did this on some of the 2011 shoes and it should be this way on all of the 2012 shoes. for some reason the outsoles on the outdry version of the masochist have way more traction than the standard version, so hopefully going forward this will be the outsole material on all models.

Collin O'Bryant said...

I love my Mountain Masochists! I think they are the perfect shoe for running on the crazy rugged trails around my home in Tucson AZ.

I ran my first ultra, the Old Pueblo 50 miler (near Tucson), in 9:30 in a pair of the Masochists and my feet felt great the whole way.

I do like to use VFFs about once a week on short runs (3-7 mi) just to work on form and strengthen my feet. But when it comes to flying along rocky desert mountain trails, I love me some MMs!

Jim P. said...

It's funny...since running requires so little gear, we spend a huge amount of time talking about the one piece of gear we (almost) all need...shoes. I can't begin to imagine the sheer volume of stuff cyclists obsess over.

David Hill said...

Geoff - that's a fair point about Tony's injury issues. Seems to me that may have more to do with crazy high training volume than from having too little shoe. If you doubled your weekly mileage you might start having a few problems as well - regardless of what was on your feet. He's definitely shown one can move fast over 100 miles in a more minimal type shoe. But still, different strokes for different folks. What's right for one ultra runner may not be right for another.

Jeff Valliere said...

Hey Geoff, great post, I agree with this entirely. Being in the fortuitous position of being a shoe tester for several running magazines, I get to test just about everything out there, from 3.8 oz road flats and the 4oz trail minimus all the way up to 13 plus oz. hiking boots marketed as trail runners. I don't run the losg distances that you and many of my friends run, but for runs like the GC RRR, I found the Montrail Streak to be the perfect shoe (predecessor to the Mt. Masochist), offering a great balance of protection, performance and lightweight.

There is no perfect shoe for everything, but agree that most runners need/should wear something a bit more protective for the longer runs. I used to chuckle at the Hokas when they first came out, but now I own the Mafates and the Bondi Bs and just love the Bondi, one of my all time favorites (now if they would only make a serious trail version).

Oh, almost forgot.... I have been testing the NB 110 and I think they really hit a home run, Very light and minimal, but still has pretty darn good protection considering.

Hoping to test some of the newer Montrails soon, definitely one of my favorite brands.

Good luck this coming weekend!

Alex Beecher said...

So many variables. Which, I think, points to the title of the blog as the answer: It's not about the shoes. What we all want, really, is something on our feet that lets us take full advantage of our fitness. What that means varies by person, distance, and terrain. But it is mostly about the fitness. No shoe will do the training for you; and if it would, there would be no fun in that. Find what's most comfortable for you, then put in the miles.

Hone said...
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Michelle said...

LOL at Ken's Video ^^

Tim Finocchio said...


Interesting post. I am not going to go down the path of talking about "the book" and how humans should be running. I am just going to talk about "my" experience because essentially that is what is most important to everyone their own experiences in shoes.

You talked about when you find the right shoes you will know, I find this very true, I found mine in the Brooks Cascadia 4's and 5's. Then something happened in the design of the 6's and things were not the same. To answer one of your questions indirectly, do you run so far that you want more or less shoe, my answer is this. I want a company to stay consistent in their shoe design. There was a conversation on Irunfar that I participated in and someone said the shoe industry is like car industry it evolves and changes, what if Ford was still making the Model T. I understand that point, but I think with shoes keeping things consistent with a model over the years is very important.

Since I am someone that likes consistency, I am someone that trains in what I race in. I think it makes practical sense, you spend all of the time training in them, it works, why abandon that principal come race day for a couple ounces? There are other ways I guess to save the weight?

Question for you if you don't mind. Montrail has been a very consistent company and not rushing to the minimalist movement. Out of curiousity are they thinking of doing this? I am sure you do provide them feedback on prototypes I am curious to know how much of your important or that of other sponsored athletes go into their design. It seems they have been consistent with their Mountain Masochist. I have read that the Brooks Casadia 7's are going to be similar to their 4's and 5's of years past. I am also curious to see what the Montrail Bajada's will be like.


Ben Nephew said...


