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Author - IRun4Ultra

Anthony Kunkel for iRun4Ultra/Covid-19 series

Island Workouts

You’re going to a desert island and you get to bring two things? What would make your list? What would be your third, fourth, or fifth? This survival exercise might apply to your physical exercise right now.

Periodization, which I’d define as structuring the training cycle (including nutrition and lifestyle factors when controllable) that sets an athlete up to feel best on race day, is magic. It’s the ‘secret sauce’ of meticulous runners everywhere and a beautiful accident for the less intentional ones. Ever feel like hills can’t hurt you? Or your breathing just doesn’t feel labored, even at fast paces or extreme altitudes? Those elusive days are a major driving force for many in the MUT (mountain, ultra, trail) community, and there’s certainly much to learn from the more conventional end of running, for example elite marathoners typically peaking for just two races a year. But trail races rarely merit that level of commitment (read: intolerable FOMO), and especially now, when events all over the globe are postponed or cancelled altogether, it’s a great time to consider how to structure intentional training without a goal event. 

Enter “island workouts.” This is a concept I’ve been exposed to a few times via the excessive number of coaching certifications I’ve attended, and I love the wording; “island workouts” is catchy isn’t it? Like a desert island, you only have limited resources (workouts in our case) at your disposal, and you will have to use them for everything you need. In practice, we’re talking about workouts we can do every week of the year, regardless of race date -or even race distance or type. Most people can recognize a peaking workout from a base building workout: 3×1 mile at 5k pace being an example of the former, while 3×1 mile at marathon pace the latter. But it’s a long order to iron out specific sessions in a sport that includes vertical kilometers as well as 200 milers! So I’ll begin with the least controversial, and most agreed upon options and move to my own opinion as we go, seem fair? 

1-Easy running. This should already make up the bulk of your training, 52 weeks out of the year. This is not up for debate. Easy running is king. From about a minute a mile slower than 2-hour race pace, up to 200 mile race pace, or 90-140 beats a minute’ish, depending on age and training level, for those inclined to HR zones. When in doubt, slow down.

2-Strides, or any alactic, anaerobic exercise with the intent of improving running economy. A step many miss, when jumping from purely easy mileage, this and easy miles alone can bring you 70+% of the fitness you’ll need on race day. This includes supplemental work like squats, lunges, dynamics, or plyometrics, as well as sprints of less than 10-12 seconds (strides), core and hip work, and most other ancillary things runners already know they should do. These workouts have minimal effect on aerobic development, positive or negative, if kept short with full recovery between sets, but can prevent injuries and help you become a more efficient runner. Beyond that, they are all things we can do week in and week out, whether it’s race week or 16 weeks out from it. A typical session of strides would be 5 by 10 seconds at 2-10 minute race pace, with mile race pace being a good place to start. A trail runner can use an incline to ensure less mechanical stress and work on uphill economy. 

3-Tempo work. For ultra running purposes this includes “true tempos,” runs of 20 minutes at 1 hour race effort (half marathon pace for some, 10k pace for others, 5k pace for others), but can be expanded to include paces as slow as three-hour race pace I’d assert. True tempo effort is about handling lactate in your system, training the body to utilize it more effectively. This has benefits for every type of runner, from 800 meters up to 200 miles, as it will further decrease your energy cost of running. For slower paces, say 3-hour race pace (similarly, half marathon pace for some will be 55k pace for others, to equal 3-hour race effort), the goal is still to become comfortable at less-than-comfortable paces, while making all slower paces feel easier. There’s rarely a runner that can’t PR confidently off of just these first three foundational workouts, and they can all be repeated year-round for any runner and event. 

4-Race specific pace work. You know you’ll want to run a Vertical K again, or a 100 miler, so there’s rarely harm in keeping a toe in the pool of these efforts, for visualization and logistical (shoe choice, nutrition, etc) reasons alone. Since the goal race might be months away, I prefer these as “micro workouts,” where the goal is feeling race effort more than truly building fitness there. An example would be 2-4 hours at goal 12-36 hour race pace, long enough to feel like you can fuel and try out gear and paces, but not long enough to do much damage. On that note, this doesn’t include runs longer than 4 hours, or hard long runs, as those should be reserved for when you have a defined goal (or do them for fun of course!).

