by John Schrup
Often I am hesitant to use the word, “best” to describe something when comparing it to others, especially in a format such this. There are too many variables to consider. And we spend all our time—and your time–telling you, the customer, that we are looking for the best shoe for you. What is best for you might not be the best for her, or for him. To use similar adjectives would remove the personal attention, wouldn’t it? Not at all. If we set the parameters on which we are going to make this judgment (and if we cover our @$$es enough) we can actually use this space as a teaching mechanism. We believe so strongly, so faithfully, in what we do that want to spread the running gospel, to proselytize, to engage in the Platonic running discussion so that we all are faster, more injury free, more nimble, healthier, happier. And I can promise you that this is not about selling products. If it were, then our list would include nothing but the most expensive shoes in the running specialty market.
So here we are going to use the word as only a Rogue would—to stir the pot a bit, to provoke, to create discussion. As the sun rises in the east, this is word.
What makes a good running shoe? A really good running shoe? A little deeper now, what is the purpose of a running shoe? First, a running shoe has to protect you from the surfaces on which you are doing your thing. Asphalt, rock, crushed granite trails, grass, whatever. Second, your running shoe has to allow you to run as naturally as possible—the way your body is designed to run—AND protect you from the surface on which you are doing your thing. Wait. Schrup, you already said that. Repetitive, superfluous. Yes, yes I did, but I would like to clarify so that you don’t forget that natural running does not always equate to barefoot running. It is more about body awareness, functional strength and agility than an unshod jaunt through your leafy neighborhood streets.
But, but, what if I overpronate? What if my feet are a 2E? What if, what if, what if? The answers to both those questions is that you are in the minority and we are speaking generally here. We are addressing the vast majority of the running population. (The answer to the first question is really, “Well, do some foot drills and general strength exercises every day, maybe pay attention to your form a little more to make sure that the overpronation that your podiatrist diagnosed no longer is of concern. Make it a non-issue.”)
Is each of the shoes we’ll list here perfect. No. Is each of these shoes we’ll list here the only shoes you should ever consider? Nope. Is each of these here shoes we’ll list the best shoes ever made and nothing else will ever compare so why even try? Nopers. Simply, these are the best shoes available in running specialty at this moment because they protect your foot from the surfaces you run on and allow you to run as naturally as possible.
So for the next few weeks, let’s discuss.
ASICS TARTHER (R.I.P.)
The Tarther is no longer available in the U.S., as it has been discontinued here after only one year on the market. Likely it didn’t sell well enough for ASICS to continue sales here, or it didn’t fit within their philosophy that more IS better, or someone at ASICS is not a runner or something. I don’t know the real reason, but the Tarther is the real deal. One of the most popular trainers on the Japanese market, it was marketed in the U.S. as a racing flat, since we tend to like our trainers big, bulky and heavy and we could never believe that this is a trainer. No way, man. The Tarther was light, fast, firm and fit…like…a…glove. And if you cut out the midfoot truss, it was lighter, faster and smoother. It looked old school—the Japanese market prefers a simpler aesthetic—almost like those cheerleading shoes that the hot chicks wore back in the 80’s. It had great traction on the road or the Greenbelt, and durability was better than you’d think. Maybe one of the best of all time. Certainly one of the best I’ve ever run in.
Instead, ASICS wants you to buy shoes like the Kinsei, which is the stupidest running shoe ever made. No wait, that is the Mizuno Prophecy.
INOV-8 F-LITE 195
Who? Is the question on your lips. INOV-8 is a company out of the UK that originally made trail shoes only—light, low profile, flexible trail shoes. I got my first pair six or seven years ago when I was living in Taos, NM, where dirt roads and trails can carry you as far as you wish to go over the most beautiful terrain in the country. The first time I wore them, an overnight snow had melted during the day, leaving the dog trails and roads around my house all slippery and sticky as if mixed with Vaseline. The traction was so good in the shoes that what normally would have been a labored slog turned into a moderate progression run because I could run fast in that stuff with those shoes on. I was hooked.
By the time I returned to Austin, INOV-8 was beginning to branch out to road shoes—still the simple, functional, lower-profile stuff we were used to on the trails—and doing them really well.
The 195 (and big sib 230; the numbers refer to weight in grams) is a really low-profile (a 3mm offset from heel to forefoot), super light, surprisingly cushioned hybrid road/trail racer with a one piece upper that is almost like wearing moccasins. These shoes come in a gazillion colors and have become, by virtue of their minimalist design, a favorite in the CrossFit crowd. But don’t hold that against INOV-8. These CrossFitters are on to something here. As a road (or trail shoe) there are few things better when you want the perfect combination of minimalist barefoot ride with durable, protective cushioned feel. You can run long in these, even though there really isn’t much underfoot. I did up to three-hour runs in them on the roads over the summer, with not a single issue. If you are open to wearing a shoe from a company few have ever even heard of, this is one of the best, by any brand.