I've been searching high and low for the right shoes to run my two *very* different 100 milers in this spring. In both races, finding the right shoe to match the terrain will be crucial for me running a fast time.
This past week I found the perfect shoe (in my mind) for the Umstead 100 miler in North Carolina on April 5. This course features a "perfect" crushed stone running surface with very few rocks or roots to deal with. This surface is similar to the jeep roads on the Vermont 100 course as well as the C&O canal towpath on which I train frequently here in DC. Since there aren't any boulder fields or crazy mountain passes to cross in this race, I've spent quite some time looking for a low-to-the-ground trail running shoe that's built lighter than the 12+ oz. shoes I train with on the roads and use for more rocky routes. Simply chosing a racing flat wouldn't work for me for one big reason - after 40 to 50 miles, trail dust will enter your shoe through the mesh in the toe/side area and begin to shred your feet like tiny bits of glass. If you don't pick a shoe with "trail" quality mesh, you'll be screaming in pain long before you reach 100 miles. That said, I found the New Balance 800s to fit my needs perfectly. I took them out for a test run last weekend, and I've given them my stamp of approval for race day. Checking in at a svelte 10 oz, and sporting a great tight mesh upper, I'll be armed (or footed) and ready to tear off the miles in these puppies.
For the insanely rocky Massanutten Mountain 100 miler in May, I'll need the complete opposite type of shoe. I've trained on the course with great success thus far using the Brooks Cascadia. This shoe offers much more stability, cushioning, and protection from rocks/roots in the sole. Their "ballistic rock shield" on the bottom keeps the sharp edges of rocks from beating up your feet, but in a terrific application of design and technology, this shoe actually rides fairly low to the ground giving you better feel for the terrain in terms of pushing off on uneven surfaces. I'll definitely start the Massanutten race in this shoe. Should the relentless terrain end up winning out and forcing me to change shoes at some point, I'll have a fresh pair of Montrail Hardrocks ready to come in from the bullpen. These babies were created for the most difficult 100 miler in the country, the Hardrock 100 in Colorado. I can solemnly swear that NOTHING gets through the soles of these shoes. Considering the bottoms are about twice as thick as the Cascadias, just looking at them tells you they mean business. It's that same thickness in the soles that will keep me from using them until I absolutely need to, however. A stiff shoe that rides that high gives you a removed feeling from the terrain and, in my opinion, leaves you open to turn an ankle or three if you're not careful. Of course, I'll be more than willing to take that risk in exchange for their added cushioning should my feet be calling for mercy at mile 70.