Written By Sam Heward
Sam is one of the Ultra X Co-Founders. If he's not actually out running, chances are he's busy writing about it (or plotting Ultra X strategy!)
By far the most frequently asked question that we get from competitors training for our events is: “What type of shoe should I wear?!”
For ultra runners the trainer might just be the most important kit decision you make – the primary weapon you take to battle. Your shoes can be your best friend or greatest enemy, so much so that the most frequent reason for a dreaded DNF in Ultra X events are foot or blister related.
Whilst we know that there is no one answer and choosing the right shoe will be different based on every individual, we have prepared a list of trainers that previous competitors have used before at our events. Hopefully this can be helpful in your race preparation.
Make sure to also check out our piece on the things to consider when choosing traineers for an ultra marathon here.
Here are the best ultramarathon trainers that will carry you to the finish line. These trainers are have been used by some of the best ultramarathon runners in the world.
Best ultramarathon trainers
First things first, it’s worth addressing the purpose of this piece. Taking on a multi-stage ultra marathon (or indeed a marathon) can be a daunting task. The presentation of a mandatory kit list, information on training plans, and a bombardment of nutritional guidance can create a minefield of information to wade through before you even get to the start line.
Our mission at Ultra X is to make the sport more accessible. We know that anyone is capable of completing one of our events and yes, preparation is vital to enjoying the experience, but it needn’t be a complicated and unnerving process getting there! We will support and encourage you through the entire process. Read about how we will do this here.
By the time that runners have assembled their ultra marathon kit and are deciding upon trainers for an event, it is often expected that there will be a requirement to reinvent the wheel here – after all it’s a new terrain and a new distance. However, there is good news!
Selecting trainers does not need to be over-complicated. Comfort is always king and, whilst increased cushioning/grip are definitely options to consider, if you have a pair of trainers that you are comfortable running in at the moment, there is not necessarily a neeed to change everything.
To help you out, we’ve chatted with a number of past competitors about their shoe choices for our different races and we hope this can be useful in guiding any buying decisions. The variance demonstrated by past competitors illustrates the importance of making your own decision and choosing shoes that are right for you! As always, if you’ve got any questions simply get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will do our best to assist.
Ultra X Sri Lanka
Ultra X Sri Lanka is the least technical and fastest of all our races. There is very little elevation across the course (687m over the week) and most of the course is on dirt paths. Whilst trail shoes are recommended, they are by no means necessary, as previous competitors have shown. Sri Lanka’s greatest challenges are the high temperatures and near total humidity. We’ve listed some of the best ultramarathon trainers for this event below.
New Balance Everlite (Road)
Edson Kumwamba (20h 45m)
“Great choice! Nice and light!”
La Sportiva Akasha (Trail)
Anna-Marie Watson (29h 53m)
“Perfect for long distance runs and ultramarathons. The Cushion Platform™ footbed, innovative Dynamic ProTechTion™ front active inserts, and dual mix FriXion XT grippy sole combine to offer shock absorption, protection, grip and comfort.”
On Cloudventure (Trail)
Christoph Mues (37h 17m)
“Lightweight trail running shoe that’s big on cushioning and grip.”
Hoka One One Mafate Speed (Trail)
Emily Like (42h 56m)
“Well cushioned, pretty light, grippy and great for longer outings and hard surfaces.”
Ultra X 125 Azores
The island of São Miguel has a bit of everything, and so you will need a pair of running trainers that can cover all bases. Whilst there are some short sections on tarmac the majority of the route is on trails, some of which are technical and if it rains competitors can expect mud – lots of it! For this one, you will want the grip that trail shoes offer.
Whilst the 2021 edition of Ultra X 125 Azores will be the inaugural event, we have organised ultra marathons on São Miguel before and have researched the competitors choice of shoe. See below. We’ve listed some of the best ultramarathon trainers for this event below.
Hoka One One Speedgoat (Trail)
“The island will serve up many different surfaces, and you will need a versatile shoe. The Speedgoats are stable and grippy shoes that handled the technical Azorean trails but were also comfortable on the tarmac sections. They are very well-cushioned shoe, great for the long days on foot. It might be on the heavy side for some, but I sacrificed speed for comfort.”
Salomon Sense Ride (Trail)
“I wore my go-to trail shoes, the Salomon Sense Ride. These were the first trail shoes I ever wore, and I’ve never looked back. They are light, cushioned and supportive and I’d definitely recommend them to any runner looking for a shoe that gives that extra hold when enduring the long miles.”
On Cloudventure Peak (Trail)
Anna Harding and Mark Peart
Anna: “Spot on for the type of terrain we were faced with in the Azores. You’ll come up against most things: tarmac, grassy fields, mud, a bit of beach and some rocky bits too. These shoes provided enough grip on all of those surfaces. Nothing’s going to massively keep your feet dry in the conditions out on the trail, but these did a fairly reasonable job! Make sure you run in something you’re comfortable wearing for a number of days on the trot and consider how quickly they dry out too. Soggy shoes first thing in the morning as you’re about to set off for 42km is not the one.”
Mark: “Before running in the Azores I wouldn’t’ve really thought shoes could make such a big difference to trail running. After running 250km I can genuinely say what a difference these shoes made to my performance. The trust I had in the grip and durability of the shoe was as what stood out the most for me. I’ve used these shoes for lot’s of ultras since (including Ultra X 125 England) and would highly recommend.”
