It was only a few years ago that I took any interest in the science behind running shoes. I had no need to, until I started having leg pains.
The repetition and impact of running means a degree here and millimeter there is the difference between a comfortable run and serious injury. Ahead of my challenge in the Drakensberg, I’ve partnered with Ryno Griesel and Salomon to help find the shoes that will get me through it best.
Salomon makes a variety of shoes, each with a particular purpose. Some are better on flat surfaces, others designed to prevent rolled ankles when the terrain gets rocky. A thicker heel will aid heavier runners with support, while smaller guys can get away with a more natural shoe. It sounds complex, but really comes down to a few basics.
Most important to me is sole thickness. I’ve tried running on rocky trails on a thick soul with an orthotic insert that added another few millimetres. I was constantly rolling over on my ankles. Rough, technical terrain demands as thin a sole as possible. The nearer the foot is to the ground, the lower the centre of gravity, diminishing the chances of rolling. Of course, that’s limited by the level of support you need.
Ryno Griesel explains how he and Ryan Sandes went about selecting their footwear for their traverse of the Berg this March. “At 78kg, I’m quite big for a runner, so I need good support at the heel,” he explains. “But the Berg is very technical, so I needed a reasonably thin sole, too.” He ended up changing footwear at the last minute.
Ryan Sandes wore the Sense Mantras on their recce, but changed to the S-LAB 3 for the record-breaking run. “It’s a personal choice in the end,” Griesel continues. “Ryan actually tweaked his ankles twice anyway, but we were on extreme surfaces. He uses the Mantra on less severe runs.”
The other keystone is the differential between the height of the heel and forefoot. It might be a choice between 4mm and 6mm, but that makes a difference over 50km and two days, as per Run the Berg. The decision is based on your running style, coupled with terrain, distance and body weight.
Griesel suggests one more criterion when running in mountainous regions. You don’t want your foot sliding back and forth too easily on the steep declines. That makes sizing critical. There is also specific technology to deal with this. Salomon’s trademarked ENDOFIT inner lining system does an exceptional job here, aided by handy tools like QUICKLACES.
Here’s Ryno discussing footwear selection for trail running, especially in the Drakensberg.