There is no need for the traction you required in the UK anywhere in the US that I can think of. I thought I had run on some pretty slippery terrain over the past 13 years of trail racing until I went to Connemara. I was in total disbelief at how hard it was to stay upright in a short run on road shoes that worked great in a wet grassy 50 miler in Maine. Most of the guys in Ireland who were not falling all the time were wearing inov-8's.

If the Tarahumara that ran Leadville were running with trunk tires strapped to their feet, then they had a lot more protection than the minimalist shoes of today.

It is hard to separate the mileage and shoe factors with someone that does high mileage in thin shoes, but we could just look at WS 2010. I though I remembered reading that Tony's quads were shot towards the end, and he was having a hard time running downhill? Sure it's an n of one, but many of us have witnessed similar scenarios, or had similar experiences.

Most of us that wear heavier shoes are fully aware of the benefits of light shoes in terms of the physical work involved, and we choose heavier shoes.

The "you can wear anything" argument might pertain to a few runners, but I don't think it is relevant to this discussion even in those examples. Maybe Geoff could wear anything, but his shoe choice is unlikely to be random. If people assume top runners are training on the edge between maximal fitness and injury, isn't shoe choice going to be as important for them as for someone with less natural talent that doesn't train 100 miles a week?

Chaser Williams said...

What about Ultra Runners that do well in races, and wear minimalist shoes? Patrick Sweeny, Jason Robilard, Jesse Scott, and Anton Kupricka come to mind. While they might not be the fastest on the course, their usually pretty competitive. I think the reason were not seeing alot of podium placing minimalist ultra runners is because its a relatively "new" trend, therefore there arent alot of minimalist runners that are capable of running 50's and 100's yet, and I repeat, YET. Combine that with the fact that the percentage of runners in general that wear minimalist shoes is pretty small. So just based off of saturation and statistics its not likely that you will see a minimalist runner, and even more unlikely that youll see one running 100 miles, amd highly improbable to see one winning 100 mile events.

That said, I think you have a very valid point. In rougher and more technical trails I think that too minimalist of a shoe will do more harm than good. Granted I havent ran an ultra yet, so I cant say that with any personal evidence, but roots and rocks hurt. lol.

Great post either way!

Dominic Grossman said...

Hahaha, I've won a few, but you have a point as my (insert negative look alike) mustache at ac wasn't pretty..

And for the record, evan hone complains about the drop being too high on the 101.. He is minimalist in everything but his shorts and diet coke intake..

runwildrunfree said...

Great debate and it is ideal that somebody at the top of our sport posts about this. Barefoot and minimalist is a band wagon that 'Born to Run' has much to answer for. Don't get me wrong, great book, great read and fun. BUT it is a 'story' and certainly to imply that minimalist and barefoot for all is nonsense.
Barefoot Ted has said in many interviews, if it aint broke, don't fix it. He went minimalist because nothing else worked. It was for him (and others) a revelation.
Elite runners have been running 'minamilist' from dot and you still see all the top marathon runners using a 'light' and what has know become minimalist shoe. STOP the hype.... the have always been minimalist!!!!
I use Hoka's. I love them so much I started to sell them. Yes, they are not for everyone and it is great Geoff that you acknowledge them but say they are not for you.... 2012 and the introduction of the Stinson B Evo may very well address some of the issues that you have had with the 'stiff' feeling.
Shoes are personal but ultimately, as you say, the longer you run in one go OR the more running you do in a week effectively means you require more protection over time.
Many 'new' minimalist runners feel great for 4-6 weeks and then all the niggles, injuries and problems start. If you want to go minimalist then do so but give yourself 3 years to make the transition. Oh, and don't run too far or too often.....

MV said...


Great post! I only run in he Mountain Masohists. I have found the work great at any time/distance. I have run 10k and 50k races in them and they always feel great to me.

On the barefoot controversy...rignt on!! I love the theory but it just does not work for most runners. I have found it to be a good training tool but running longer distances is just plain painful. It is also important to realize that all the data that is being discussed is based on biomechanical studies and not clinical studies. There are no studies that have compared injury rates in barefoot and shod runners. Interesting.

