Why trail shoes need to get randy

A quick explanation of the word randy for my non-British readers.  In the United Kingdom this is a word that very posh and extremely out of touch people might use when they mean to say “horny.”  It’s the sort of thing Prince William might utter to Kate post-croquet, after a glass or two of Chablis.  It’s a bit “Hugh Grant.”   A touch “Foppish toff.”

Hugh Grant is a randy devil.

For the majority of Brits this word has slipped out of our lexicon.  It’s a bit like the term “bonk.”  Pretty much everyone in the UK knows this means “shit I can’t see anymore, it’s only mile 18, bollocks, what do I do now? – Help!!!”  But rewind the clock back to the mid-late 80’s and “bonk” was what you did after getting a bit “randy.”

Anyway, what does this have to do with trail and mountain running shoes?   Let me explain.  A “rand” as it pertains to shoe making is the protective bumper that can wrap around the sides of a shoe reinforcing the upper to midsole join.  You almost always see this feature on walking boots, but not very often on trail or mountain running shoes.

Hiking boots usually have a substantial rand

So here’s a question.  Do your trail shoes ever blowout like this?

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Merrell Mix Master II (after 150 miles…)

Or like this

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Merrell Trail Glove after a couple of hundred miles (notice that it has only blown on the portion of upper that isn’t covered by the rand – even with the hole these shoes aren’t too bad still…)

Or perhaps like this?

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Skechers GBT after 89 miles of light use…

Since the concept of minimalist shoes hit us full face in 2010, the battle was on to produce a shoe that weighs next to nothing, protects the feet, allows toes to splay, and yet holds the foot in a glove like grasp – at the same time allowing for a natural foot function.  In reality this is a difficult task.  The problem with making a “barefoot” shoe is startlingly obvious as the oxymoron would suggest… You will always be making compromises.   For the roadies, I guess the compromises are fewer due to the demands of the terrain. For trail thrashers, well we were bound to have problems based on the variability of what is described as “Trail.”  The quest to reduce the weight of the shoe equated to reducing the durability of the shoe and the legacy for day to day runners is the phenomenon of the upper blowout.

Conspiracy

The cynics amongst you might say that weakness is engineered into modern day manufacturing; they want you to buy more shoes… Personally if a shoe lets me down I pretty much move away from that brand and then 9 times out of 10 dis them all over the internet.  I’m not happy.  Shoes are expensive and I expect them to last longer than a couple of hundred miles.

So what actually causes these blowouts?

I have thought about this for a long time here are a few ideas…  Number one – could it be abrasion?  At first that’s what I thought was the most likely culprit… until I had a shoe pop, within the first 2 weeks of relatively light use – abrasion is a likely factor in long term use, but I don’t think it’s the underlying problem.

Could it be material strength?  This seems more logical.  As shoes have become lighter the uppers are thinner, the strength of this material is compromised.  Add to that a highly flexible midsole and we’re putting all sorts of pressures on the shoe.  When a shoe rips out on both the inside and outside edges, it’s a tell tale sign that abrasion is not the main problem.  Couple this with the demands of running a lot of vertical ascent and descent and I think we are pretty close to what causes the problem.

But…

Another idea to consider is the stitch-eating mud theory – where leaving the shoes caked in acidic soil will begin to rot the uppers, weakening them and munching away at the stitching…  I could buy this theory if it wasn’t for my fastidious cleaning routine and the fact that these blowouts occur so soon in the life span of some shoes.

Perhaps it’s to do with the individual runner, I weigh 80kg (176 pounds) – runners who weigh less may cause less damage to their shoes, I am always utterly baffled with claims of shoe service of over 1000 miles, perhaps lighter runners get more distance out of shoes, stress the uppers less, compress the EVA less?   It could also be to do with the individual’s stride and foot type  I do pronate slightly, my foot is slightly flatter – is this bad for shoes?  On the other hand I’m quite sure that I run lightly and it doesn’t make sense that I break some shoes but not all shoes…

I’m not 100% sure why my shoes pop – however, in my experience shoes with a protective rand (or even just an extra over lay of material around the midsole to upper join) last a lot longer.  Recently I’ve bought shoes based on this criterion although this has forced a compromise on my preferred heel to toe drop of 3-4mm.   I’m so weary of upper failures that I’ve come to the conclusion that robustness is more of an important factor; my last two purchases have been the Inov-8 Roclite 295 and the Trailroc 255.  Inov-8 seem to have the idea of randing nailed but there has been no big fan fair.

