Minimal, Maximal or the curious question of Drop

Back in the day, I would go to a run store, ask for a neutral shoe and then try several models. I would pick the shoes that felt good and if they all felt good, I would pick by criteria such as brand and/ or colour. Job done. I would then go and run. Initially I played safe (looking back) picking shoes with a little more cushioning. However, as I got fitter and faster, my shoes got lighter. Seemed to make sense. At no point did I know what ‘drop’ the shoes had. I didn’t even know what drop was and in all honesty, I probably only considered drop in 2009/ 2010.

Ian on Bike

Coming from a cycling background, running was not something that came natural but I improved through triathlon. Eventually ultra running attracted me; I was looking for something new. I wanted something that intimidated me… running long always intimidates me!

I had big legs; plenty of muscles from cycling and triathlon, so, the longer I ran, the more muscle problems I had. Just part of the challenge I thought. Then I saw Hoka One One whilst running races in France and I thought, maybe all that cushioning will help?

Hoka Mafate Waterproof

I started using Hoka One One way back in 2010. I was using the original Mafate when pretty much nobody in the UK even realised what these shoes existed. I had all the comments, clown shoes, platform shoes, ridiculous and so on.

Of course, most people were correct. They did look somewhat ridiculous but considering I had been introduced to the shoes on ‘local’ terrain (France) I found the acceptance across the Channel more acceptable. Particularly in mountain races when running down long and/ or technical descents was the norm.

The plush ride from maximal shoes was something quite unique. Like running on marshmallow I would say. I loved the feeling and I started using the Bondi B for road runs in addition to the Mafate for trail. Cut a long story short, I sold Hoka One One in the UK and really pushed them. Yes. I loved them that much.

I listened to warnings from minimalist runners and other brands and then one by one, I would see runners switch and then other shoe brands ‘add’ more cushioning to shoes. Hoka One One were ahead of the times…

Ironically, as ‘maximal’ took hold, I defected.

Yes, in 2012 I walked away from maximal and never looked back. For me, it all started with niggling knee injuries. At first it was nothing I could pinpoint. At the time I was racking up the miles and running twice daily. I put it down to ‘just’ run pain. You know, the pain we all get and ignore… I won a race in Turkey (60km) but struggled in the closing stages with severe knee pain and later, when I toed the line at Lakeland 50 (looking for top-10) the knees gave in and from that moment, I stopped racing.

Of course I made a few errors. I didn’t address the issues early enough and I stuck my head in the sand and thought the problems would go away: no!

Stopping running for a while was the only way and in time I addressed many issues and points. My knee issues were caused by running in maximal shoes; the added cushioning, the ‘roll’ and the softness all combined with 100’s of miles in training equalled failure!

Turns out maximal shoes were not for me, or my knees.

Of course, this is a little controversial.

Maximal shoes are a new technology and therefore I don’t think we currently have full feedback on the pros and cons of this type of shoe. I guess I had a 2/3-year head start. The initial benefits touted to consumers were:

  • More comfort
  • Less impact
  • Plush ride
  • Run downhill quicker
  • And so on…

The opposition said:

  • Lack of feel with the ground
  • Too much roll
  • Too cushioned
  • And so on…

In time, I had to agree. For me, I was in the latter camp. Having said that, had I not had issues, maybe I would still be running in maximal shoes, who knows?

In the past 2-years I have in many ways learnt to run again. Getting a feel for the ground beneath me, trying to run with better technique and I have run considerably less. I am not a minimalist runner… I didn’t go down the Vibram route. But what I did do was use less cushioning. I actually just went back to shoes similar that I used in my running/ triathlon days… I used to call them ‘flats.’

Many people don’t realise, but Hoka One One and other similar brands use ‘low-drop.’ Altra for example use zero drop. So, I was already adapted to low drop running. I wouldn’t say my technique was perfect, but I have always been a mid to forefoot striker so basically I just needed to feel the ground again.

In my opinion, maximal shoes caused 3-key issues FOR ME. And I stress here, for me.