Good luck this weekend!

Anonymous said...

You've opened a can of worms Geoff!

I think the shoe is just a tool and should be used to offer the best Protection, Grip and Comfort for the situation. For Elite athletes looking to get that extra 1%, this could make all the difference.

If you give me a block of marble and a chisel, I doubt I'll be able to create Michelangelo's David... Despite using the same tools I couldn't produce the same results. I'm sure you and Kilian could run WS100 in your slippers and still beat most of us!

The emphasis should be on training, recovery and technique - I really don't think footwear plays that big a role.

Good luck at TNF50 and try not to get lost! ;)

Len said...

Hi Geoff

The barefoot fad is a bit overblown, agreed, especially the idea that simply because prehistoric runners may have run barefoot this makes sense for us. But what about the argument that we have a kind of foot/impact intelligence, closely linked to bio-feedback stuff, so a more cushioned shoe simply makes us come down harder, a less cushioned shoe we come down softer? So impact similar, though running style changes.

Cloud said...

Geoff ya its me again, yer buddy Cloud. Good fortune tomorrow in Frisco!! Yah you won uroc but only cause Wardian took a wrong turn. Sorta a hollow victory as its said. On the topic of shoes, um why do you wear tanks?

Go Killian!


Alexander Nunn said...

This is wat too long a comment, but are my thoughts:

When training, I used to wear shoes as to what my feet were feeling like for that day. Let me explain: If my feet were feeling reasonably fresh, I often wore my NB MT110 (and were my first choice of shoes), if tired - Asics trail runners, even road shoe Nimbus 12, and sometimes just to switch it up Cascadias. However I was wearing the Cascadias for a while but they don't seem to agree with my feet on runs longer than 20-30 miles here on O'ahu. NB MT110, I loved but felt were good to about 35 miles. So I bought a pair of Mountain Masochist. I know it is your fav shoe but I had heard some good reviews so decided to give it a go. While here in HI it is best to have a shoe that drains well and grippy for slippery rocks and muddy trail, the Mountain Masochist does not. On top of that they are quite heavy once dipped ankle deep in mud compared to NB MT110. That said, the shoe fits what you described about a shoe that delays fatigue and is comfortable for the long haul. So while training for the HURT 100 these are the shoes I love now even though there are other shoes that might seem more logical (for grip, drainage, etc.), but my feet feel great no matter how much I run in them. So they are my choice shoes right now, and I will wear them for HURT 100.

Unknown said...

so i have been running in the nb minimus for about 4 months now and still get very sore calves when i go over 6 miles. my feet have become stronger though and am able to run over rocky terrain without my feet getting sore. can only go about 12 miles before calves have had it but my feet are fine at that distance. i planned on being transitioned into the minimus by march for chuckunut but this topic has brought up great insight and may help me re-evaluate my situation.

right now i have to switch back to my vasques about every third day or switch into them for my longer runs. but it has taught me to mid foot strike and i feel that is the most important aspect at longer distances.

so maybe i need a shoe with minimal padding and a very slight heel lift? any suggestions?

good luck this weekend.

and it's good to hear from cloud again, isn't it?

David Hill said...

After reading your post again, I pretty much agree with you. You said "super minimal" and "extremely minimal" - which I agree in a 100 mile race over tough, rocky, rugged terrain doesn't make much sense and the cost will outweigh the benefits, especially over the last 30 miles. I once wore VFF for 37 miles of a trail race and had to switch out, feet hurt like hell. Also you acknowledged, under 3 hrs, a more minimal approach makes sense, so we agree there.

As a minimalist runner, I do want good protection for a technical ultra of 50+ miles. But what I really really don't want is that 10-12mm heel drop. What Born To Run (and the experiences of many) showed pretty clearly is that the human foot wasn't meant to run on a propped up heel. It promotes heel striking and interferes with natural, good mechanics. So I think this all really comes down to the drop, and it's where Montrail is falling short - way short. They put out a Rogue Racer with a 4mm drop and I'd totally buy it. If Montrail continues to resist the low drop trend - which you yourself said was going to be around for years to come - they will lose a healthy chunk of market $hare, in this runner's opinion.

