Trail running is a very different sport to running on the road and provides the body with many new challenges that it doesn’t normally face day to day. The trails are usually much softer than the road and are full of obstacles such as tree roots, rocks, corners and hills. While many people may think that running on softer surfaces is better for injury prevention this is not always the case.
While a soft surface decreases the impact going through the body it also makes the foot more unstable. This can lead to over use of the muscles as they work to keep the foot stable on the ground. It may also cause the foot to fall into an abnormal position which again may lead to injury. This means that you will need a different shoe to your day to day trainer. A trail specific shoe is essential if you want to stay upright and injury free on the trails this winter. Off road running shoes are able to provide better traction and durability, but it is still important to get the right balance of support and cushioning. New Zealand has many unique conditions that make proper trail shoe selection important. Here are a few things to look for.
The uppers in trail shoes need to be much more durable than your day to day road shoe. The various obstacles on the trail mean that it is important for the upper to be strong but also lightweight and breathable. Some shoes on the market have uppers that are made from a water proof material. This is great and keeps your feet nice and dry for a while but eventually water will make its way through the top of the shoe. One river crossing and all that water proof material counts for nothing. Just as it stops water getting in, it also stops water getting out. A shoe full of water is never easy to run in! A free draining upper is essential to let the moisture escape easily.
Essentially, the human leg is a lever. The hip is where the lever starts and the foot is where it finishes. The more weight located at the end of the lever, the harder muscles have to work to move that weight. Try this at home. Lift your arm away from your side as many times as you can. You could do it all day right!? Now do the same action holding a brick. Much more difficult! This exercise highlights the importance of weight in a trail shoe. They will typically be slightly heavier than a road shoe due to the increased durability. Naturally, trail shoes will get heavier as the run progresses due to the collection of water, mud and sand. Effective trail shoes will start off light and will minimise the collection of water and debris along the way.
Grip is perhaps the biggest advantage of a trail shoe over a road shoe. Having a nice stable shoe that you can rely on in all conditions will make for a much more enjoyable trail running experience. With such a large variety of surfaces and conditions in New Zealand it can be difficult choosing a shoe with the right type of grip. A harder, open grip will be great on sandy or muddy trails but will be slippery on harder surfaces such as clay or rock. A softer, tighter tread pattern will not perform as well on sandy or muddy trails but will be ideal on harder surfaces. Depending on where you run you may also need a tread pattern that will minimise the collection of loose debris, making the shoe heavy and slippery. An Inov8 specialist can advise the best type of shoe for your specific trail running environment.
Proper lacing can make or break a perfectly good pair of trail shoes. Movement and consequently blisters can arise from under-tightened trail shoes while nerve damage can result from over-tightened trail shoes. As every foot is different it is important you trial different lacing techniques. These can be found on www.inov-8.com. The laces must be tied to ensure pressure is distributed evenly across the foot to secure the heel and forefoot accordingly. Elastic or bungee laces can also be utilised for a speedy transition to your trail shoes.
The midsole of a trail shoe has the biggest influence on comfort, efficiency and injury prevention. It is also the area which must fit with your specific foot type. Typically, there is less support on the inside of a trail shoe to reduce the chance of an ankle sprain while running over rough surfaces. Deciding what is right for you is best left to the experts. A good sports podiatrist will be able to assess your foot type and advise the most suitable type of trail shoe.
The midsole is also where the cushioning is built into a shoe. Most trails are a lot softer than road, allowed for with slightly less cushioning. This gives you a much greater feel for the trail and also minimises weight. However, some cushioning is still required to absorb the impact and prevent your feet from bruising on hard surfaces.
Proprioception is simply knowing where your body is in space. When we run we cannot see where our feet are going yet we still know where they are. Accordingly, we manage to put them in the right place (most of the time!). Using our proprioceptive sense, we can feel what our legs are doing and can react to uneven surfaces without conscious thought. Insulating the foot with thick socks, excess cushioning, and high profile shoes decrease the proprioceptive feed back. On rough, uneven ground this can cause us to have a lot of problems. This is one reason why there is less cushioning in a trail shoe. A shoe that is lower to the ground will also help with our proprioception as the foot is closer to the surface it is running on.
For specialist trail running shoes, go no further than Inov-8.