This last weekend, I attempted the Grindstone 100 mile race in Swoope, Virgina. It didn’t go so well and I DNFed at about mile 54 or so. I’ll be posting some more about the lessons learned in the race, which were plenty.
One issue in particular has garnered some discussion- my shoe choice.
I wore a pair of Merrell Trail Gloves. Normally they are my default trail shoe. The fit is perfect for my feet and they offer a good mix of traction and protection.
Until the conditions at Grindstone.
The course was extremely rocky in some sections. Normally this isn’t an issue as I can hop around and land on the smoother, flatter rocks. However, the rocks were covered with leaves AND it was dark. To add to the mix, I hadn’t run on technical trails since Colorado a few months ago. I also hadn’t practiced night running.
Despite those conditions, I was able to avoid the big rocks for the first eight hours or so. Once fatigue was added to the mix, I started catching my toe on the taller rocks. My toes took a beating. I started stepping awkwardly on large, pointed rocks. My soles took a beating.
The net result was a much slower than planned pace. Eventually it caused me to walk at times I should have been running. Had I finished, it would have dramatically lengthened my finish time.
This race was a perfect example of why shoes are needed in some conditions. Furthermore, it was an example of the importance of determining the minimal protection needed for any given terrain.
When selecting minimalist shoes, some people suggest buying the thinnest shoes possible. This is great… if you run on smooth surfaces. As soon as you add debris like rocks, roots, acorns, or thorns, more protection is required.
Think of it as a continuum with high ground feel (think socks) on one end and maximum protection on the other (think Hokas.) As long as the shoe allows natural form, find a shoe that is as close to the “ground feel” end as the conditions will allow.
At Grindstone, I definitely could have used something a little closer to the “protection” end throughout the night. Luckily Merrell is releasing some good options for spring (Bare Access among the contenders) that maintains all the same characteristics of the fit of the Trail Glove, but with more sole protection. There may be a few other decent options too, like the New Balance MT110.