Unknown said...

Great conversation here. Lots of good points by everybody!
I struggled finding the "right" shoe for awhile, then decided to approach it scientifically. I went to our local running store, where the owner put me through an arch scan and a gait analysis. It turned out that my left leg is a bit longer than my right, my left leg rotates outward during extension and to compensate (keep me running straight) the left foot pronates pretty nastily on footstrike. Minimalist shoes would be of no help for sure.
I settle on a pair of NF Double Tracks and so far they have served me well.
I guess my point is that if you want to go minimalist, take the time to get your feet and stride assessed or you may be doing yourself some serious harm!
Thanks for the post, goeff and good luck today!

Unknown said...

I recently ran a 100k in VFFs(sport treks) on some of the gnarliest trails possible, and my feet felt great at the end. I had zero blisters and no sore spots. I feel that these provide enough protection even on the sharpest rocks. Regular shoes cause me to roll my ankles as the cushioning seems to act as a lever. On relatively smooth hard mountain courses(such as Wasatch) with lots of descents I do find cushioning to be an advantage and almost necessary, but on very technical terrain I am way faster wearing VFFs. Granted I have spent a lot of my summers barefoot as much as possible, and racing flats have been around forever. I say use what works.

Dean said...

Just to correct a common misconception:

YES, forefoot or midfoot strike means LESS impact forces sent to the knees and hips...


It also means a corresponding INCREASE in impact forces felt in the ankle and calf. This is a sneaky fact that often gets totally lost in the conversation.

(Look it up if you don't believe me)


On the most efficient running form, etc... is also shocking to those who haven't read anything other than "the book".

I'll give you a hint: It's not about where on your foot you land. It's about your cadence, the placement of your center of gravity, and the quality of your particular tendons and muscles.

Great post, Geoff.

Unknown said...

Great post!

To me it is refreshing the see this coming from a pro runner. This echoes what has been my gut feel of the trend since it began. I've read "the book" and also found it entertaining, but the notion of running an ultra, like Wasatch, barefoot is laughable to me. I think you are dead-on in your assessment of the trend.

I've tried some minimal shoes - MT100 - and did some marathon distance trail runs in them back east. But when I got back to the Wasatch Front they just were enough should for me on the trails out here.

Thanks for a great post.

Ben said...

I'm glad Dean said something about it not mattering where you strike, it has to do with efficiency in the strike and stride. I happen to be a heel striker, it has worked for me for 40+ years of running. I used to do everything barefoot, played baseball, ran, etc. One day in a 15 miler (in 1972) I got huge blisters on my feet from running a road race barefoot. I put shoes on after that and have stuck with them since. I usually get my shoes (after someone else has broken them in) from thrift stores. Sometimes my shoes do not even match. None of these things has ever affected my ability to run 100 miles, or fast or slow.

All of that has to do with training. If you do enough training the shoe really does not matter, too little training and the shoe becomes another of the many placebos we have embraced in our sport.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad Dean said something about it not mattering where you strike, it has to do with efficiency in the strike and stride. I happen to be a heel striker, it has worked for me for 40+ years of running. I used to do everything barefoot, played baseball, ran, etc. One day in a 15 miler (in 1972) I got huge blisters on my feet from running a road race barefoot. I put shoes on after that and have stuck with them since. I usually get my shoes (after someone else has broken them in) from thrift stores. Sometimes my shoes do not even match. None of these things has ever affected my ability to run 100 miles, or fast or slow.

All of that has to do with training. If you do enough training the shoe really does not matter, too little training and the shoe becomes another of the many placebos we have embraced in our sport.

Ashley Ringo Walsh said...

Ha, IRONIC! the above comment happens to come from Ray Krolewicz- who yesterday, during 100, told me about pushing Ann Trason to a record back in the day. He knows his stuff.(Ask anyone!) And coincidentally I was about to write this: yesterday, in Ancient Oaks 100, my friend (RayK) was wearing 2 different shoes. One of the shoes I believe he picked up from GOODWILL! He explained to me that it was like staggering tires on a race car. Ray is an ultra legend no doubt. He can give a reason for everything he does-backed by years of experience and success at winning ultras. Talk to the guys who've actually been winning and racing ultras since before we were born and get some really solid feedback!

