In April 2016 I tore (partially, but mostly) two ligaments in my left ankle during the infamous Break Neck Point Trail Marathon race. I did the usual silly runner thing: I ignored the pain and continued running on it until mid May of that year, after suffering several other rolls after the initial one. Once I finally took myself in to get MRIs of the ankle and confirm the ligament tears, I stayed off of it until mid October. When I finally started running regularly again, it occurred to me that my shoe choice was probably more important to my recovery than I’d previously realized.
I admit that I have been working in the specialty run industry for nearly six years now, but for most of those years I was a die-hard Pearl Izumi fan, and so never really thought twice about other brands…for myself anyway 🙂
While I certainly maintain that every one will find what works for him/herself, I’ll share my experiences from the past few years with trail running shoes, different terrains, and ankle rolls.
I’ll start briefly with Pearl Izumi, but note that sadly the company is no longer manufacturing running gear, shoes included. I’ll follow in chronological order of what I’ve tried since.
Pearl Izumi: All Models
What I loved: well, just about everything. These shoes fit my foot like a glove, and their low heel allowed me to transition – very comfortably – from a heel-striker to a mid-foot-striker. They also used to make super cool color combinations. 🙂
What I didn’t like so much: the only qualm I ever had with these shoes was that their tread left a bit to be desired. Fortunately, during most of the time that I was wearing these shoes, I lived in Washington State and ran mostly very smooth trails. Lots of stuff out there can be wet, and rocky, however; these shoes were not the best on wet, rocky trails.
Terrain Recommendations: soft, smooth trail – pine needly – gravel
Specs: ranging from low cushion to max cushion; options for overpronation stability support and neutral; about a 4 mm heal-to-toe drop
La Sportiva: Mutant and Akasha
What I loved: holy guacamole, I also loved these things. The first pair I ever put on my feet were the Mutants. Wow. Wow. Wow wow. They are a slim fit, so I was surprised that my wider foot actually sat comfortably in this shoe. I took this out for the first time around some trails along the Twisted Branch course. I was smitten. I had never felt so secure in my footing (well, especially after the Pearls 🙂 ), no matter what the terrain brought!
What I didn’t like so much: the Mutant has a fairly high heel – about 12 mm. This is typical of old-school-style road running shoes. After working with Pearl Izumi and the Brooks Green Silence (also sadly discontinued) for several years and recalibrating my stride and foot strike, the heel counter in these felt a little inhibitory. I also own the Akasha, which has a lower heal and less total cushion. I like this shoe a lot, too, but it is very stiff…perhaps too stiff for what we have here around Rochester and the Finger Lakes.
Terrain Recommendations: well, born and bred in Italy, these shoes are excellent for rocky, rugged terrain. I would absolutely take these out west with me, or to Europe (#dreaming). They work perfectly fine on our softer trails, and definitely keep up with the mud!!
Specs: great, rugged, large lugging on the out sole; slim snug fit; variations in amount of cushioning and heel drop
Salomon: Sense Pro
What I loved: well, unfortunately I wore these a half size too big. I was super stoked about this shoe, and was offered a pair as a freebie from Finger Lakes Running Company in Ithaca, but unfortunately the size was off. Salomon’s tend to run longer, and so my typical size 8 would have put me in a 7.5 for this shoe. So, I only got one run in these shoes – it was that Breakneck race in which I sprained my ankle….womp womp.
What I didn’t like so much: also hard to say. I think this shoe is probably fantastic, and the pair I have is purple – what could be better?!
Terrain Recommendations: this is an excellent shoe for the terrain we have around here. This shoe is not overly cushioned, and there is not a very good rock plate in here. I highly recommend it for things like Lucien Morin, Mendon Ponds, Ellison, Powdermill, and pretty much all trails throughout the Finger Lakes.
Specs: 6 mm heel drop; mid-range cushioning; not overly rugged out sole; excellent grip!
What I loved: I’ll note that I first owned this shoe when I worked at Fleet Feet Seattle back in 2013 and the Scott brand was just starting to gain traction in the trail-running world. I wasn’t a super fan of these shoes back then, but I was reintroduced to them at the Whiteface Sky Race in 2015 when Scott McCubrey brought out shoes for runners to demo during the races!! I owned a couple of pairs of the Kinabalu that year and ran in them faithfully. I liked that this is a general do-all. The fit has never been perfect for me, but the cushion is excellent and the heel drop – while not super low – has never seemed to bug me. The traction is fine, and in fact low enough that I used this shoe as a hybrid (road-trail) perhaps as often as I used it as a trail shoe.
What I didn’t like so much: Well, in part I didn’t love the thick cushion of the Kinabalu, but Scott offers several other styles with lower cushion, which I have tried too and loved! The tread on this particular model, as I said, is not super grippy or rugged, but it is more than substantial for our local trails.
Terrain Recommendations: soft, smooth trail; rocky dry trail
Specs: 11 mm heel drop; lots of cushion!
What I loved: Well, as this is the last shoe listed, you may have surmised that this is what I’m running in lately…and it’s not a trail shoe. After over a year of rehabbing this ankle, and with a long (fingers crossed) race season ahead of me, I am trying to do at least two wise things: (1) I am seeing a chiropractor for help getting my ankle back on track; and (2) I am going to make cross training at least 50% of my training at least for the next several months, and (well let’s call it smart thing #3 😉 ) (3) I am going to run roads more so than usual so as to decrease my opportunity for rolling my ankle.
So, this shoe has been phenomenal so far. It is a zero-drop shoe and this particular model has lots of cushion in it!! When I’ve run in this shoe so far, I have felt like I could run forever. I feel like my form is spot-on, and I can finish a 90-minute run with zero pain (I’m almost 30 years old and have probably never made that statement before in my 15-year running career). I have yet to put tons of miles on this shoe, but I seriously cannot wait. I plan to buy at least one more shoe from Altra: probably the Lone Peak (trail) and probably also the Escalante (for road speed work).
What I didn’t like so much: I can’t hardly say anything here. I used to not like the fit of these shoe – believe me, I’ve been selling this shoe for several years and have tried hard to like it, but it’s never fit my foot until now. So if you’ve had that experience before, please go check out the latest version of the Torin (3.0), it just came out!!
Terrain Recommendations: road 🙂
Specs: zero drop; lots of cushion!!
So what are you running in? I know there are many, many new brands on the market these days, and several of them I have yet to try. Share with us on IG or in the comments below what has worked for you, what hasn’t, and what shoe you’re ithcin’ to try!