5-Overspeed of all kinds. I really like these, due to the idea that mitochondria, the “powerhouse of the cell” require long, slow effort to multiply, and harder efforts to grow larger. The nervous system also thrives when given this sort of stimulus, and that should leave you feeling amazing. For this we’re talking 5-10 by 20 seconds at around 2-10 minute race effort (simply longer strides), depending on the type of runner you are. An alternative, that’s a bit more mountain- and ultra- specific, is downhills: 1-3 miles (in one go or split up) at dream 5k pace down a gravel road is an ideal target to shoot for. These can be playing with fire for those runners with an overabundance of speed, but can be ideal year-round for those with less of it. Use some discipline and gage your effort honestly, beginning these only after a few weeks of consistency with the above four types of workouts. You will probably find you don’t need the extra abuse on your body, at least until you’re “in-season,” whatever that might mean for you. 

Notice what didn’t make the cut, from conventional speed workouts like 12×400 all-out to race-specific sessions, or any intervals so hard to merit recovery slower than your typical easy pace -or passive recovery for that matter. The sessions we use to peak for a race need to be specific to the race, done at the right time before race day, as well as customized to the type of runner you are and your background. The good news is that those workouts, sexy as they are, are simply icing on the cake; you can achieve 95+% of your potential without them, and in most cases you can and should cram them in during the last month before race day. For the rest of the year, and for uncertain times like these, you have island workouts. 

For more content like this, as well as topics to juicy for most media outlets, as tell-all as I can make it, all about self-coaching, find me on Patreon going forward: https://www.patreon.com/AnthonyKunkel?fan_landing=true

And on IG: @AnthonyKunkel 

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Marco Olmo

In a sport where the accolade, legend, is not easily bestowed, there is one man who everyone can agree deserves it – Marco Olmo. Marco Olmo is an Italian ultra-runner who came to fame on the ultrarunning scene when he won the most prestigious race of them all, the Ultra-Trail Du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in 2006 and then again in 2007. What was extraordinary was not only that he won the race, but that he did so for the first time when he was 58 and the second time when he was 59.

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Tim Tollefson

LA Sportiva Lavaredo has 5,800 meters(19,000 feet) of elevation gain over 120 kilometers (75 miles) of distance.Winners Males:Tim Tollefson (USA)Jia-Sheng Shen (China)Sam McCutcheon (New Zealand) Females:Kathrin Götz (Switzerland)Audrey Tanguy (France)

Francesca Pretto (Italy)

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Vol State boasts 2 records broken as Angels showrunners the way

By Larry Carroll

There are plenty of ultra-marathons that could be called a “race,” and with that designation give the uninitiated an idea to wrap their heads around something they’ll most likely never experience. Then there are the ultra-marathons that take it one step further – Badwater, Barkley – adding in unique elements and obstacles so intimidating that “race” seems less of a relevant noun and could instead be replaced by something like “near-death experience.” 

The Vol State 500k Relay, it would seem hard to argue, is one of those races. 

On July 11, photos began emerging on social media of what one athlete dubbed “abnormal people,” crowded onto a Mississippi River ferry in running shorts. They were standing under a beautiful sky, which was something akin to false advertising when you consider what they were about to endure.

Once the ferry hit land in Kentucky, participants disembarked and were then on their own until they reached “The Rock,” a destination atop Northeast Georgia’s Sand Mountain. Many have been running ever since.

An estimated 120 participants took place in this year’s Vol State, but it was Greg Armstrong of Castalian Springs who finished first, setting a new course record of 3 days, 14 hours, 11 minutes and 31 seconds. Of course, this being the event that proudly advertises itself as “a journey, an adventure, and an exploration of inner space,” Armstrong won with no crew to help him, finding his own water, food, and resting places where he could during the 314-mile trek. In fact, it was his “uncrewed” status that made his run all the more notable.