Ultra X 125 England
The Peak District course used for Ultra X 125 England offers an incredible range of terrain for all experiences of trail runners. Competitors can expect some rocky climbs, muddy descents and yes, for all you road runners, there is a little (less than 10%) on asphalt.
Due to the technical nature of sections of the course we recommend trail shoes for everyone. The 2020 race was the first edition of Ultra X 125 England and we’ve listed some of the best ultramarathon trainers for this event as chosed by previous competitors.
Nike Zoom Terra Kiger (Trail)
Katie Sloane (15h 22m)
“I absolutely love these, especially for summer trail running in the Peaks. They are super light which I love but have great traction across the rocks and ridges! I feel like they support my ankles really well and give surety underfoot whilst also being light and nimble enough to know exactly what is underfoot and where you are placing yourself. Perfect for hopping across the rocks as you come off the top of Kinder Scout!”
Hoka One One Torrent (Trail)
Mark Darbyshire (12h 31m)
“I bought my first pair of Hoka Torrents when they were released and have been an avid fan ever since. For Ultra X 125 England, they provided excellent grip and just the right amount of cushioning to move quickly across the varied terrain.”
Salomon Speedcross (Trail)
Anna Davison (26h 06m)
“I ran Day 1 of Ultra X 125 England in the Salomon Speedcross and then Day 2 in the Salomon Sense Ride. The terrain was rocky and quite technical on day one, so the big lugs and solid soles were perfect. However, I appreciated the lighter shoes on Day 2 when the terrain was more ‘runnable’. I’m running again next year and will likely make the same choice – unless it’s very wet, in which case I’d stick with the Speedcross for both days.”
New Balance Nitrel (Trail)
Neil Bradshaw (22h 18m)
“Choosing a shoe brand has always been easy for me, my initials are NB so I am ‘forced’ to go with New Balance – this method is one up or down from choosing by colour. Luckily using this routine has always produced a good shoe – the brand has a great range of half sizes and width fittings. I have yet to be let down. For Ultra X 125 England, I debated between trail or road with trail winning out. I had brought some choices to the event and listened to the views of other runners (it was definitely trail). I will always try out a new shoe on a reasonable distance training run before committing to using it on a long trail run.”
On Cloudventure (trail)
James Cooke (23h 22m)
“I found these had great grip, sturdiness, and flex to handle the different terrains the Peak District threw at us. Not the lightest of shoes, but the fit and comfort were perfect for me. My feet were probably the best part of me by the end!”
Ultra X Jordan
Surprise surprise, the biggest challenges at Ultra X Jordan are the heat and the sand. Gaiters are a necessity for this one. Trail shoes? Maybe not. This may surprise some people but there is a mix amongst finishers for this one between road and trail. We guess it’s because sand (particularly the hard-packed stuff) is pretty grippy. We’ve listed some of the best ultramarathon trainers for this event below.
Saucony Koa (Trail)
Rahil Sachak-Patwa (26h 43m)
“These are my go-to trail shoes which I wear throughout the year in the UK. Not wanting to change anything, I opted for them in the desert along with a pair of cheap gaiters which strapped underneath the shoe and they were great! I had barely any blisters during the race and will wear these again when I come back to Jordan!”
Altra Superior (Trail)
Estelle Geerkens (34h 04m)
“Altra’s most minimally cushioned trail running shoe. Supposedly for shorter outings!” (Someone try tell Estelle that!)
Hoka One One Mafate Speed (Trail)
Raid Gamal-Eldin (48h 02m)
“My foot size is 42.5. My Hokas were 46.5. I also used Injinji ultra crew socks. The combination was perfect. Zero blisters after 250km. Didn’t change anything, won’t change anything!”
Asics Gel-Kayano (Road)
Anna Sparrow (41h 39m)
“I loved them, have always worn them and didn’t have any problems. Minimal blisters. Wouldn’t change anything – except maybe leave a lot of time to sort the gaiters! “
Ultra X Mexico
There’s no two ways about it – this is a toughie! With 12,000 metres of climbing, some sharp descents and technical trails, do not turn up on the start line of Ultra X Mexico without trail shoes! Here’s what some previous competitors have worn. We’ve listed some of the best ultramarathon trainers for this event below.
Hoka One One Speedgoat (Trail)
Miguel Lara (23h 23m)
“Made for runners with a “go everywhere, run everything” attitude. A good fit for any Ultra X event.”
Columbia Bajada (Trail)
Marina Ranger (39h 46m)
“Bloody brilliant! Another competitor wore thin sole shoes and kept complaining about sore feet as the ground was so hard and technical, but I had no issues at all. Brilliant grip on the loose rock sections and sturdy enough, yet also flexible enough for breathing in the heat. 10/10 for me. No changes! I’d wear the same again.”
Altra Timp (Trail)
Jason Schlarb (24h 39m)
“Big cushion and really comfortable. The one I use the most for long runs and ultra racing.”
Salomon XA (Trail)
Sayuri Imanishi (44h 06m)
“The ultimate adventure shoe.”
Merrell Bare Access (Trail)
Seb Moulding (42h 45m)
“Pros: Lightweight, roomy on the toes and mid foot, great grip and feel for the ground, no blister issues or rubbing either.
Cons: Felt the ground a bit too much! Being a light trail shoe, they had a very soft heel and no carbon plate and some of the rockier trails were a bit unforgiving.”
So, what’s the conclusion?
Well, as stated at the start, one size does not fit all! The best way of ensuring you find the perfect shoe for you is to test, test, test and choose something that you feel comfortable in.
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