Hell of a rand on these bad boys

Hell of a rand on these bad boys

Randing is one part of trail shoe “technology” that has become make or brake for me – it’s my personal deal breaker.  I can take or leave a rock-plate and weight is less important as I run longer and in tougher terrain – although in reality 295 grams is not a huge amount of weight compared to the shoes we used to run in 5 years back!

The case against trail shoes getting randy…

I can imagine there are a few disadvantages to randing, and this is perhaps why it’s not fully adopted.  One possible reason is the drainage issue.  For sure a randed shoe will drain slower – but it will drain, I have had no problems with my 295’s for example.   I’d imagine that a chunky rand may also put some people off as they might not perceive it as a “running” shoe any longer.   It may be down to weight saving or even manufacturing costs.  I don’t know, I’d actually love to have a discussion with an industry insider on this.

DIY Randing

If your shoe doesn’t have a rand don’t worry – you can do it yourself, all you need is a tube of Shoe goo or Freesole and you’ll add tons of strength to those uppers, I tend to do this on all my shoes now – Even the heavily randed 295’s have weak spots that I glue over, and I extended the reach of the part rand on the 243’s with this technique.  It’s simple – just mask the area with duck tape – apply some duck tape inside the shoe (in case the glue seaps through the mesh) and then spread away.  You may need to build the layers up a little and you must make sure that the shoe is spotless clean when you do this I usually wipe the area with a tiny drop of acetone to make sure.   I think all unranded shoes should come with a free tube of glue.

The bottom line

My opinion is that a rand is essential, in fact I think that a perfect shoe for mountain running would look like an Approach/running shoe hybrid.  A fully randed shoe available on a 3-4mm platform – It doesn’t exist yet, but I would love to see something like that – a shoe really focusing on the tougher end of trail and mountain running – a gnarly all terrain slipper.   I can dream…Until then I guess I’ll just have to carry on with gluing my lighter shoes.   In Shoe Goo (or Freesole) we trust!

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21 thoughts on “Why trail shoes need to get randy

  1. A brilliant post. I’m guessing that inov8 have had no fanfare because this would draw attention to the fact their shoes have been falling apart very quickly for years. Glad they have finally upped there game.
    Hey here’s an idea fellshoe makers , make them fit for purpose !

  2. Completely agree! I think shoe companies have to take note that durability is a major concern for most of us. I’m glad inov8 have taken it on board. I hear that the lastest iterations of the Salomon Sense range are also beefed up a little, perhaps things will change. It must be hard to make a shoe that weighs in less than 250 grams withstand a lot of punishment so maybe the onus is on us to purchase slightly heavier shoes. Lightweight gear has always come with a robustness penalty – perhaps we’ll see some improvements in the future with the new wave of material technology…

  3. Very strange. I also run in GBTs and my heart skipped a beat when I saw the picture above. Just checked them and no, they are still fine. The sole is wearing down faster than I would like but the upper is still solid. Same with my Merrell Ascend Gloves. In fact, I have never had shoes tear like you have experienced. The soles always wear out long before I see any tearing.

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  5. This is where I’m loving the new Fellraiser from Salomon. Proper rand all the way around and they are plenty light and spacious once you remove the silly Ortholite insole.

    • Those look like great shoes – I’m looking to add a mud-runner to my rotation (although it so dry at the moment I’m not sure if it’ll get any use). They look up for the job!

  6. I weigh over 190 pounds and the last time I had a pair of shoes rip out like that was in the early seventies when they were made from patent leather and I only weighed 140 pounds. I have never had that problem with nylon type uppers. I don’t think the patent leather shoes from the early seventies were wide enough to begin with but I also did a lot more hill running and over striding coming down the hills. My problem with today’s shoes is the soles get crushed under the forefoot. Some shoes start causing my knees to bend inward after the foam on the inside gets crushed. That is when I quit using them. The uppers are still fine. I don’t have any pop left in my stride so perhaps you have too much pop in your stride.

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  8. No comment on the shoe…but please…duct tape (the original 3M version).. unless of course you are spec’ing the cheesy discount “duck tape” , which would probably work just as well in this application.