Patrick said...

Appreciate the thoughts shared here, as always. I'm not remotely at this level of performance and doubt I'll rearrange the priorities in my life to get as close to my personal peak performance so my opinion's not worth as much, but I agree that the key thing is to experiment, find what works, and to expect that the same things don't work for everyone. The aspect of the barefoot running trend that is most unappealing is the the attitude that it's a panacea, which I think is nonsense.

With that leadin, mostly I wanted to share this topical video which is obnoxious but, I think, very funny:

Andrew Zitofsky said...

This is a great read, thanks for the post Geoff. I appreciate the thoughtfulness you put it into this rather than just jumping on one side of the argument and railing against the other like so many have done. This discussion about footwear is a nuanced one, and, frankly, not being an ultra runner I never considered this part of the subject before.

I did weigh in (in a much less thorough way!) on the subject a few weeks ago on my blog: www.atriathletesblog.com.


Ryne Melcher said...

You are on a roll with hilarious blog posts! I believe you have sealed UBOY and they are engraving your name on the trophy!
Couple comments. I'm curious as to those that are associating heel striking as a negative thing. From a biomechanics standpoint if you ARE NOT over striding and your heel is striking underneath the knee and body there is no science/proof indicating this is detrimental to you. Look at video of Meb or the worlds top marathoners. They are heel strikers. They just kiss their heel on the ground, with an efficient strike and transition through the gait phase.

Question on mid foot striking. Wikipedia defines it basically as landing flat footed or the entire foot striking the ground at once. I know some people talk about mid foot striking being that as it sounds, landing on the middle part of your foot first. I would like an explanation on how that is physically possible. The three landing options are heel strike, forefoot strike or entire foot at once. Unless you wear a convex shoe then you can mid-foot strike.

The biggest message is of course if it works for you, don't change it! The argument of having less weight makes sense to a degree as well to the point until the machine breaks down cause it didn't have enough protection and you don't make the finish line.

If your changing the pitch of your shoe from the traditional 12mm to say a 4mm just use caution as that is going to put a lot of stress on the achillies and calves. You didn't jump into running by starting with 100 miler (I'm sure there are some that actually did!) but textbook says start with a 50k and get comfortable with that before trying a Hardrock or Wasatch etc.

Happy trails and happy holidays!

David Hill said...

People defending heel striking, really? Try this...with bare feet on a hard surface, jump up and down on the balls of your feet. Then jump up and down on your heels. See which one feels better. But hey, if it works for you. It's like a golfer with a "bad" swing who still hits the ball straight - some people can get away with it.

Agreed that moving to lower and lower drops should be done slowly. The extra stress on the calf muscle? Tends to build stronger calves.

As for the strike definitions: heel striking = landing on the heel; forefoot strike = landing on ball of foot; midfoot strike = landing simultaneously on the ball and heel of the foot.


Anonymous said...

Completely agree with you here Geoff. If you want to run fast, you're going to want to have some shoe underfoot. You simply cannot run as fast with five fingers on as you can with minimal running shoes. I've always liked minimal, low to the ground, lightweight shoes - long before it became a trend. I like the low profile so I can feel more stable and less likely to turn an ankle and I like the lightness because that makes me feel fast. But, you can have lightness and relatively low profile and still have decent foot protection to run fast in for long distances. You can't do that with five fingers or barefoot. Not if you want to run fast. Like you said, you'll know when you find the right shoe with the right blend of protection, lightness and low profile.

Unknown said...

hey trailrunners,

would like to know what shoes you like in the minimalist category that you referred to about have slightly more cushion and heel lift than the VFF.


Ben Nephew said...

Hi Drew,

I've put a few people with broken toes and stone bruises from VFF's in Inov-8 F-lite 230's and X-talons, and they seem to like them. The Road X 155 is also popular with people looking for a bit more cushioning.

Pepp said...

I find it odd that you rule out minimalist for ultramarathons, as this is where they are having the most success. Champions are actually using/designing them.