1: The added cushioning didn’t allow me to feel the ground. I therefore was ‘hitting’ the ground harder with every foot strike. Of course the cushioning masked this. So, to get feeling, I hit the ground harder, the cushioning compressed and then recoiled. Think about it, my muscles and my knees were working harder but in a different way. All those foot strikes, all the accumulated minutes, hours and miles.

2: The height and cushioning of the shoes caused me to roll. On flat surfaces the cushioning would compress and I would roll inward. The more cushioning, the more I could roll. Again, times this by all the foot strikes… not an issue for isolated runs but when you run day after day and twice a day, that builds up! On technical terrain, the cushioning offered more protection for sure, but again I was rolling and twisting far more than in a less cushioned shoe. My knees were being taken out of align all the time.

I like to equate the roll to the comparison of an F1 car and a bus. Take an F1 car around a corner at speed and it won’t sway or deviate. Take a bus around a corner and it will lean and possibly tip over. This is how I look at run shoes… or more importantly less cushioning in comparison to more cushioning.

3: I also feel that the cushioning made me a lazy runner. I was carefree because the cushioning masked so much. I also became weaker in my legs… I let the shoes do the work.

I think I could only really appreciate the above once I stopped using ‘maximal’ shoes and returned back to basics. I have spent the last 2-years running in shoes with normal or less cushioning and I have tested shoes with various drop; typically 4mm to 8mm.

Now many of you may question many aspects of what I mention above. That’s good! This article is not meant to give you hard facts. I want you to question and assess your running, your form, your contact with the ground and your running well being.

I am not promoting barefoot, minimalist, low drop or maximal. I am giving you scenarios and experiences that I have accumulated over time.

I could say, ‘do this!’

But ultimately, that is when issues arise. Doing ‘this’ is perfect for one athlete but not another. Sometimes you have to get it wrong to find out if you are doing it right.

Maximal is a current trend. Ironically, I went maximal just when most people went minimal… ‘Born to Run’ has lots to answer for! As Vibram clad warriors ran around me, I bounced along like Tigger.

Was I correct? NO!

Was minimalists correct? NO!

To some extent, we had both followed fads. For many, going minimalist and ‘learning to run again’ over a constructive and gradual period was and may very well be, the best thing they have ever done. But for every converted sole, we have a runner (or maybe multiple runners) who are broken at the side of the trail with stress fractures, damaged calf muscles or achilles problems.

But, going maximal (for me) was no better. I didn’t ease into maximal, I went in head over heels committed myself and the cushioning allowed me to get away with it… for a while!

If I learnt one lesson, GRADUAL is a key word. Be that maximal, minimal low drop or whatever…

Fads will come and go.

This conversation will continue in years to come and without doubt, we will be looking at a new aspect of run technique. It’s the nature of things.

But, running and the ability to run is god given. We are designed to run. So in future, when you have children, maybe nurture your child from the feet up. Start from the ground and let evolution do its work.

In retrospect, Chris McDougall was right, we are ‘Born to Run’ the problem is, we have actually devolved as runners.

Fashion and fads will come and go.

Take your time and if it aint broke… don’t break it! Otherwise it may well take you 2-years to get back on the right trail.

Like me!

Salomon Fellraiser

Andy Symonds and Ricky Lightfoot very much pioneered the Salomon Fellcross, as the inside of the shoe says ‘Designed in the Alps‘. They tested the shoe and made tweaks to the design that would ensure that a shoe came to the market that was perfect for the job!

Salomon Fellraiser

In 2013, a Fellcross 2 is certainly on the cards but fresh from the Outdoor Retail Show in the US the Salomon Fellraiser has emerged. Due SS 13?

Low to the ground? The Fellraiser is lower to the ground and apparently more flexible than previous models in the Salomon range. A 7mm drop (tbc) with a supposed12mm of cushioning at the front and 19mm at the back, this shoe will certainly become popular on muddy and gnarly trail. It has aggressive traction and a contragrip outsole with a fast drying and lightweight upper.An EVA midsole should provide great feel and enhance quick transition from one foot to the other.

