It was a disappointing outing for me in the Northern Cross Country Champs at Witton Park. I made a brief appearance; blink and you’ll have missed me, but sadly it wasn’t through running fast; I stumbled and bumbled my way around the course before hobbling off after a couple of laps. There comes a time when one has to consider whether it’s worth it and, put simply, cross country isn’t. With so little to say about the race from my perspective, I’ve decided to go off topic rather than ramble on about those pointless 25 minutes of running…
I’ve worked in the running industry for 10 years, starting at a running specialist in Wrea Green part-time and it’s been close to 20 years I’ve been a runner. This got me thinking about how footwear and equipment has changed. When I started running, the best gizmo’s around was a waterproof Walkman (thoroughly unappealing) which clipped on a belt and was so heavy it would probably pull your running shorts down! Heart-rate monitors had horrible stiff plastic straps and weren’t worth the trouble. If you had a Casio or Timex watch that took splits, then you were “cutting edge”. Fast forward to the end of 2005 when I started working in running shops, it was the Garmin Forerunner 201 and 301 that led the way, with the bulky triangular-shaped Navman an option for cheaper purchases. I finally bought into the technology and purchased a Forerunner 201; I was disappointed to discover all my running routes over the moors were shorter than I predicted! Moving on to 2016, even the former top-end Garmin 301 would look primitive now, such are the improvements in technology; a Garmin 630 is much sleeker, plus you can do VO2 max tests or even receive text messages. It can be different with footwear however, and I’ve listed my favourite shoes from each category that I’ve used, some are recent, some not so.
Best XC Spike: Walsh Taiga
It really is a crime that this shoe isn’t made anymore, surely Walsh can bring this back? It’s basically a fell shoe with a spike plate in the forefoot; you can’t go wrong with that design, unbeatable grip, I never lost my footing when I raced in those shoes. I got three seasons out of them from 1999-2002. I used them longer than I ought to have, but as they had been discontinued I ran them to death! Too many spikes now are designed for American golf courses, which is fine over there, but British cross country is very different, as those at Witton Park last week will testify!
Best Track Spike: Puma Harambee
When this was produced it was by far the lightest spike I had come across back in 1999 (160 grams is almost heavy now!). I deemed it too lightweight and opted for the Nairobi model. That was another great spike, but after it was discontinued a couple of years later, I decided to stick with Puma and I started using the Harambee. The design is very simple; a spike plate and thin sole with a very lightweight upper, which can feel unstructured, but does the job. I still use these now, so they certainly tick the box for durability.
Best Mileage Shoe: Brooks Trance 8
This was Brooks’ first biodegradable (Bio MoGo technology) shoe back in 2008. I was working at Up and Running in Manchester at the time and we had a launch day for it; I couldn’t resist buying myself a pair! For a stability shoe it was fairly light and responsive, but above all, it was the most durable shoe I’ve ever had. It’s no exaggeration to say I ran about 1200-1300 miles in them. I subsequently bought another two pairs. Sadly this is an example of why brands shouldn’t always be hasty to change shoes each year, the Trance 9 model that followed was awful; far too spongy and clumpy.
Best Racer: Mizuno Phantom/Brooks T4
This one is a tough call. I still use the Brooks T-series (the mid-sole has stayed exactly the same) and have used them since the T3 back in 2003. The current T7 is very good, but the T4 just shades it for me; the upper was the most comfortable and it was a perfect fit. The Mizuno Phantom was the first racer I got back in 1998, this was before the brand introduced wave cushioning. I couldn’t believe how responsive they were, I felt like I was bounding along the roads in these shoes. I wish I had kept them to compare with the newer racers I’ve used since, as it could just be a case of fond memories and rose tinted spectacles when I hold them in high regard.
Best Fell Shoe: Walsh PB Racer
Yeah yeah, technology has moved on so they say, but running hasn’t. Though I’m no Joss Naylor when it comes to fell running, I have done plenty of miles on the fells over the years and could even win the odd race a few years ago. The best fell runners of the 70’s and 80’s wore these, so that means they’re more than good enough for me. Great price and still made in Bolton. Even their old-fashioned look is ‘cool’ again, though I think they look best when worn with a Helly Hansen base-layer underneath a View From vest and a pair of tracksters! You can still buy these shoes from yours truly, at Up and Running.
Best Trail Shoe: Puma Trailfox
Another great shoe that’s discontinued, it even doubled up as a competent shoe for mild-fell terrain, as I won a couple of races in Darwen wearing these; a great all-round shoe that dealt with most types of terrain easily. With “door-to- trail” shoes increasing in popularity, I find it strange that Puma have never revived this mode; the Faas Trail is okay, but is nowhere near in the same league. It was very sturdy in the upper, with lightweight plastic straps that linked up with the laces, giving you a very secure fit, provided you had a narrow foot! Again, I had numerous pairs of these and ran in the last ones until the uppers eventually came apart. Sadly it devolved into a less effective model called Nightfox, before disappearing altogether.
Honourable Mention: Brooks Vanguard Trail
Perhaps not the best shoe I had, but they were the first pair I ran in, discounting my old Umbro astro-turf trainers, which actually served me well for a few months over the moors! This was back when Brooks had the older chevron logo and what made this pair unique was that they also had a View From logo on the tongue; the brand manufactured the water-resistant upper. I thought they were a bit clumpy after wearing my battered football trainers, but the cushioning was amazing. I even ran in them for my first XC race at Witton Park in 1997; suffice to say I soon realised I needed spikes as I fell twice and finished in 6th place. Back then I ran in shoes until they fell to bits, which these did after 18 months of use; the sole came off at the forefoot during a hill session! Again, I wish I’d kept these, though they might still appear in the Brooks heritage range yet.
Feel free to add your favourites in the comments and also, if anyone has the above shoes I mentioned in UK sizes 9.5, 10 or 10.5, please let me know!