Look, everyone knows that a new running shoe should be well-worn before you race in it. However, I found myself days away from AfricanX 2016 with a pair of trail shoes that weren’t worthy of a morning of gardening or watching my son’s rugby trials, let alone 90km of trail running… so I had to make a plan. I visited the guys at RUN and asked their advice. I’ve been eyeing out the various pairs of Altras that my friends are currently loving, but as an ASICS Nimbus or Cumulus runner on road, that would have been a dramatic drop for me. I’ve been in ASICS Fuji Attacks on trail for the past few years, and I haven’t had any bad experiences, but I am not completely sold, either. Anyhow, when the plumbing packs up you call the plumber, so I went to the shoe experts for some sage advice.
One of the great things about RUN is their willingness to really listen to your running dreams, and their ability to have you walking out of the store with a true belief that top spot on a podium is written in the stars. They work patiently in trying a broad range of shoes on their customers, testing each on the treadmill while they video your foot strike and assess your running style. Grant was very complimentary about my economical running style; I felt like a (sweaty) pro on that treadmill, in my jeans (bad wardrobe planning on my part).
We tried 7 different shoes on, and he allowed me a quick treadmill moment in the Altras but hammered home that a zero drop shift would be possible given my running style and build, but must be done progressively. I’m all up for that in coming months but didn’t want to risk anything at AfricanX, with Two Oceans Ultra just around the corner.
Brooks Cascadia have a 9.5mm drop from heel to forefoot and are often a good match for a for a runner that feels comfortable in a pair of ASICS Nimbus on road. They felt familiar, and I was impressed by the description of their 4-point pivot system designed for a quick change over uneven surfaces. I bought the pretty purple shoes, and popped a pair of purple New Balance shorts in to the bag too because… if you’re racing in new shoes you might as well go all out and race in new shorts too, right? I tested both in an 11km Newlands Forest trot the next morning, and felt immediate confidence in the shoes. They are not the lightest shoe around, but not heavy either, they are incredibly responsive felt grippy along the mossy boardwalks and my feet pretty much said, “what took you so long?”.
Day 1 of AfricanX dawned, and I was really excited to get to know my new shoes over 34km of jeep track, single track and lovely, muddy forest paths. My team mate loves a nippy downhill, so I had more than a few moments of hammering down on sandy, rocky surfaces; the shoes didn’t falter. There weren’t many water crossings, but the few times my shoes did get wet, I was well impressed by a total lack of soggy feeling. The upper boasts moisture-management mesh and hydrophobic foam and they clearly did their job. Day 2 of AfricanX looked like it was going to wipe a few smiles off of faces; 35 degrees and a route that is almost entirely exposed to the sun. I was worried about blisters, as my feet have a tendency to swell quite badly in the heat. I opted for a pair of Hilly anti-blister socks that I was given to test, and had to hope for the best. Well, despite going for a swim with both shoes and socks on, and being out on the course for more than 5 and a half hours because my American team mate was NOT loving the heat, I was completely blister free at the end of the 36km day. No injections of friars balsam for me. Winning! Day 3 was rainy, and again my shoes handled just fine.
I’m pretty sold on the Brooks Cascadias, and now I will try hard not to freak Grant out by arriving at RUN for a new pair of road shoes mere days before Oceans…