UPDATE 1st Feb

Many thanks to Gripmaster who has been testing these shoes, he has confirmed the ‘drop’ at 6mm with forefoot cushioning at 6mm and rear cushioning at 12mm. He says “the new profile is quite cool, better on rock than the fellcross 1, so more usable in the alps that way..”

Is this ‘the new‘ Speedcross? Who knows… it certanly seems as though it is an offering in the ‘Speedcross’ arena. Certainly, the lower drop, if confirmed, will be appealing. But I have already seen new colourways of the Speecdross 3 for 2013 so this almost certainly will be an addition to the Salomon range.

It’s also lightweight, current stats are showing 230g for a UK8.5 (tbc)

Of course until I get my hands on a pair of shoes, look at them and test them, I can provide no more information. Rest assured, news will soon follow.

Salomon Website HERE

Topo Athletic

green_s2

I am not going spend too much time on this but news is news….

Tony Post, former boss of barefoot inspired ‘Five Fingers’ firm, Vibram, has moved from  five to two toes. As any minimalist runner should…?

Post says split shoes offer more than a design gimmick.

“The big toe is the most important mechanism in the foot. You want your big toe to move but retain stability from the rest of your toes. On landing, say, the big toe effectively curls upwards, pushing the ball of your foot into the ground and giving a stable pivot point from heel to forefoot. Barefoot shoes can improve strength and flexibility. It’s like having dumbbells for the feet.” taken from The Independent Richard Fenton at Profeet

The Technology?

  • Based on the Japanese Tabi shoe, the split toe creates a unique anchor point in the forefoot, offering more security and a stronger connection to your footwear.
Copyright Topo Athletic

Copyright Topo Athletic

  • The anatomically designed toe box allows the remaining toes to spread naturally, delivering comfort and control for optimal performance.
  • The shoe has lightweight material and welded seams because weight and chafing are not your friends.
  • We have a zero-drop heel-to-toe platform because we don’t think a shoe should “fix” the way you run or train.

So, a zero drop shoe that looks like a horses hoof.

Why barefoot?

In 2001, Nike sent guys to watch the Stanford University team train and were dismayed to see them doing so without shoes. “I believe when my runners train barefoot they run faster and suffer fewer injuries,” the coach said, as Christopher McDougall recounts in his book ‘Born to Run’. “We’ve shielded our feet from their natural position by providing more and more support.” The Independent

I can give no opinion at this stage as I have only researched the shoe and not physically looked at one or tried them on.

If the shoes has ‘cushioning’ and at this stage I can’t tell if that is the case but they do look more cushioned than Vibram Five Fingers. The Topo Athletic range may very well give runners of all shapes and sizes a zero drop shoe with protection.

I have to obtain a pair of shoes and feedback in due course.

You can read more at the companies website HERE

Salomon Sense Mantra

Salomon Sense Mantra

The Salomon Sense Mantra may very well be a shoe that introduces ‘new’ runners to mid or forefoot running with cushioning and comfort and a 6mm drop or provide efficient runners with a shoe of greater comfort over longer distances.

The ‘Mantra’ is the the second brother to the S-Lab Sense that Kilian Jornet used in winning the 2011 WS100, the first brother being the ‘new’ S-Lab Sense Ultra.

Why the Mantra?

Well, the Sense and Sense Ultra at 4mm ‘drop’ may very well be two of the most desirable shoes in the run market place at the moment, but for many it may very well be a step too far… especially if coming from a conventional road or trail shoe with a 12mm drop.

Drop? What’s that then… well in the Mantra the ‘drop’ is 6mm. Clearly shown in this image.

