It All Comes Down to Shoes

This weekend’s hike really brought into focus the importance of wearing and choosing the right footwear for your training and exercise routines. Everyone has their favorite brand, and I am no different. Instead of adding to the debate though I thought I’d take a few moments to tell you about what I actually use and own. Given the chance; there are several purpose-built trail/running shoes I would love to have. When you factor in cost considerations though and in the case of Vibram Five Fingers, the availability of sizes to fit my military issue feet; it was easy to narrow down the candidates.

After much shopping around and drooling I eventually settled on a pair of Reebok RealFlex runners from Dick’s Sporting Goods for treadmill work and hard surface running. These shoes are comfortable and insanely light. At first I thought they were nothing more than a Reebok reissue of the Nike Free Run of which I have owned several pair over the last five years. Also I must admit I am a sucker for good advertising and the “training buddy” commercials hooked me. Add to this a sale price of 69.99 and it was a done deal. These shoes seek to capitalize on the growing barefoot running trend and claim to better mimic and allow the natural motion of your feet as you run. They also say they promote mid-foot striking, but honestly have a little too much heel cushion for that. I would have preferred less drop from the heel to toe for more of a flat sole but Reebok sees this as more of an introduction shoe for runners making the switch to barefoot.

For the most part these are great shoes. I actually enjoy wearing them and I could notice a difference in the weight and comfort over my Nike’s immediately. They utilize a type of minimalist construction that I appreciate. There are no crazy gimmicks or flashy shapes in the upper; just fabric, mesh, and some suede to protect your toes and heel. The soles are made from a very durable foam rubber mix, and segmented into flexible blocks similar to Nike’s Free. The idea is to allow more flex and activation of your foot’s many muscles and tendons. The end result is less foot pain, knee trauma, and a more natural efficient running gait. The jury is still out on those claims but I can tell you from my experience that I have noticed less impact on my joints and better balance. I have been wearing barefoot style shoes for several years now and have grown accustomed to the effect. However if you’re just getting started be careful and slowly work it into your normal routine and expect sore calves for a few weeks as your body adjusts. Also these are not water proof or very warm. I do not recommend them for trail running or off pavement excursions.

For trail running I had been lusting after a pair of Merrill trail gloves for quite some time. Vibram had also been calling my name and I was looking at buying a pair until I realized that they just didn’t fit my small feet. I searched the internet for a while and after noticing the interesting cleated sole of my girlfriend’s Adidas’s decided to check them out. I found a pair of Kanadia TR’s that met all my conditions for a good trail shoe. First they were black and sporting a sole that looked more like a pair of BFGoodrich mud terrain tires than running shoes. They were also “winterized” so claimed Adidas, and waterproof. Most important to me they were on sale and we walked out the door with a pair for only 49.99.

The first thing I noticed when trying these shoes on in the store was how light they were. I have never worn Adidas shoes before and was a little leery about making the switch; especially when there was a pair of very similar New Balance trail runners sitting right next to them. I wore NB’s through most of my time in the Marines and found them not only to be really inexpensive but very resilient and comfortable. Unfortunately these were yellow and white and I learned a long time ago that bright colors and mud do not mix. I wore the Kanadia’s during my workouts over the next three days to help break them in and prepare them for their first real test; a 15 mile hike Christmas morning.

The hike was probably the best test of a trail shoe ever created and the black Adidas passed with flying colors. The knobby soles kept my feet planted on slick muddy near vertical inclines and the light weight and flexibility kept my feet happy, warm, and dry. The last quarter or so of the hike was on a paved road and I admit my feet were missing my Reeboks by the end but I made it through unscarred and uninjured. It was a great illustration of what both types of shoes were made for and where they shine. My Reeboks would have eaten up the miles of asphalt with comfort and ease, but quickly drowned in the mud and rock of the trail. Hopefully soon I will move on up to some Merrills or even some NEW Balance MTR20’s but for now my two pairs of soldiers will continue on happily doing what is asked of them.

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