There has been plenty of chatter in the past year or two about “the best ultra shoe,” minimalist running shoes for ultras, barefoot running and the like.
I conducted (with the help of some other very experienced ultrarunners, including some who have finished the world’s longest certified race, the NY Self-Transcendence 3100 mile) a survey at the just-completed 6 and 10 day races. Ultralist members who were there racing, helping or spectating can attest that there was quite a variety of footwear!
Well-known gourmet Chef Sahishnu Szezcesiul, race director/ coordinator of ultras in Greater New York for 30+ years, opines that “the best shoe is whichever one gets the runner around the course the easiest, with the fewest complications.” For some runners this might be a minimalist 5-fingers or the like, for others the most heavily-cushioned control shoe made. Other multiday runners and I have found that what sometimes feels best in a super-long ultra on any hard surface (packed dirt being as hard as most any paved surface on which I have competed) is NOT the same as what feels the best in day-to-day training at home, where most runs are completed within 3 hours.
At this year’s New York multidays, I noted that Dr. Pedro (PhD. professor from Portugal) and the USA’s David Luljak (541 miles in 6 days, many other great ultra performances) started the 6 day with Vibram 5 Fingers. They both rotated to other very lightweight shoes, in Pedro’s case a pair of Barefoot Ted racers (I can attest, after competing with the nearby Tarahumaras off-and-on for the past 22 years, that they generally wear a much beefier, sturdy huarache than the Barefoot racer) and in David’s case the Mizuno Musha and the like.
Pedro was conducting personal research to go along with lab studies, and explained to me in both perfect English and Spanish (he speaks at least 5 languages) that when he went to regular running shoes (he had some basic neutral Brooks shoes) he immediately had blistering problems. For a muscular guy, Pedro had beautiful biomechanics and the minimalist shoes seemed to cause him few problems– but he was also doing in the 35-40 mile/ day range, as opposed to the lead runners who were up over 70 miles/ day.
I saw many, many pairs of racing/ lightweight training shoes, including on the fast feet of record-setting distaff runners Kaneenika Janakova and Dipali Cunningham. Many women, from Dipali and Kaneenika to my daughter, wife and some of the women race helpers had multiple pairs of the Saucony Kinivara/ Mirage. The bright orange, pink, and black with purple/ pink highlights all caught the eyes of spectators and runners. I found out later that the running shoppe closest to Flushing Meadows, Quantum Runners, had been ‘cleaned out” of these Saucony as well as the popular Nike Vomero/ Pegasus, adidas Supernova and various Mizuno models. As an aisde, at how many other ultras do runners send out for a new pair of shoes DURING the race?!
Running shoe historian Dharbhasana Jade Lynn, Esq., of Auckland, New Zealand (a veteran of the 3100 mile and husband of our AMAZING Chef Manager at the 6/ 10 day), observed that, while he enjoyed wearing racing flats for the first 25 days of last year’s 3100 mile, “they just don’t last, and end up costing a runner more money despite their lower prices.” (most good training shoes in the USA today go for $100-$110, whereas great racing flats can be had for $80). Dharbhasana also noted that many of the light racing shoes (such as the adidas Adios I TRIED wearing) are actually quite hard-soled.
One thing I was taken aback to learn from the many international runners at the Flushing Meadows event was that not only in Europe and Russia but also in Australia and New Zealand, running shoes are often TWICE (or more) the price of what we generally pay here. Thus former New York Tech U. track-star and current Quantum Running Manager Mo (nique) Blackwood explained to me, the day after the 10 day race, that even AFTER these race she had multiday runners coming in and buying shoes to take home (or in some cases, ordering them for when they return for the 3100 mile or late August’s Rockland Lake Marathon and Queens 47 Mile).
For anyone REALLY interested in shoe news, here is what I actually wore during the 544 miles I ran along the scenic shores of Meadow Lake:
–Saucony Fastwich racer– to about 60 miles (heel/ toe started unravelling)
–Asics DS-Trainer pair #1 (had about 200 miles on them already)– +-miles 61>132.
–Zoot Winkley racers (named for ultra record-setter Don Winkley)– +- miles 132>185 (wore through back edge of heel).
–Asics DS-Trainer #2 (had about 40 miles on them pre=race)– +-180> 230 miles.
–adidas Supernova 2011– 280>381 miles– A SHOCK– at home I find these shoes too heavy and bulky (except for hiking with a backpack), but in the 10 day they were great! I also wore them sockless for many miles, had no blistering problems but finally wanted a bit more cushion so put on wool sox).
–Miles 381>460– alternated between Saucony Mirage (great, but did not last) and Supernova. Tried adidas Adios for 2 miles, feet hurt too much even with thick insole.
–Miles 460>544 and post-race walking around town– Asics DS-Trainer sized 12 (half above normal size) that I had delivered during race!
This may sound like more shoes than one runner should need, but keep in mind I have run over 100,000 miles in my life, over 200 marathons/ ultras, and will be 52 years old on May 12. In my never-tiring youth I could race 24 hours in two pairs of light racing flats. As many great athletes have said, “If we don’t make some concessions to age, age will beat us down.”
FINALLY– there is a GREAT, historic multiday coming up Memorial Day weekend (started in the 1970s), the 3 Day PIONEER TREK that takes place in three different NYC parks (33.3 miles/ day– but you can do just one stage too) and is under the professional, enthusiastic direction of the USA’s most prolific ultra director in history– Richard Innamorato.
More on THAT famous multiday as well as the 3100 mile in an upcoming press release.
I ENCOURAGE all ultrarunners to try a multiday race– or go help out at one– at least once in their careers.