MDS 2015: Happiness is new running shoes

30ème Sultan Marathon des Sables - Journey to the Sahara, 2015

This, I am sure, is going to be the first of many posts about footwear and shoe selection! Anybody with an interest in or with a history of participation in the Marathon des Sables knows that this is one of the biggest questions and conundrums faced by everyone from the tip of the iceberg to the back of the pack!

Some choose to run minimal, some choose maximal and some choose somewhere in between. Some choose road shoes, others choose trail shoes and yet others go for shoes specifically designed for desert environments. The latter shoes, in my humble opinion, are just too ugly to even consider coming anywhere near my thought process when it comes to footwear – they look heavy and clunky and even though manufacturers statistics might try to assure me otherwise I just cannot get past the aesthetics. The New Balance 1100 MdS shoe and the UK Gear PT-03 come to mind immediately in this category.

At this early stage I have tested some Salomon Sense Ultra trail shoes on the sand and dunes of Cornwall and Devon as well as my local trails. They have done the job well and I’m happy with their performance but the only thing I’m not keen on is the idea of running the long flat sections of MdS that I’ve heard so much about. I took them for a short test run on the road a few days ago and the ride was, to say the least, uncomfortable and I couldn’t seem to get into decent rhythm. They were fine the minute I stepped onto a grassy trail and then later on through mud and on fairly loose gravel and they’ve been awesome in various types of sand! Previously I ran trail in the minimal New Balance MT110 and although these are fantastic on the road and on the terrains mentioned above (sans sand) but they just do not have enough protection underfoot for a multi-day event – that, and the fact they’re made from synthetic rubber and fabric means they were out of contention before I even got my spot confirmed!

Herein lies the problem because I know the 8mm drop of my Mizuno Wave Hitogami, although perfect for fast road running and high leg turnover, will not stand the test of loose gravel or mud – the time I’d lose slogging through boggy ground (or deep sand) and through feeling every painful step on the gravel sections means that these particular road shoes are out of the game when it comes to MdS selection. I did test them on a coastal path trail and beach run in Cornwall and they were actually surprisingly comfortable but in comparison with the Salomon Sense Ultra they just don’t stand a chance away from the road!

This means one thing. I am going to have to purchase yet another pair of running shoes! In fact, to be honest, it looks as though I’ll be purchasing another two pairs of shoes – both intended for road running but both I believe have strong MdS possibilities! Firstly, Hoka OneOne are set to release their Clifton road running shoes in August. As I do a lot of road running and as my road mileage begins to creep up towards the Frankfurt Marathon in October and then past that date as I begin to really focus my training towards MdS I believe these maximal monsters could come in handy for injury prevention on the long run. I’ve heard a lot of great things about Hokas and I was originally planning on purchasing a pair of Conquest until some of the reviews I read put me off a little – it is my understanding that the Cliftons will iron out some of the problems the Conquest presented with. I am intrigued to see what the hype is about, they are certainly not for everyone from what I’ve read but if they’re good enough for Mike Wardian and Sage Canaday then I’m willing to give them a fair shot at making it out to Morocco with me in April!

The second pair of shoes that are in contention lie between the 14mm drop of the Hoka Clifton and the 8mm drop of the Mizuno Wave Hitogami. Well, they will do when I’ve narrowed down the selection! Currently I’m looking at a number of brands and models: Saucony Mirage 3 or 4, New Balance Fresh Foam 980, Brooks Adrenaline GTS and the Scott Race Rocker. All of these shoes have somewhere between 9mm and 12mm of drop which, at this point, will be the largest amount of drop I’ve ever had on a running shoe since I first set foot before foot in a running motion back in April 2011 – at that point I was wearing Nike Rongbuk simply because they were named after a monastery in the High Himalaya and I was trying to get fit for a mountaineering trip!

Or is that three pairs of shoes I’ll be looking at?! It has come to my attention that Mizuno have launched new line of trail shoes in the Wave Kazan and Wave Hayate. The Hayate are light weight and built for trail racing and have 4mm extra drop on them comparted to the Salomon Sense Ultra SG and the added, although slight, extra protection could make all the difference in Morocco. The Wave Kazan weigh in heavier than the Salomon Sense Ultra SG by around 30g and 20g heavier than the Hayate, this is down to the differential drop; the the Kazan have a whopping 12mm – the added weight might be a factor but I don’t see why I shouldn’t give them a test as I really used to love running trail in my Asics Gel Fuji Attack with their 10mm drop but I left those in Australia as they had ran their course (they would have been unsuitable for desert conditions anyway).

My conclusion so far is that I might be able to run one or maybe two days of MdS in something close to a racing flat, as I’m used to, but after that my chances of finishing would be hugely diminished and I’m going to have to come to terms with the idea that my beloved road racing shoes were not meant for the toughest foot race on Earth!

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