What makes a good shoe?

Today I received two pairs of running shoes from the Merrell company. As some of you may know, Merrell tends to do things a little bit differently, and strongly encourages the average Joe hiker/runner to test their beta models, and provide them with honest feedback, which I think is awesome, this system helped produce the Trail Glove (review coming soon) and checking out the shoes I got today, I can see that they’ve really got their heads in the right place as far as providing sustainable running shoes for (barefoot) form-oriented mountain runners.
I mentioned in a previous post that my rule as far as running shoes and reviewing them is concerned, is that I require ~100 miles on a pair of shoes before I think I can give an honest assessment of their value, and I plan on sticking to this, it helps that I (when not tapering) run relatively high mileage, so testing a pair of shoes rarely takes more than 2 weeks in my rotation, with perhaps a few extra days to re-compare them to favorites in my pile.
Now for the nitty gritty, there are certain things that I require in order to consider a shoe for racing/every day running usage.
1. MINIMAL Heel-Toe drop, Yes, minimal, a zero drop is preferable, but to be honest if it’s only a few millimeters, it doesn’t effect my gait, and thus becomes a non-issue (greater than 4 mm seems to get annoying, and often will be ghetto zero-dropped by me, over a beer or 3, with a bread knife)
2.Reasonable amount of protection. Depending on the ruggedness of a trail, (or road) the amount of protection necessary can vary (imho). Jason Robillard talks about the same conundrum here. Basically I want enough protection that my feet don’t hurt after a long run/race, but not so much that I can’t feel the ground beneath me, and end up making stupid mistakes resulting in ankle twists, falls, etc etc etc. This is a fine line to walk, and every runner/running shoe is different.
3. Water Drainage. A trail shoe especially MUST drain water well. I cannot tell you how many times in a single run I end up with my foot submerged in water, this water must exist my shoe, and the shoe must dry quickly, this is not negotiable. I do not believe in gore-tex running shoes, I understand the principle, but in my experience, I often find myself in water above the top of the shoe, which results in a gore-tex shoe/boot being filled up with water, and turning into a bucket attached to my foot, not ideal.
4. Traction. A good shoe should track well. There is a fine line between good traction and durability, which is why I insist on 100 miles before i announce my review. Softer rubber holds onto rock better, but also wears much more quickly, the opposite is true of harder rubber. Lugging must be wide enough to shed mud easily, and not turn my trail runner into a mud-caked flat, but also close enough to hold well in less than ideal terrain. Vibram typically makes a good sole… they are not the only reasonable sole out there though, and often I am surprised by what a sole looks like, and how well/not well it performs.
5. Lightweight. The heavier the shoe, the heavier the shoe, you figure it out.
6. Breathable upper. Also self-explanatory. The upper should also keep the foot securely in the shoe,and not blow out too easily (100 miles!)
7. Flexible heel. Allows for natural foot motion
8. Wide toe box. Allows toes to splay, keeps foot motion natural, helps body absorb shock better, leading to less injuries etc etc etc.

That’s pretty much it, I’ve got some reviews queued up, as many of my shoes are beyond the 100 mile mark, as well as some training updates to post soon.


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