“For me ‘unaided’ meant no hotels, no showers, and very minimal road Angel support,” Armstrong tells Tennessee’s Lewis Herald newspaper (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). “I rested for 10 min on a cot in front of a church, maybe 15 on a lawn chair at the Nutt house but all other horizontal breaks were in ditches, park benches or side of the road. I almost broke my vow of no hotels in Manchester but resisted. I applaud anyone that covers the 314 miles on foot, my hat is off to anyone that reaches the Rock!”

Making his time perhaps even more amazing is the fact that Armstrong – the event’s defending champion, 3-time winner, course record-holder, and Tennessee native – ran in Teva sandals. 72 hours into the race, he had already run an astounding 262 miles while his nearest competitor (Johan Steene) was 13 miles behind. Sixteen runners, meanwhile, had at that point quit. Additional male competitors who have finished include:

2. Johan Steene 3:22:07:19

3. Alan Abbs 4:07:18:19

4. Sean Ranney 4:12:54:15

5. Aaron Bradner 5:08:15:13

6. Jeff Stafford 5:13:35:52

7. Henry Lupton 5:14:44:34

8. Tim Purol 5:16:51:02

9. Terry Bonnett 5:17:40:06

10. Seth Crowe 5:18:56:54

Armstrong finished ahead of the race’s typical pace, which is stated on their website as being between four to ten days to complete. Runners must cover 50.24K per day to finish in the allotted 10 days, regardless of whether they run or walk. 

Entering day 8 in the July heat and humidity, participants are still navigating their way along the highways and backroads of Tennessee, perhaps worrying about where they’ll find their next food morsel or drink of water. 

Where those necessities may come from, however, has become a minor point of contention. On July 16, race director Laz Lake complained on Facebook (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) about local “Angels” who have been supporting the racers with food, drinks, chairs and more – and asked them to knock it off. 

“Goodies beside the road, maybe a hose, a canopy for shade, mats or cots to sleep on… this is all great,” he wrote. “But taking people into your home for showers, putting them in your beds, doing their laundry, cooking them meals, letting them hang out like some parasitic relative all day… this is way, way too much! those people are way beyond crewed!”

Vol State racers may sign up as “crewed” or “screwed” (which means uncrewed), but regardless of crew support and bus transportation to the starting line, it seems like Angel help is in abundance for those who want it. 

On the women’s side, Bev Anderson-Abbs finished first in her rookie run of Vol State, setting a new uncrewed women’s course record of 4 days, 7 hours, 17 minutes and 55 seconds. Comparing her experience to that of her husband Alan (who ran Vol State in 2013, and again alongside her this year, she tells (Laz is complaining that Vol State angels are too generous) Canadian Running magazine that times have changed. 

“There are coolers all over the place with water, snacks, chairs set up, and I thought, this is not like what I expected,” she says of the course. “There were very few places where you really had to think about what you needed to make it to the next place where you could get water or food. For the most part, you could just hop from cooler to cooler.”

Additional female finishers (as of July 17) include:

2. Kimberly Durst (5:15:51:51)

3. Denise Calcagino (5:21:25:29)

4. Christina Pierce (5:23:46:49)

5. Judy Rupp (6:07:11:32)

6. Karen Jackson (6:07:53:40)

7. Andrea Beasley (6:14:54:23)

Not all the drama, however, played out at the finish line. One racer reported seeing a mountain lion in Twitter, another was reportedly struck by a Dodge Caravan – but kept running Facebook, and there were apparently some very aggressive dogs around mile 210 (“Running to The Rock” : Vol State Roadrace is more than just a test of fitness). All of which serves as proof once again that the Vol State 500K is a race…er, near-death experience…like none other.   

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Trail-Running Weekend recap June 7, 8, 9

The Trail World Championships and the San Diego 100 both had races this weekend, and we’ve got the results for both, as well as a sneak preview of next week’s Lavaredo and Western States 100. Read on for all the latest info!

