Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Test Driving the Merrell Trail Glove

The local marathon season is grinding to a close so I am planning to give trail running a go. This of course means – NEW SHOES!

As usual I agonized over the decision of what shoes to get for this purpose and after way too many hours spent researching and perusing reviews I narrowed my options to three.

1. New Balance MT 101. This seems to be an extremely popular and well tested trail runner. While it is more minimalist than many trail shoes, my main concern with it was that it seemed to be a step backward from the Saucony Kinvaras I have been wearing for the past few months. It is a very light weight shoe but it has a 10 mm heel drop that is more characteristic of more traditional running bricks (whoops - I meant shoes).

2. New Balance Minimus Trail. With a 4 mm heel drop (equal to my Kinvaras) and endorsed by ultra-marathoner Anton Krupicka (who supposedly contributed to the design) I am excited about this shoe and hope to try it someday. Unfortunately, it will not be available for another month (and I have a “thing” about instant gratification).

3. Merrell Trail Glove. Weighing in at a featherlight 6.2 oz., with a 0 mm heel drop and a Vibram sole, the Trail Glove is part of Merrell’s Barefoot Collection and is creating a lot of buzz. The decision to choose this shoe seemed inevitable when I received word that my local running store, Front Running Sports, just got them in stock (remember my “thing” for instant gratification). My only hesitation was the price (I also have a “thing” about parting with my hard earned cash). It retails for about $105, which seems pretty high for a shoe whose closest competition is supposed to be bare feet. A WVR discount at Front Running Sports helped to ease my pain.

(After purchasing my Trail Gloves, I was informed that Saucony is now offering a trail version of the Kinvara called the Peregrine available at a significantly lower coast than the Trail Glove. I don’t think this would have affected my decision though. I’m on my second pair of Kinvaras, ready to try something new, and I’m excited about trying a perfectly flat shoe. I also learned that Saucony has another new offering described as the Kinvara with “a touch of support” which makes me worry they are losing sight of what made the Kinvara successful in the first place.)

My first impression on seeing the Trail Glove was that it looks a bit like a clown shoe with its oversized toe box. The fit was almost as exactly as described in the product literature, snug around the mid-foot with a toe box that opens up wide to allow your toes to splay. It is cut low around the ankle and is very flexible. It is designed to be worn without socks and I ended up with a size 10, a full size smaller than usual.

The feel of the perfectly flat shoe was strange at first walking around the shop. I took it for a test run outside, both on pavement and on grass, and found that I was almost instantly up on my forefoot, especially on pavement.

The upper is a loose woven mesh that gives the shoe a pleasant ventilated feel on my sockless feet.

Armed with my new purchase I decided on the Lyonia Preserve for my first trail run. I was warned not to overdo it in my first runs or my calves would pay the price. I ended up running 4.8 miles on a mostly sandy trail with just a few challenging hills.

They performed well and I was pleased to find that I had no calf soreness afterward or any unusual leg pain at all. I think this is due to the many miles I have already put on my Kinvaras. I’m not convinced that the shoe, in and of itself, changed my stride significantly although I was very aware of how my foot was landing and the shoe provided a good feel for the ground. The sandy trail was very forgiving so I will have to wait see how they perform on less ideal surfaces and pavement. This run didn’t really test the shoes traction or its effectiveness as a barrier against roots, rocks, water or other hazards I might encounter off road. It was a great first test though and rest assured I plan to put these shoes through the ringer over the coming months.

Base of "Mt. Lyonia"
I did pick up quite a bit of sand and some debris from the run. In addition to sand that makes its way into the shoe around my ankles, I think it can also work its way in through the loosely woven upper. On a longer run I may need to stop to shake them out every once in a while.

I had some concerns about running without socks and was pleased to find that I didn’t suffer any rubbing on my heel. I did notice a small abrasion on the top of my left foot after the run, near the base of my big toe. Feeling around on the inside of the shoe I noticed a rough spot where the tongue is sewn to the shoe that may have been the culprit.  I think more careful attention to the lacing may prevent a repeat but I will have to keep an eye on this area in the future.

View from the summit of "Mt. Lyonia"
Elev: 49 ft*
*per my Garmin elevation profile ;-}

I’m very pleased so far and I’m looking forward to putting in many more miles on local trails in these shoes.

Update (5/3/2011):

I thought I should update my experience in the Trail Gloves now that I have more experience in them. I now have well over 100 miles in them including a 50k trail race. I absolutely love these shoes.

The chafing I experienced on the top of my foot, which I also noted in other reviews of the shoe, ceased by the 3rd wearing and after that they got more comfortable every time I laced them up. I don’t know if the shoe softened up or my foot calloused, or both, but the abrasion never returned, even during the 50k. I didn’t even suffer a single blister during that race.

My experience in them is limited to trail use with the exception of a single 4 mile run on pavement that really gave my calves a workout. I do plan giving them some street time now that the Florida racing season is basically over until the fall.

I have also become so infatuated with running sockless in the Trail Gloves that I tried, and now prefer, to do that in my favorite road shoe, the Saucony Kinvara.

You can read more about my experiences in them here (Silver River State Park) and here (Croom Fools Run 50k).

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