Heel Drop Salomon Sense Mantra

Drop is quite simply the difference between heel and toe height. The ‘lower’ the drop, in theory, the more natural the foot strike. It has long been proven that a mid to forefoot strike is far better for efficiency. However, until the ‘barefoot‘ and ‘minimalist‘ movement primarily fuelled by Chris McDougall’s book ‘Born to Run‘, many of us probably didn’t even know what our shoe drop was…

Drop isn’t everything though. Cushioning is also really important. In the Mantra the cushioning at the front of the shoe is 10mm and 16mm at the rear, so, a cushioned shoe!

This additional cushioning combined with a 6mm drop clearly means that the Mantra is firmly placed at enticing two types of runner:

  • Firstly, Sense or Sense Ultra users who want a low drop shoe with additional cushioning for longer races or training.
  • Secondly, runners who have been using ‘conventional’ shoes who would like to move to a lower drop and improve run technique with a mid – forefoot strike.

The Mantra in a nutshell offers a little more cushioning than it’s S-Lab brothers, a little more protection and a longer OS Tendon to return more energy. The lower heel drop will allow tendons/muscles to absorb more shock from the running motion and remove stress away from joints. Ultimately, this improvement in run technique will provide greater running efficient for less effort, less injury and a more balanced runner.

OS Tendon? This provides a balanced flex within the shoe and according to Salomon provides improved energy return.

Key Features of the shoe:

Endofit : This is one of the key features of the Sense range that I love. It is an internal sleeve within the shoe, almost like a sock. It does mean that the ‘Sense’ range can be a little awkward to get on at first making you even question if you have the right size shoe. But once your foot slides in you are rewarded with a tight fitting shoe that grips the foot providing a firm, secure and confident feel. Designed for Kilian Jornet so that he could run without a sock. Please keep this in mind. I have gone true to size and use a thin sock and they feel great. If you are planning on using a more padded sock you may need a half size larger.

Salomon Sense Mantra sole

Dynamic Traction : A Salomon patented system allowing for maximum surface area and traction. Designed for ‘Road to Trail’ the Dynamic Traction grips in the dry and provides security in mud.

Profeet Film : Quite literally a thin fim that runs through the top of the midsole to provide security and protection from the trail that you will run on.

Sensifit :  The upper wraps the foot for precision.

Quicklace : A renowned feature of all Salomon shoes with a ‘garage’ the top of the tongue to store excess lace.

Weight is around 260g for a UK9.5 so it compares well to the Sense Ultra at 230g and The North Face Single Track Hayasa at 280g (this shoe has a 10mm drop).

Testing

Early days yet but as one would imagine,  this shoe brings many benefits to an already growing shoe collection. As an alternative to lighter and lower drop shoes such as the Sense or Sense Ultra, the Mantra will provide some welcome additional comfort on those longer days on road or trail.

Watch this blog and I will be back with an update as the miles and mud accumulates.

Salomon Running available HERE

The North Face Single Track Hayasa

TNF Single Track Hayasa

Fresh out of the box, The North FaceSingle Track Hayasa‘. I am a real fan of TNF products, the ‘Flight Series‘ in particular offers a great range of products that transfer to so many disciplines. Light, functional, well fitting, breathable and ultimately great quality. It’s nice to remove them from the packaging, put them on knowing that they will do the job.

In regard to run shoes, The North Face I guess are still ‘newbies’ and in the past they have received mixed reviews about the footwear they have created. I have to say I had the original ‘Single Track’, you know, the really great looking shoe… black, red & white. Not only did it look good but it felt good.

The ‘Single Track Hayasa‘ is a shoe designed for speed. Greatly influenced by TNF athlete  Tsuyoshi Kaburaki from Japan, Hayasa actually means ‘Speed’ in Japenese.

Tsuyoshi Kaburaki

Tsuyoshi Kaburaki

It is a shoe ready for racing and as such sits low to the ground with a 10mm heel to toe drop (8mm toe /18mm heel). Weighing in at just over 8 oz for such a lightweight shoe protection has not been compromised.

