Trail running and finding the right shoe

Running has never appealed to me. Living in London I saw countless runners every day and I simultaneously envied and pitied them. Their motivation was admirable but the city backdrop somehow sad. I remember one Saturday, when I still lived in Hackney, I went out to see if I could run 10k along the canal in under one hour. Turned out I could. It wasn’t even that bad but two days later my calves were so sore that I never did it again.

It was moving to Chamonix that opened my eyes to the potential of running offroad. My friend Elena, whose life was since claimed by the mountains, had told me about the famous Vertical Kilometre and I was instantly hooked. Running in the Alps was very much like my childhood mountain hikes – but much faster and with a much lighter backpack.

I sweated my arse off and blistered my feet on more and more short runs. From my Chamonix balcony, I watched the UTMB competitors and I got to know that Killian Jornet, the fastest man on the planet, can run the Kilometre in under 34 minutes. Somehow, it felt as impossible as it felt inspiring.

Since it was the mountains that made me want to run, it seemed that moving away would kill my newfound enthusiasm. As it turned out, the vast expanse of hills behind our Bulgarian house was good enough and I soon found myself venturing on little runs again.

I don’t have any goals or benchmarks for my running. I just want to get out there, enjoy the outdoors, relax. Running through the fields seems more natural than walking. If I tire, I stop. And on the rare occasions I feel energised, I sprint up hills. There are no rules to it, no regimen, no aspirations.

My fitness has been improving quickly and running does amazing things for my recovery. On a rest day from training or climbing, I now usually go for a gentle jog, just to raise my heart rate and get the blood flowing. It leaves me feeling less tired and, after increased oxygen intake, I also sleep better, ensuring better recovery (cod science but… somehow it works!).

My runs are never intense enough to cause any kind of injury that I know serious runners keep suffering from (give “Born to run” a read) but sore and blistered feet are a real killjoy. I have a rarely-used pair of regular running trainers but they’re not robust enough to withstand the only kind of running I enjoy – trail running. I ended up using my old hiking shoes and never thought much of it until I saw a shiny pair of La Sportiva Ultra Raptor.

The extra wide toe compartment immediately made me think that the Raptors would save my blistered toes. I got a bright blue pair sent from Barrabes and took them out for a spin as soon as the parcel arrived. From the first step, the Raptors were very comfortable, much lighter than my old shoes, and more grippy. Designed for long distances in rough terrain, they may be a bit of an overkill for my short runs in the mellow fields.

The wide soles provide a lot of stability and it feels like the foot and ankle don’t have to do much work at all. For any training in general I’m in favour of a more minimal set up, so that the muscles become gradually stronger. The Raptors would really come into their own on a much longer, full-day run when all that stabilisation is really needed.

At any rate, running in the Ultra Raptors feels easier and more pleasant than ever, which simply means I’m likely to run more often. For a person who’s still just starting out with it, it can’t be a bad thing. If I’m lucky, I might have a chance to head to the Polish Tatra mountains this autumn and I can’t wait to see how the well loved trails feel without huge trekking shoes and a heavy day pack.

Images by Andy Day



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