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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Trail Running Shoes vs Ordinary Running Shoes

I used to be one of those who think that trail shoes are not necessary for running on trails; in Singapore anyway; and just any ordinary running shoes will suffice. That was when most of my trail running was done at MacRitchie Reservoir. This year I have expanded my trail running from MacRitchie to various other trails and especially the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve and Central Catchment area. In these areas, the trails are more “technical”. Some places there are no trails. Just some flattened grass which passes for a trail. Then there are the roots, growing everywhere of various sizes and thickness and I swear placed there by some almighty guardian of the forest to trap us runners. On top of the roots, we have uneven grounds, broken up tarmac, puddles of water, mud, slime. Plus throw in some water crossing and running in such terrains inevitably creates havoc on the legs and body and the shoes. This was reinforced to me in real time when during a recent TNF trail run; a participant fell and sprained her ankle. I myself have fell 3 times in MacRitchie and stumbled many times in the trails but got away unscathed each time. The difference? I was wearing a trail shoes while she did not.

Road running shoes are designed for well, the road. Maybe in MacRitchie where the trail is so worn down by the many people trudging through it on a daily basis, wearing a pair of road running shoes could be sufficient. But try wearing a pair of road running shoes on a technical trail and the shoes wouldn’t last more than 3 runs. It will be ripped to pieces in no time as the sole and upper body is not designed for this type of environment and harsher than normal treatment. Furthermore, most road running shoes are not designed to drain away water and in the trails, there will be pool of waters, streams to cross and if the water doesn’t drain away; there will be lots of water sloshing inside the shoes.

Trail running shoes comes with toe box protection, different type of soles for better grip and traction on the various type of terrain, and usually has a breathable and water-drainable upper body. Most important of all, they are designed to protect the foot and ankle against small mishap such as ankle sprain, stubbing of the toes etc. And of course, they are designed to last longer on such terrains.

So what to look for in a pair of trail running shoes?

  1. There are trail shoes and there are trail shoes. Some are for hiking, some are for climbing and some are for running. Choose those for the intended activity and not a combo. Why? A combo tends to be heavier.
  2. Talking about weight. Trail shoes used to weigh a ton. Nowadays, with the onset of the minimalist movement, trails shoes are getting lighter and yet provide good support and protection. Get a light weight pair like the North Face Single Track. If you run far enough, the legs will inevitably get heavier and every reduced weight helps. The lighter weight will also helps if have to run on road which is inevitable in view of the size of our forest and the gahmen’s desire to ‘bring’ nature to the people.
  3. Make sure it is water-drainable not waterproof. Meaning water must be able to drain out fast. Waterproof is no good. No matter what, somehow water will still get in and if it is waterproof, the water will not be able to drain out. A good pair should be able to let the water drain out fast enough. Usually there are small holes along the side of the shoes for this purpose.
  4. Toebox protection. This is important to protect the toes when it kicks against rocks or roots.
  5. Ankle support. This ranks high on my list not least because I have weak ankle and without good ankle support, every twist and turns along the trails is a potential ankle sprain in waiting.
  6. Along with good ankle support is a good lacing system. This not only provide the necessary support to hold the feet and shoe together but help to keep out the small little pebbles and sands from getting into the shoes. And nothing is more irritating than having to keep on tying laces which comes undone ever so often.
  7. Finally, the sole. Some prefer thinner sole to feel the ground. Some prefer thicker sole for protection against protrusion. This is a matter of personal preference depending on whether one is into the minimalist trend or still on conventional shoes.

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