At the front of the shoe we have a puncture resistant toe cap and on the tip of the shoe, you do have additional rigidity. This will add some protection from kicking rocks etc. But in real terms and in comparison to other brands the toe bumper is relatively small. When we move to the rest of the upper, we can see that there is basically a lot of mesh. The shoe will drain really well and breathability will be excellent as you might expect.

TNF Single Track

Seams are extremely low in the upper and the TNF have used welded seams. The lace loops attach to an internal cage (see the silver/white). This fabric is on both sides of the shoe. When you lace up, it pulls on the fabric in and it wraps around your foot to create support.

The shoe when on with laces adjusted feels very snug and the tongue is gusseted and attached to the upper. It is very padded and in conjunction with a plush heel box the shoe is a pleasure to wear.

The toe box is wide and has plenty of room. Maybe too much room for some so it would be wise to check on sizing to ensure that you get the correct feel. I personally went a half size larger but I do wonder if I may well have been better going ‘true to size’.

TNF Hayasa

Starting just behind the toes and going to the back of the shoe is the ‘Snake Plate‘ (green). The snake plate is an alternative method to the standard ‘rock plate’ that you find in many trail shoes. Instead of one large plate, as the name suggests this one snakes in and out. The idea being increased flexibility. Ultimately, protection and flexibility combined that also means a saving in overall weight. The rear of the shoe has a ‘cradle‘. The cradle is created, like a bucket I guess for your foot to sit in. It provides stability and security. I have to say this is one key feature I initially like. Just walking around you immediately notice a firm hold.

Without doubt a neutral shoe with a 10mm drop. You have 8mm of foam at the front and 18mm at the rear of the shoe. In this ‘low drop’ and ‘minimalist’ environment 10mm may very well be snubbed by many but this shoe sits low to the ground and as such provides a very natural feel with protection and cushioning.

My initial concerns with this shoe are with the outsole. It has low profile lug which is ideal for road, hard pack trail and/ or rocky trail but in any mud they will be pretty much useless.  The front of the shoe has directional grip so when going uphill you have traction as and when required. In the heel the lugs are reverse facing which will add grip when going downhill (if required). The middle of the sole is void of grip.

Testing?

Well, that is to come.

I have been provided with these shoes to test in a Jungle environment so please keep an eye on my blog for an update in February. Until then I will be running on some road, hard trail and even some mud to see how the Hayasa perform before heading deep into a rainforest…

SPECS

Upper:

  • Lightweight, minimal upper construction
  • TPUwelded support overlays
  • Lightly protective toe cap
  • Perforated EVA Northotic™ footbed

Bottom:

  • TPU and EVA CRADLE™ heel-cushioning and stability technology
  • 18 mm/8 mm heel/forefoot heights
  • Dual-density, compression-molded EVA midsol
  • Blown rubber forefoot
  • High-abrasion rubber heel
  • TPU Snake Plate™ forefoot protection

Shoe Technologies:

NorthFit: The mission of NorthFit™ is to scientifically provide the outdoor athlete with the most precise fit between the human foot and a footwear last, as they both relate to the demands of the specific activity for which the shoe is worn

Snake Plate: The Snake Plate™ consists of a plate that winds back and forth in the forefoot, allowing the foot to flex in a natural manner while delivering protection and rigidity.

Northotic: Biomechanically engineered Northotic™: The North Face® has taken the conventional footbed and elevated it to a superior level with enhanced stability, support and cushioning.

Cradle: The North Face® CRADLE™ technology is engineered to naturally absorb impact, stabilise the foot and promote an anatomically correct stride by supporting the perimeter of the heel and ensuring the fatty tissues under the bursa are biomechanically positioned. CRADLE™ achieves the perfect balance of protection, control and comfort to inspire confidence for any foot on any terrain.

Tenacious Grip: Tenacious™ Grip is a high-abrasion, sticky rubber designed for maximum off-trail traction that will also withstand the rigors of rough off-trail surfaces.

X-Dome: X-Dome™ functions as a heel-cushioning and propulsion mechanism that propels the foot from heel-strike into the subsequent stride stages.