The Trail World Championships

The 9th Trail World Championships took place in Portugal in Miranda do Corvo on Saturday, with 411 athletes participating (compared to 33 at the first Championships in 2007). Tackling 44 km of varying terrain, the athletes had to grapple with 2120 meters of ascent and 1970 meters of descent while making their way through the area surrounding the fourth largest urban center in Portugal, among many archaeological structures dating back to the Roman era.

Men

The big winner of this year’s Trail World Championships was Jonathan Albon from the United Kingdom, who crossed the finish line adorned with sweat, a smile and his nation’s flag at 3:35:34. Close behind him was France’s Julien Rancon, whose final time was 3:37:47.

In third place for the men was Switzerland’s Christian Mathys (3:40:33), followed by Francesco Puppi of Italy (3:40:44) and Nicolas Martin of France (3:42:27).

Also worth noting is an unfortunate finish for Spain’s Luis Alberto Hernando, the trail runner/sky-runner and 2006 Olympian with multiple gold medals on his impressive resume, but who ultimately ended with a time outside the top 10 field which included:

6 – Emmanuel Meyssat (France) – 3:43:20

7 – Ludovic Pommeret (France) –  3:44:01

8 – Antonio Martinez (Spain) – 3:44:40

9 – Andreu Simon (Spain) – 3:46:12

10 – Helio Fumo (Portugal) – 3:47:34

Women

A logjam of women were observed racing through the streets, angling for second place near the completion of the race. But it was clearly France’s Blandine L’hirondel who was in it to win it, as she led the women’s pack with a time of 4:06:15. Crossing the finish line with a huge smile on her face and countless observers cheering her on, you’d never know that L’hirondel had just put her body through such exertion if it wasn’t for the bib.

In second place was New Zealand’s Ruth Croft, finishing about 8 minutes behind at 4:14:27. Third place went to Sheila Aviles of Spain, who collapsed after crossing the finish line in an emotional moment after her 4:15:03 finish.

In fourth place was Spain’s Azara Garcia (4:15:30), as the women’s finishers continued to pile in close together. Fifth then went to Romania’s Denisa Dragomir, with a time of 4:17:06.

The rest of the top 10 included:

6 – Silvia Rampazzo (Italy) – 4:17:50

7 – Gemma Arenas (Spain) – 4:21:22

8 – Sarah Vieuille (France) – 4:22:10

9 – Aydee Loayza (Peru) – 4:22:31

10 – Adeline Roche (France) – 4:22:45

San Diego 100 Mile Endurance Run

The 19th installment of the San Diego 100 took place yesterday, traversing Mt. Laguna’s Pacific Crest, Noble Canyon and Lake Cuyamaca Trails. It took 100 grueling miles to separate the top two competitors, both accomplished ultra-runners who were determined to hang tough and ultimately finished barely two minutes apart.

Men

Zach Bitter and Christopher Hammes were neck-and-neck for much of the race, with the rest of the pack finishing about two hours or more behind them. As the San Diego 100 Twitter account breathlessly reported, the duo pulled into the Pioneer Mail Historic Site (28.2 miles along the course) just before nightfall at about 3 minutes apart. From there until the end, Bitter and Hammes ran in close proximity, thrilling observers of the race.

Bitter ultimately finished in first with a time of 16:49:13, while Hammes fell just short at 16:51:53. In third place was Eric Earnshaw with a time of 18:45:14.

Fourth- and fifth-place went to Matt Preslar and Sean Ranney at 19:58:47 and 20:22:03, respectively.

The rest of the top 10 included:

6 – Marc Robinson – 21:59:01

7 – David Aguayo – 22:04:54

8 – Danny Goold – 22:47:48

9 – Tim Cadogan – 23:01:19

10 – Derek Mondin – 23:11:22

Women

On the women’s side, Teresa Kaiser held a commanding lead for much of the race, ultimately finishing with a time more than 3-and-a-half hours better than her nearest competitor. Her final time of 20:18:57 placed her an impressive fifth overall.

Word came in around 17 hours into the race that Kaiser had opened up a commanding lead on Jade de la Rosa, who ultimately finished in third place with a time of 24:15:15. In between them was second place finisher Rebecca Murillo, who came on strong to finish at 23:15:36.

