The other day, I wrote about my gear shopping procrastination and the havoc it wrecked with planning in “Every Runner’s Shoe Rant.” See, I’m just days out from my big trek across the Grand Canyon, and the last thing I wanted was to make changes. Sadly, the shoes I’ve been running in for the last long while have become outdated.
Come hell or high water, it was time to replace my hole-y, broke-down trail shoes. I put myself in the hands of another trail runner, local retailer Pam Harght, owner of Austin Trail Running Company. I’d first learned of ATRC through the now defunct club Hill Country Trail Runners. Lucky for me — I also had a gift certificate, a sweet token of thanks from my friend Cris for pacing her final 20 miles at 2014’s Cactus Rose 100 miler (“#TBT:Pacing Friends is the Best of All Worlds”).
Shoe Shopping in Austin
Austin has desperately needed a trail-specific running store, and there was a lot of excitement when one of our own announced she was opening up shop. I wrote about ATRC in the July 2014 issue of Austin Fit Magazine on the “New To Austin” page I’d developed as editor in chief. Due to a variety of setbacks, the shop still isn’t fully open, though Harght has her fingers crossed for an October date.
Harght was kind enough to meet with me to go over some shoe options. She pulled out several things that would work for my wide toe box/narrow heel combo — a shoe or two I’d worn before, and an option I wasn’t sure I needed to try: a zero-drop shoe.
I’ve run in several different brands of trail shoes with a wide variety of support. Harght explained that my current shoe, ASICS Gel Scout, had about an 11mm drop. So if I liked the Altra Lonepeak 2.5, I’d need to ease into that substantial differential.
I slipped my foot in, hoping they’d feel weird or uncomfortable and therefore, be an easily eliminated option. Aaah…my wide, flat feet spread out. The shoes were cushiony and I didn’t notice the lesser height in the back. But surely running in them would seem unusual. I took a few strides on the grassy patch behind the store. My legs felt springy, the shoe fit natural. Damn.
Trail Testing a Zero-Drop Shoe
I had planned a 16- to 18-mile run/hike for Saturday, two loops of 8+ miles over hilly, rocky terrain. Harght recommended I wear the new shoes on the first loop and then change into my old ones for the second. This would give me a gradual introduction, necessary because the level foot placement of a zero-drop shoe can cause Achilles and calf strain due to unfamiliar usage and stretching of muscles. The Altra website recommends easing into the shoes over six weeks.
Uh…I didn’t have that time. And I’m impatient, which is not the best combo in most situations. However, I spend as much time as possible barefoot and very little time in heels, so perhaps that would play into my favor.
My friends and I took off for our first loop. There was just a touch of coolness in the early morning, and I completely forgot about my shoes as we made our way in the dark. I felt so good as we returned to our cars that I briefly debated about wearing the new shoes for our second loop. We discussed, and I opted to follow the original recommended plan. Better safe than sorry. Reluctantly, I slipped off the Altras and put on my old, worn shoes.
My second loop went pretty much as expected (excepting an allergy incident involving broom weed, resulting welts, and a Benadryl, but that’s a side story). Coincidentally, who should come down the trail but Harght. We stopped briefly, and I quickly told her I’d worn the shoes as recommended and liked them quite a bit. At the end of the run, my friend Beth and I soaked in the creek, so I was glad I’d changed into the old shoes. Yeah, trail running is dirty work, but it’s nice to keep new kicks looking (and smelling) sweet for a little while.
Since that weekend long run, I’ve worn the Altras on several short outings, each in the 60-minute range. I have to say, my feet feel awesome. I haven’t noticed any transition difficulties, though I have had a bit of a nagging ache in my lower left back. Is that due to the shoes? Or could it be the results of some overly enthusiastic yoga speaking to me? Unknown.
The big test will be that 21-mile trek across the Grand Canyon. I’ll be sure to report back after the long run.