July 24, 2022 2 min read

Shoe selection can influence any race, but shoe decisions in an ultra-endurance event can make or break performance. The ultra-distance is where minor discomforts can gradually evolve into debilitating aggravations.  Below are a few areas to consider as you plan your next ultra.  

Consider a Rotation

Depending on the length, duration, and format (looped, point to point, etc.) of the race, having multiple shoe options may be worthwhile. A change of shoes deep in a race can revitalize the feet/legs and boost morale. I generally start in the firmest shoe and progress to more cushioned shoes as the event wears on. I also consider the shoe’s “offset” or heel drop when planning my rotation. Generally, the lower the drop, the more stress is placed on the achilles, calves, and lower legs. I prefer higher drop ratios later in the race as my gait shortens and I naturally become more of a heel striker. The VJ XTRM2 (4mm drop) to MAXx (4mm drop w/ additional cushioning) to Ultra (6mm drop with highest cushioning) is an ideal progression from both cushioning and offset standpoints.

Consider the Terrain

Typically, the hyper-cushioned trail shoes have higher stacks (the amount of sole between your foot and the ground) and less aggressive lugs. In softer and wetter terrain, a deeper lug may be required while higher stacked shoes offer less stability on technical terrain. Additionally, the softer terrain naturally mitigates the impact on the legs which factors into shoe planning. Therefore, during ultras on the east coast (softer/muddier footing) or ultra-distance OCR events, I will consider less cushioned and lower stacked options. (i.e. XTRM2)

Train How You Will Race

One of the US Army’s principles of training is “train as you will fight.” In addition to creating training events to replicate combat conditions, it entails gaining confidence in the gear you’ll wear on “race-day.” I implement this principle into training and shoe decisions. When in doubt, I default to the shoes I train in each day and always validate the shoe-sock combination I plan to race in weeks ahead of the event. Ultimately, it’s about deliberately planning multiple shoe options, analyzing the terrain, and going with the shoe(s) you’ve tested and certified under race conditions.

-Mark Gaudet @markgaudet85