Thursday, January 05, 2012

Trail Running 101 - Sole Out

I believe most of you has read about my adventure and mis-adventure of running on the road in my quest (and attempt) to be an athlete that i never was. I have given ONE talk to a group of people with regards to running and i was given the pleasure to engage a group of lawyers from a well known firm in Kuala Lumpur on healthy living and running as a way to destress from daily work. I felt honored and humbled that some of you reading this felt i have motivated you in your life and has made the positive change for the better - both in health and living a balanced life. In fact, i was told by a friend that he was following my blog and dare not approach me as i was "God-like" in my quest to be an Ironman. Rest assured, i am very much down to earth and never lost my footing from those tarmacs.
With my Sciatica improving slightly and my iron-level showing sign of improvement and staying where it should (though the last check up i did was about 6 months ago before i joined the previous company, Hibiscus Petroleum), it is time to step it up. I have been running trails in Kiara for the past 5 days. Consistently running about 6km average every time. Here is my guide, simple as it is, to start running trails. I will endeavour to share as much as i could based on my own limited experiences.
To start with, lets look at the shoes selection. Rather than looking at specific brand of shoes, lets look at the minimal requirement that should be available should you purchase your first trail shoe.
1. It is all about the sole
Trail shoes are specific to trail. While you might get a certain hybrid pattern, it is best to stick with lugs that are wide and have a lot of spaces in between. Reason for this would be more for efficient dispersal of mud and grit that will be picked up during the run through the trails. These sole patterns are aggressive and some doesn't look convincing even to stand up to the trails.
Purpose designed sole for trail running. Image taken from this website for cross reference on trail shoes
Compare to a normal road running shoes, the lug pattern of the running shoes will not provide traction or sufficient traction once mud and grit gets into the grooves.
Road run shoes with fashionable sole. Some looked more fashion that function. Image from
It is important to get the right sole pattern for the type of trail running that you intent to do. If you constantly runs in a wet soggy terrain, it will make sense to invest in a more aggressive lugs such as those on the Salomon Speedcross 3 (seen in the top shoe in photo at the top) or something similar to Brooks Cascadia 5 that i am using. Aggressive lugs allow for a "self-cleaning" action when the trails get stickier and messy. Essentially, a sole that picks up and let the grits and mud stick to it will be as useless as using a slick tires on an offroad 4x4 vehicle. No traction is bad, and in some cases, fatal.
Aggressive lugs with enough self cleaning ability.
2. The Stone Shield
While some purist has turned to minimalist trail shoes for that "barefoot" experience, i would rather leave that to more season runners. For beginners, it is often best to go with something that will act as a barrier between your feet and the sharp jagged rocks or long thorns often found on the trail. Most trail shoes will have this feature built in and has proprietary name to from something as simple as "Stoneguard" to "Ballastic Rock Shield". It is just after all, a marketing ploy. While none that i know utilises Kevlar as the material, most rely on EVA (otherwise known as plastic that has high bendable property and capability as thermoplastic). Most of these trail shoes will have plastic or rubber like injection molding or laminating on the toe box too - as a mean to protect the front from sharp objects should we unintentionally kicks something in the trail. Stories of blisters through the usage of minimalist shoes for some people is enough to be used as an invaluable perspective when out shopping for a pair of trail shoe. A trail shoe will be able to withstand the abuse of the trail, lest our nice running shoe will end up like the photo below.
Taking the Road Shoe for a Joyride.
3. The Upper Mesh
Avoid any heavily packed upper that would absorb water like sponge once they are wet. While water is not your major concern as you will get wet, it is more important to have an upper mesh that will prevent sand or small stones from entering the shoes via the tongue or through materials porous enough to allow it to go through.
Upper mesh meant for "water" should not be used for specific trail usage. The semi-porous see through mesh will get enough of grit and sand in to inflict major blisters after an hour in the trail. Image taken from Here
It will make sense to have something more closely knitted to prevent or minimizes water and also sand/grit into the shoes as seen in the two example below
Salomon Lab. Every trail runner's fantasy. Worn by world champ.
Brooks Cascadia 5. Best for me so far.
4. The Extras
Some trail shoes has GoreTex upper mesh that allows a breathable top that repels water and allow perspiration to leave the legs. While they are great addition, they are useless in wet humid trails in Malaysia. When you get your feet into the water, no amount of Goretex, unless the shoes extend right up to the knee, will help to keep those feet dry. They make more sense for countries where the trails are drier and the water puddles are not as vicious as those found in tropical countries such as Malaysia.
Other extras that would be good to have would be sole made from Vibram rubber which claims to withstand harsh substances while offer superior traction and wear resistance. Not many shoes has Vibram rubber on them except the minimalist shoes where the thin sole would require a more hardy-wear resistance and yet offers a high level of protection (but not against sharp stones) for the trail runners.
The Bottom Line
While it is not essential to buy a trail specific shoe if money or interest is the limiting factor, a correctly chosen trail shoe will increase the confidence of one running up and down the undulating trails. With safety features such as stone shield or toe guard, injury could be maintained at a lower risk. My experience was with New Balance trail (last a year), Salomon XA Pro (but the toe box is too tight/cramp for my EEE feet) and Brooks Cascadia 5. I strongly recommend Cascadia 5 as it rides low (your heel is closer to the ground) while the lugs prove adequate traction with self cleaning ability. The shoe dries fairly fast or slow (it is like a glass that is half full, or half empty scenario) when it get wet, it doesn't weight a tonne and shoe last. So far, after 1 Mother Hash (46km), 1 SAC (150km), 1 Eco-X (40+km), 2 Climbathon (42km in total) and numerous trail runs, the shoe is still holding up pretty well.
Otherwise, if you are still unsure of spending that money on a trail shoe, a RM10 alternative is available. Short of the stone guard, this pair of shoes has the perfect self cleaning lugs, waterproof even and is lightweight. Welcome the rubber tapper's shoe - the renowned Adidas Kampung (just because of the "4" stripes ;-), but nowadays, you can find those without shoelaces or stripes)
Taken from
Coming Up Next - Trail Running 101 - The Biological Warfare


  1. Socks ON or socks OFF for trail running?

    1. Personal preferences. I've learnt to SOCK OFF. enjoy the more "real" contact. :D