Saturday, March 19, 2011

Runnin' kicks

I don’t make a particular habit of talking too much about my running gear on this blog, as I figure most runners already know what works best for them, so don’t really need recommendations from me. Well, I’ve recently been asked quite a bit what I think about Montrail’s new line-up of shoes, what I like, what I think needs improvement, and most of all, what I’m wearing on my feet.
Vitesse - the original Montrail, and basically, the original trail runner in the US.
First, I’ll give you a (hopefully) brief history of my Montrails. Like many trail runners in the late-90s/early-2000s looking to buy a “real” trail shoe, my first purchase was a Vitesse. I don’t have stats on this, but I’m quite certain this is Montrail’s all-time best seller, and possibly even the all-time best seller of all trail running shoes. My Vitesse arrived mail order, were too small, so I sent them back, and never owned another pair. In 2002, I tried the Melee. I figured if it could help propel Scott to victory at Western States, it had to be a great shoe. I loved that it was light and very flexible, however, I didn’t love that it chewed up my ankles. Krissy noticed this fact at Cle Elum 50 km and recommended I contact Montrail customer service about swapping. I was super impressed with Montrail’s customer service, as they sent me a pair of Diablos even before I sent them back my bloody-around-the-ankles Melee. I also started working at FootZone in Bend about this time and was finally able to try the rugged favorite of many, the Leona Divide (a shoe which I'm quite sure Ian logged more miles in than almost all other Leona-wearers combined).

 My last pair of Leona Divides - I've been milking 'em for a few years, only using them in the winter as they're retro-fitted with screws ala-Bronco Billy style.
I tried hard to like the Diablo, as it was a favorite of Nate’s, and Bronco really talked highly of his, but I just didn’t love it. However, I immediately fell in love with the Leona! It fit my foot so well, it was relatively light for its era, I could literally take a brand new pair out of the box and run a 50k in them without issue, and the part that I thought was the coolest was the rugged, sawtooth traction was absolutely the best (in fact it still ranks as my favorite snow tread, and combined with the goretex upper of the Hurricane Ridge, was a sweet winter running shoe).

Others came and went over the years: Wasatch (very rugged, never tried it), Diez Vista (Diabloesque, but I never tried it), Masai (was a great shoe - light, fast, and highly breathable, but some durability issues), Susitna (goretex version of Masai, the goretex was more like a softshell which worked really well; great for snowshoeing), Kinabulu (Brandon-inspired, was made for desert running on slickrock and sandstone), Continental Divide (Leona’s overly-stiff successor), Hardrock (I never tried any of the 3 or 4 versionas of this beefy shoe, but it was a huge hit with some of the bigger runners, as well as with hikers), Highline (basically a neutral, cushy Hardrock; I remember Krissy being quoted as saying they were like running on pillows), Mountain Mist (goretex verison of the Highline), Nitrus (fast-looking, great for multiple surfaces, had outsole nub issues), Odyssey (weak attempt at a Masai replacement, although Hart, Grossman, and Chris really liked it; I still use an old pair for mowing the lawn), Wildwood (urban trail runner for both trails and roads, I never tried them), Highlander (narrow fit with big lugs, good in the mud), Streak (Montrail’s first big change to a lighter, lower, more flexible shoe; also, the first Montrail I got to wear-test).
Quite possibly the most recognizable trail running shoe outsole pattern in history. Photo courtesy Glenn Tachiyama
Currently in the line, but not new: Masochist (modified Streak w/slight medial post and narrower toe box, Montrail's best seller the past few years; also holds the c.r. at WS; goretex version available), Rockridge (neutral shoe w/great lateral stability and good lugs for snow and mud; I was fortunate to be able to do lots of wear-testing for this), Sabino Trail (beefiest current shoe; goretex version available).

Newest Montrails: Badrock (Fluidpost version of the Rockridge), Fairhaven (great fitting, fairly plush, road/trail hybrid, it's currently my go-to road shoe for lunch runs; another shoe I got to wear-test), Rogue Racer (I was very fortunate to wear-test this very extensively and see my input included in the production model). The Rogue is basically a racing flat, and thus, by far the biggest change from a traditional Montrail. And this is a good thing. A very good thing. It's light (official specs say 8.8 oz, but my food scale says 7.7 oz), definitely low-profile, extremely breathable (i.e., it drains well), highly flexible, great little grippy nubs, has a flexible rubber rock plate, and, well, it just looks cool. Plus, it's fast!

Future Montrails: okay, I really can't say anything specific here, but I can say the Rogue was just a start in the new wave of lighter and faster Montrails.

So, this all brings me back to my current Montrail kicks. By far, most of my miles are in the Rogue Racer. When I first started testing them over a year ago, I figured they would be good for up to 20-25 miles maximum. Well, last weekend I wore a pair for all 3 days of the 3 Days of Syllamo stage race (50k, 50mi, 20k). I was a bit concerned by the ruggedness of the trails and sheer distance, but I'm excited to report that my legs and feet were very happy with my choice. I had absolutely zero issues. Sure, my legs are now tired, but I expected that after the race. So now I know I would wear them for most trail races up to 100k (and they would be great for varied-terrain races such as American River and JFK), however, I'm still unsure if they would be my 100-miler shoe. Of course, if you know me and how good of a 100 miler I am, that obviously isn't an issue.
My current favorite Rogue Racer, complete with knee and shin blood around the collar thanks to Syllamo!
As I mentioned above, the Fairhaven is my current go-to shoe for my daily lunch runs. It's cushy on the roads and has great nubby traction for a little snow and mud that's currently on my trails. The Rockridge is what I consider my 4x4 shoe - the one I can wear for any conditions. If  I'm not comfortable with the Rogue for a trail run, the Rockridge is the one I use. It's great for Smith Rock State Park's ruggedness and big vert, is comfortable, runs great on the flats as well as big elevation changes, has good lugs for mud and snow, and it is the one pair of shoes I took with me to Chile for 12 days last October (which included the mountainous Ultramaraton de los Andes 80 km race, plus lots and lots of hiking).

So, there you have it. Montrails. Lots of Montrails. Old and new. What running models did I miss (I'm excluding Montrail's many hiking, mountaineering, climbing, casual, and sandals they've made over the years)? What's your favorite?

One final note: If this post got you excited about Montrails and your favorite local running store doesn't carry them, you can now order a pair directly from Montrail's fancy new website (the website even helps you determine which pair should best suit your needs).