With the exception of long runs and races I’ve been wearing my Vibram Five Fingers pretty much all the time and have ditched wearing any other shoes. Right now my feet are generally either gloved or bare. Seriously. I’m not just talking running. I donated a big bag of feet hating normal shoes to a “shoe guy” for research purposes and any survivors have pretty much been languishing at the back of my closet ever since I got my first pair of VFF. My toes have been thanking me and I’m sure I have been noticing benefits to my form as my stride has shortened, I’m more aware of where my feet are going and I’m feeling great.
Of course, there is an exception to this. As much as I am loving wearing my VFF I do still have room in my life for some more traditional running shoes. In some situations, and often just for variety, I do revert to convention. Until recently it was true that for any run over four miles on road I would switch back to my trusty Mizuno Inspire 6s. While on trail I was switching between my VFF KSOs and my Nike Air Max Assail IIIs. Three successive pairs of the Nikes have been playing in dirt with me and I was working on wearing out my last pair of the now discontinued model.
I originally got fitted for a running shoe with hashing more in mind, and the Assails were sold to me as a good cross over trail shoe that were intended for trail but would suffice on asphalt too. During the last year as I’ve progressed in my running I was still happy with the Nikes to the extent that they didn’t seem to be giving me any problems, but beginning to feel as though I should graduate into something a bit more gnarly.
I was thus thrilled when Bill came home from a meeting with the folks at Mizuno and broke the news that I would be lucky enough to receive a pair of Mizuno Ascend 4s to try out on the trails. Not least because when I eagerly opened the box to take a look the very deeply hidden fashionista in me came out and I was excited to see a really good looking shoe. Superficial, but the look just appealed to me. I love the electric blue paired with the grey (anthracite/river blue). It’s girly but not prissy. And there’s no pink in sight. Picking them up I was surprised at how nicely lightweight they are and I couldn’t wait to get out on the trails and give them a whirl.
Over one hundred trail running miles later I think I can say that I’ve given those beauties a thorough work out and testing. I’ve happily worn them out on training runs and gauged their performance under pressure. They’ve done me proud through five races of varying distances, from 8k to half marathon and I came off each trail with feet feeling as unfettered as when I paced the starting line. And with no blisters or black toes to boot.
Through those miles I’ve also put the Ascends through their paces on a fairly diverse range of terrain. Together we have traversed rooty muddy single track at the US National Whitewater Centre, have clambered over boulders across the rock top trail at Crowders Mountain, ascended the super steep mountain climb known as “Becky’s Bluff” at the Twisted Ankle Half Marathon. Across the other side of the pond, in England, we’ve attacked the awful pebbly coastal path in Dorset that felt like running across a kiddie’s ball pool, enjoyed moorland runs up tors and across Dartmoor, and raced the cliff tops and charged across Croyde’s sandy beach for the North Devon Coastal Marathon last month.
One thing I’ve noticed and which I like about the Ascends is that I feel much more connected with the ground than my old Nike trail runners. They are less cushy and I feel slightly lower and less padded. This is especially noticeable around the heel. The shoe feels a whole lot more responsive too, there’s more flex in the toe. I believe there is a forefoot stone shield, but I can still feel the odd mistep onto sharp rock. I don’t think that’s a bad thing, on the contrary. I’m a forefoot runner with a penchant for the “barefoot” and when I do wear running shoes for greater foot protection on trails with these I can still enjoy being able to feel the surface I’m running on.
When I put them on they do feel a little loose around the heel. I have to pay much more attention to lacing to get a good feeling fit than my old shoes. They don’t feel sloppy so much but the feeling is of just enough slack to give the unnerving thought that my feet might instigate an escape if I don’t give extra consideration to reining them in properly. That said, once I’m not standing around thinking about it and actually running I haven’t had a problem with the fit at all. I feel agile, nimble, and ready to go in them.
I do find the sausage string shoelaces a little awkward to tie, but once done they are very satisfying as they stay put. Unlike my other running shoes I haven’t had to stop to fumble around retying my laces during a run with these shoes on. Brilliant.
Another benefit to my new Mizuno Ascend 4 trail shoes is the sole that just looks ready for action and seems to perform its task well. The grip on the bottom seem to go every which way and the lugs feel grippy. I feel like I get good traction in these shoes and there have definitely been a couple of times out on the trail where I have thanked the nubs for keeping me upright, and the shoe for controlling what could have been a nasty ankle roll.
I now definitely turn to these shoes to get me through the trail races on my calendar and feel that they have certainly supported, if not contributed to, my running successes so far this year. I’m really glad that Mizuno gave me the opportunity to test out a pair. Thank you Mizuno, much appreciated!