Fourth and fifth place went to Pargol Lakhan (24:57:44) and Laura Dunn (25:08:16) respectively.

The rest of the top 10 included:

6 – Deborah Cosmetis – 25:41:15

7 – Sarah Emoto – 25:42:03

8 – Katherina Laan – 26:03:59

9 – Katie Trent – 26:56:30

10 – Cynthia Rivera – 27:12:03

Coming up soon on the calendar are the Lavaredo Ultra Trail (June 28 in Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy) and the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run (June 29 in Squaw Valley, California). The Western States bills itself as the world’s oldest 100-mile trail race and as one of the ultimate endurance tests in the world. The Lavaredo, meanwhile, has been touted as one of the most beautiful running races in the world. Stay tuned to Irun4Ultra for the latest results and racing news from around the globe.

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2019 Hardrock

2019 Hardrock threatened by snow, avalanche conditions

By Larry Carroll

One might think that scheduling an ultra-marathon in Colorado in early July would seem to be a pretty safe bet, weather-wise. Of course, a focal point of the Hardrock Hundred Mile Endurance Run (founded in 1992) has always been pushing athletes with extreme altitudes and multiple climate zones that can bring subzero temperatures, thunderstorms and other weather anomalies. But this year, snowy conditions may be putting a chill on the festivities.

2019 Hardrock

“There have been record levels of snow late into the season down in Southern Colorado this year,” the Hardrock’s official Instagram feed posted recently. “We wanted to give you an update on what this means for Hardrock 2019.”

Indeed, this year’s “snowpack” (a term referring to layers of accumulated snow) is an astounding 202 percent of its season-to-date average at this time of year. According to the Denver Post, the snowpack is approximately five times larger than it was at this time last year. Although many entrants of the Hardrock have often used crampons, trekking poles and other such equipment typically associated with mountain climbing, such conditions are threatening to make the race impossible for even such adventurous souls.

2019 Hardrock

“The Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run is currently monitoring the snowpack conditions within the San Juan Mountains,” explain the organizers of the annual race, dedicated to the memory of miners who settles the area. “We encourage everyone … to regularly monitor the Hardrock social media channels and our website to stay as up to date as possible on the situation.”

Entering the third week of May, snowpack was 302 percent of its average in the San Juan Mountains. For a race held on a loop course that traverses four-wheel-drive, cross country and dirt trails on the San Juan Range, from Silverton to Telluride to the 14,048-foot summit of Handles Peak, such snowfall could be a disaster in more ways than one. At the moment, Hardrock organizers aren’t officially telling athletes to stay home — but posted under an ominous picture of a truck squeezing between walls of snow is a message that seems anything but assuring.

The decision to proceed or postpone the July 19 scheduled event “is based on the Snow Water Equivalent (SWE) measured at the Red Mountain Pass SNOTEL site.” Adding that another consideration this year is a number of avalanches that have occurred in the area, the Hardrock statement sets June 1st as a pivotal date of judgment. “Should the SWE be equal to or less than 23″ … the Run will take place … If the SWE is greater than 23″ on June 1st of this year and/or avalanche impact is still questionable, then a decision will be made by the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run management.”

Although rare, a cancellation wouldn’t be without precedent. The 2002 Hardrock didn’t take place because of nearby forest fires — and the 1995 installment was cancelled because of too much snow.   

2019 Hardrock

Over on Hardrock’s Facebook page, athletes and observers point out that the SWE has actually gone in the wrong direction since race organizers posted their statement, and question whether the lengthy wait to get a slot will carry over to next year in case of cancellation.

“We understand that considerable planning and resources goes into being a part of the Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run,” the statement says. “With that in mind, as information on the snowpack and avalanche debris conditions and their possible impact on the running of the 2019 Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run becomes available to us we will work as fast as possible to pass any pertinent information along to all members of the Hardrock community.”

