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