  9. I’m surprised to hear that you over-pronate! I run on roads and every single one of my trainers breaks at this stitch; however, since I “underpronate” the outside of the shoe’s upper/midsole endures the most force application. I could supply a similar gallery of “popped” shoes. I also use duct tape, but from the inside. So far the Saucony Kinvara3 and Cortana2 have been the worst offenders, the mesh/stitch failing after 90 miles. I got an additional 300 miles post-duct tape, but I will not be purchasing these again. I prefer to avoid “self-randing”, and have yet to identify a randed shoe on the market, so i now look for a strong stitched structure btwn laces and midsole on outside. Nike shoes with “dynamic fly wire” have a series of thick cords between lace loops and midsole…

    • Hi Peter, checkout my review of the 295 on the blog here, unfortunately the TR 255 I purchased was to large for me and had to be returned so no review, I liked the shoe though and probably would have got on with it well if I had bought the correct size. The striking difference between the two, is that the 295 just has much more grip over a variety of terrain, where as the TR 255 suffers a little in this department, but is pretty useful on steep dry stuff – I thought it descended really well. The 255 is noticeably lighter, my 295 in a UK 10 weighs over 300 grams… Hands down without a doubt I’d choose the 295 for what I call “Big Mountain” running. What I mean by that are Skyrunning type events where you need a combination of robustness, protection and precision, you’re going to need a shoe that can go from pavement to scree, grass, mud, snow, streams you name it… Well that’s what the Roclite is made for. Obviously as a one shoe quiver it has to make compromises at the extreme ends of the spectrum – you are not going to run a road marathon in this, likewise, this is not a cross country spike, but if you expect a bit of everything this is the shoe for you. If you want a side by side review go to the following page: http://readingrunningredsox.blogspot.fr/2013/03/review-roclite-295-old-roclite-295-new.html Hope all that helps

      • Thanks for replying. I had bought the Roclite 295 about 3 years ago when it had 9mm drop but after 2 hours of runnign i started feeling the lugs under the sole. I needed something softer. Do you think the trailroc feels softer than the roclite?

  10. Right now i have the Altra Lone Peak which is zero drop and i am bit worried having to transition to a shoe with 6mm drop. But i like the protective toe rand of the Trailroc 255 which is something that the Lone Peak is missing. When i had the roclite, it looked more like a football shoe because of the high lugs, that’s why i am interested in the Trailroc which has lower.

  11. I think that the lugs on the 295 are not that perceptible, but then this is highly personal, I can run in theses shoes all day no problem. Coming from a fell and cross country background in the UK I am used to studded shoes, I don’t find the lugs on the RL295 too high or at all. It sounds like the 255 would suit you better though, I’d say its worth a try. And don’t be fooled into thinking you need to size up, the uppers definitely stretch with use, mine in the end were too sloppy a half size up and had to be sold… Certainly try them well before buying with and without the insoles, try and get some running in them too if the store allows. It took me four runs to finally decide that I should have stuck with my regular size for inov8. As to what it’s like going from zero to 6 mm, well you’ll feel it, I’m not going to lie. I was okay as I run predominantly climbs and descents so It took a little bit of time getting used to running downhill, but up hill was fine, now after a period of adaption I’ve found that I can switch between my zero drop Skechers and these without any issues. I think my ideal drop is around the 3mm mark, I certainly wouldn’t entertain anything higher than 6mm, that’s really my limit I think.

    • Skechers sent me a replacement for the one that I wrote about on my blog, the GoBionic Trail… In my original pair I got 89 miles before the uppers practically exploded! In this pair, I’m testing whether or not running with them with the insole out (and hence in their zero drop config) will take some strain off the uppers. I use them once or twice a week on lower trails at the moment, and may just freesole them as I actually like these shoes a lot. I imagine that they are similar to the Altras, wide toebox, zero drop, a fair amount of cushion. The next gen GBT’s will have randing, I’ve been assured! That’ll definitely be worth trying I think.

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  13. I would like to hear some details about DYI rand. Do you glue the shoes when they are new or do you just wait and when you see a weak spot, you glue it over?
    Where have you glued your Merrell Mix Masters? I’ve just bought them and I’d like to make their life as long as possible :-)

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