Will the Hardrock be able to navigate this sizeable obstacle, much like its participants have to do every July? As intimidating as those walls of snow may look, three decades of Hardrock runs have taught the running community that these are not athletes you’d be wise to bet against.



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hallucinations

Hallucinations: Humorous or Harmful?

by Larry Carroll

They sound like something out of a Road Runner cartoon, or a David Lynch film — hallucinations, mirages, mind-trickery that convinces you something is so real you could reach out and touch it. But as humorous as it may be to conjure up thoughts of backward-dancing dwarves and unicorns, for elite runners such phantasmagoria can be both horrifying and dangerous.

Unlike shin splints or Achilles tendonitis, however, hallucinations are neither easily diagnosed nor treatable. In fact, many runners consider them part of ultra lore, fodder for some good campfire stories the night before a big race. But when an athlete sacrifices body and mind for hours at a time, often in remote areas and into the middle of the night, there’s no way of knowing if hallucinations will hamper your journey — until they do.

“Your mind plays tricks on you,” ultra-marathon legend Courtney Dauwalter said last year in a YouTube interview (Courtney Dauwalter Ultra Runner | Talks First Hallucinations in Ultra Race), stopping just short of invoking the “h-word” to describe what she’s seen out on the trail. “You’re seeing something, and instantly your brain tries to tell you what you’re seeing, and it’s not at all what’s there. One time in Steamboat [Springs], I was running along these trails. It was getting dark — and next to the trail, a woman was churning butter.”

“There was a colonial woman just standing there, churning butter,” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t real; she wasn’t there.”

In 2013 at the Hardrock 100, Steve Pero was running along Colorado’s remote Bear Creek Trail in the middle of the night when he saw a camper who had set up his tent in the middle of the trail, then came across hundreds of 1970s-style transistor radios. As Jay Sanguinetti, a University of New Mexico research assistant professor — and runner — tells Trail Runner magazine (Ultrarunning Hallucinations Happen. Here’s How to Deal With Them ), such hallucinations are rare but perfectly plausible in their cause, if not their storyline.

“Your brain chooses what data from the optic nerve it wants to use,” says Sanguinetti. “It gets very complicated when it’s dark outside, or very shady…Your brain is saying, ‘This is the best I can do, given that you’ve been awake for two days while running. You’re going to see some stuff, and I’m not sure if it’s out there or in here.'”

At that point, which hallucinations you see out on the trail are as personal as any decision you may make in your daily life — this one, however, is more about your subconscious choice than any you’d willingly select. For Gary Robbins in the 2016 Barkley Marathon, it manifested itself as house numbers on trees and faces on the leaves he was trampling on.

“The first time, it’s like blistering or chafing,” he tells Trail Runner. “It’s super painful. Then, you realize you’re not going to die. Years of experience definitely helped me handle hallucinating.”

But just like a mirage in an old cartoon, as long as the runner keeps moving along the vision offers no danger, vanishing into the ether as quickly as it appeared. As Gary Dudney wrote in a blog entry on Ultrarunning Magazine (Got Hallucinations?), sometimes such visions aren’t even the sorts of thing that should be on dry land.

“Each vision was as distinct and vivid as a cellphone snapshot,” he says of a race in Shenandoah Valley that had him seeing dolphins in the middle of the night. “The dolphin and its wave dissolved when I got even closer and directed my flashlight beam at a big chunk of fallen tree trunk with a bushy little sapling sticking up behind it … A few minutes later I ran through an area full of tree stumps, which at first I could have sworn were robot men.”

For a fascinating read on the realities behind such visions, take a look at “Within the Dreams, Reality and Hallucinations of Ultra-Marathon Runners,” a 2003 study ( Within the dreams, reality, and hallucinations of ultra-marathon runners ) by Andrew J. Mojica that analyzes the visions of Badwater ultra-marathoners and even draws parallels to the hallucinations of the Greek dispatch runner Pheidippides who claimed to see the god Pan in 490 B.C.

According to Mojica, six people out of the twenty study participants reported seeing hallucinations, most between midnight and sunrise, most less than a minute and attributing sleep deprivation as the likely cause.