I think even Scott Jurek usually preferred racing flats for all distances before he got to make his own light weight trail running shoes.

Personally I think long speed training and racing, like that done by Ryan Hall, would be far more difficult in minimalist than running twice as far half as fast even on tougher terrain. The impact forces simply must be much larger.

joerunner said...

The ability to run long distance safely is a long term adaption. For those without the patience to allow those adaptions to happen we present to you the miracle of barefoot or minimally shod running.

Seems we are always looking for the next magical elixer. Thank you Christopher McDougall.

Tim Brennan said...

Great post Geoff!
Am really looking forward to never eating cooked food again as my ancestors did before the invention of domestic fire - NOT! Cushioned shoes are a tool and our prehistoric relatives would have definitely utilised the odd discarded extra terrestrial trainer if available! Tim

Tim Brennan said...

Great post Geoff!
About time minimalism was confronted. In art it is indeed difficult to be minimal, very difficult. It is also difficult to produce more complex and elaborate forms. The point is to make good art whatever it takes. Just because our prehistoric ancestors ran barefoot is not a good enough argument to base a future running philosophy upon - however it does advertise the niche in the market.

Hey I'm really looking forward to never eating cooked food again as did our ancestors before they domesticated fire as technology! How authentic will I be then?

iverenxx said...

i think that a lot, but not everything, you wrote applies quite well to any type of running, specifically "distance running", a relative term related to what your average long distance run is.

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allen said...

I saw Simon Gutierrez run a local 5K here in Alamosa (part of an Adams State alumni event), in which he ran a 15:XX, pretty impressive by most standards
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Ed Hansberry said...

Just came across this today. A few points:

1) Your analogy about clothing and shoes doesn't work. Look at what clothing does. It is used for fashion, modesty and some level of protection from the elements - heat/cold/UV rays, etc. However, clothing does NOT restrict our movement in general. You can move your torso and arms just as effectively in a shirt as you can shirtless. You might need to make sure your pants are made for exercise, but even when wearing something as heavy as jeans, your legs aren't too constricted. When wearing gloves for protection, your hands and fingers are restricted to some degree, depending on what you are doing - going out in the cold, chopping wood, fighting fires or handling toxic materials. The hands though are *not* immobilized. And it bears saying that gloves are not worn during every waking moment. Shoes, on the other hand (foot?) are worn by many people during waking hours and the VAST majority of shoes almost completely immobilize the foot and toes. If you want proof of this, just look at injury rates of people that have worn foot coffins their whole lives and try to run 4-5 miles barefoot, or with barefoot-style shoes. Muscles, tendons, bones, etc. are not ready for that. You need to slowly build up distance and degrees of difficulty, just as you would for someone that had been in a coma for 6 months. That does NOT mean you must become a barefoot runner or wear sandals or Vibram shoes that have a 2mm sole. It does mean though that you can do those things but if you don't, you need to be very careful to select shoes that give your foot room to maneuver as it was designed, not wrapped in a cast.

2) You are putting too much faith in those that design shoes. Entirely too much shoe "design" is done by the marketing team. Even running shoes are designed by people that are selling shoes, not by scientists in a lab evaluating all aspects of how the shoe performs in different circumstances.

3) Cushioning is not bad, but you are missing the point about the problems it causes. Go jump up and down on a bed. What do your feet instinctively do? Push through. That creates more stress on the ankles, knees, and hips. It is well known that barefoot runners create less impact force than shod runners. Your feet may not feel it because they are wrapped in a marshmallow, but your other joins can tell the difference.

If you are trying to run the fastest time for an ultra, you are on your own. People that try to push to those limits are consistently doing things that are not beneficial for their bodies long term. Weight lifting, pro football, Olympic events, etc. These people have full time physicians helping to mitigate the damage they are doing to their bodies. As you said, 99.99999999% of people never consider running an ultra. I submit to you though that 99.99999% of those that DO run ultras are all about finishing, not about winning. If you are competing at that level, you and your doctor will work it out. Otherwise, you have to take care of your own body, and that means not relying on the marketing departments of shoe companies, but doing your own research.