Salomon Sense Ultra

The long awaited ‘Sense Ultra‘ has arrived. THANK YOU Santa……

As many of you will know, the ‘Sense‘ has become the shoe of choice for those who are wanting to run on trail with a minimalist and responsive shoe. However, we can’t all be as efficient as Kilian Jornet or Andy Symonds.

The Sense Ultra offers a little more but holds true to all the elements that have made the ‘sense’ so popular.

The Salomon S-LAB Sense Ultra Racing is one of the lightest trail shoes ever made. It is heavier than the Sense but has added strengthening of the sole for longer and harder races.

It has the new lacing system: Quicklace this reduces the weight of Sense.
Dynamic Traction:  allows the Salomon S lab Sense  optimum grip in all conditions. It wasdeveloped by Solomon with the greatest athletes without any compromise. It has different grip and texture which has been designed to optimize grip when it is necessary.
EndoFit: has an inner liner to the shoe designed for positioning the foot optimally.
Drop: a low 4mm drop to provide a natural contact and feel with the ground.
OS TENDON: Thanks to this system inserted in the sole of the S lab intermediare sense, there is a natural flow with excellent energy return.
Profeet Film: is a protection film that will protect your foot area from angular or sharp objects that are on the trail. The Sense offers maximum protection despite its lightness.
Weight: 240g in 8.5 U.S.

When you lift up the box you think wait a minute… they forgot the shoes! Not so. These ‘runners’ are super light.

The lacing system as with all Salomon in reassuring and holds the foot firm.

The addition of the internal ‘Endofit’ makes the shoe more comfortable than you would ever imagine. They can be a little tight to get on at first and you may initially think; uh oh, wrong size. But once your foot is it is snug and supremely comfortable. The most comfortable shoe I have ever worn.

I am not a small guy and the therefore I always felt the original ‘Sense‘ was maybe just a little too minimal for me… certainly on longer runs! not so with the ‘Ultra’. The additional cushioning is immediately apparent.

The sole has grip but nothing like the ‘SLab Softground‘ or ‘Speedcross‘. The shoe is therefore certainly more suited to road and hard pack (or rocky) trail. If your running in soft ground they perform perfectly but if you are a great deal of mud the added grip of the Soft Ground or Speedcross may be a better choice.

In use they are a dream to wear. On the roads they are light, responsive and provide that feel that I have had with traditional racing flats. The bonus with the ‘Sense Ultra’ is the hold of the foot. The speed lacing and Endofit provide supreme comfort. On the trails this becomes even more apparent as the foot moves from left to right with changes in terrain.

It’s early days in testing but this shoe will not be of my feet for a while… they are so comfortable I would even be tempted to use them as slippers.

Now then, I need to go run…..

As a foot note, (no pun intended) Spring/ Summer 2013 will see a new Sense model – ‘Mantra

I saw this shoe earlier this year at Cavalls del Vent. A couple of the Salomon runners tested the shoe (Emelie Forsberg and Philipp Reiter) By all accounts a great edition to the range but too early to provide some detailed feedback.

The Mantra will be an everyday trainer in the same mold as the Sense and Sense Ultra. It’s a door-to-trail hybrid. With it’s 16mm heel and 10mm front (6mm drop as opposed to 4mm) and 260 grams weight, it looks to be a featherweight trainer without requiring the user to go to a 4mm drop shoe. Salomon has been heavily delving into exactly how different heel-to-toe drops effect actual stride speed which has resulted in their “Natural Motion Construction.”  A lower heel drop supports a mid-foot or forefoot strike that in turn better enables muscles, instead of joints, to absorb shock. Ultimately, their argument is this builds greater balance and overall running efficiency. More to follow….

Sense Mantra

Sense Mantra

UltrAspire SPRY race pack

Every now and again you get a product to test that ticks all the right boxes and you say to yourself “no way are you being sent back!”

This has just happened with the UltrAspire SPRY race pack. A really awesome solution for being minimal on your runs but not skimping on the essentials. You can read the review here