Ultimately, all you can do is try to minimize your own likelihood of hallucinating (get your sleep, run with a pacer who can assure you they don’t see any butter churners, try to keep your mind from drifting) and if you do encounter one, keep calm. Because as long as they aren’t instructing you to step off a cliff, hallucinations are harmless.

“You’re in a really unusual situation, not faced by most of us,” Mojica tells Trail Runner. “It’s fine. Try not to stigmatize it, and it should be less frightening.”

According to Dauwalter, you just have to accept that robot men, dolphins and butter-churning comes with the challenge. “My first hallucination was a pterodactyl and some giraffes and I was like ‘this is not safe!’,” she smiles. “But when I ran by the colonial woman, I waved at her.”

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running shoes

How to choose your next pair of running shoes

by Larry Carroll

For ultra-runners, selecting a pair of shoes is like Han Solo bonding with his spaceship or John Wick picking out a certain weapon of choice. You’re about to head into battle together, the two of you are about to share a special bond — and when showtime hits, you want to make sure you won’t be let down.

Another unfortunate reality of endurance running, however, is that you need to replace your kicks with frequency, and innovation is constantly changing your options. With that in mind, below is a simple breakdown of some questions you should be asking yourself when the time comes to select your footwear.

Trail-runner or road-runner? – Although you’d be hard-pressed to find a lengthy run that doesn’t combine the two to some extent, the first choice you must make is which kind of shoe your needs require. For this discussion we’ll assume trail runner shoes, which are generally designed to prevent foot rotation injuries over control of pronation (the degree to which the arch of your foot collapses upon impact). 

Is my store up to the task? – It sounds obvious, but far too many runners put more thought into shoe brand and style than they do fit. Even if you think you know your shoe size, don’t take it for granted. Make sure that your selected shoe seller has the measuring abilities, staff, and selection to properly fit your feet — then take the time to do so before you do anything else. You’d be surprised at how much impact a half-size difference can have when you’re out on the trail.

Light, rugged or off? – Trail running shoes can largely be divided into 3 categories. If you tend to run on well-groomed trails, then you want something close to traditional running shoes, weight-wise, because a brisk pace is most important to you. Rocks and roots aren’t as much of a concern, so you want to go with a light trail shoe. Rugged trail shoes, meanwhile, will generally give you additional underfoot protection, toe guards and lug patterns to keep you upright and protected — and can range widely based on how crazy you plan on getting out there. Speaking of which, the last category is Off Trail shoes, which offer the most resilient materials and actively guard against twisted ankles while simultaneously satisfying all your weatherproofing needs – but remember, the more weatherproofing you take on, the less your feet will breathe out there.

Be realistic – While some people might think it could be inspiring to buy shoes for a 100-mile race when your training level is only around 5 miles, it’s really just overkill. Be honest with yourself about where your training currently stands, and shop for the races/training in your immediate future. Don’t worry — when you’re ready to run Badwater, you can always come back and get another pair.

What’s your stack height? – Some runners swear that thick, protective shoes will make your runs more comfortable and less likely to result in injury. Others desire less cushioning, wanting a feel so natural that it’s almost like running barefoot. Ultimately, it’s a personal choice — but if you lean towards minimal footwear, just be sure that you build up gradually.

Give yourself a wide berth – For some, a wide forefoot is best. If you’re running very long distances, for instance, or if you happen to have wider feet and need a bit more wiggle room. Shoe width is an important decision, however, because losing fit precision could lead to clumsiness on the course.

What’s the off-set? – It seems like a minor decision, but when you plan to spend mile after mile with a pair of shoes it’s one worth asking: How much lower do you want your toes in relation to your heel? With each stride, shoes with less of a drop encourage you to land on your fore-foot or mid-foot; a bigger drop is ideal for striking with your heel.

Once you’ve considered all this and made your purchase, you get to enjoy the best part: Busting some new shoes out of their box, strapping them on and taking them out for a maiden voyage. Is it weird to bond with a pair of sneakers? Remember, what happens on the trail stays on the trail.

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