Thursday, December 24, 2020

Dominick Layfield’s 2020 Trail Run Favorites

 Article by Dom Layfield

Links are to Road Trail Run Reviews

Favorite Daily Cruiser

Topo Athletic Runventure 3.   

A wonderful example of when less is more, the Runventure 3 is simple, functional, understated and streamlined.   This is a minimally-cushioned shoe that is firm underfoot.  But there's enough protection so that you don't wince when you land on pointy rocks.   It has a wide toebox yet still provides excellent midfoot hold.  Trail feel is outstanding.   One of those shoes where everything "just works".

A close runner-up would be Altra Superior 4.5.   

Another minimal shoe, slightly softer and squishier than the Runventure 3.  Which shoe is better is a matter of personal taste.  I like them both, but give the nod to Topo, largely because I already picked the Superior as my shoe of the year for 2020.

Favorite Race Shoe

Inov-8 Terra Ultra G270.   

Inov-8 really nailed it with this shoe .   While this is a capable, comfortable shoe that can go anywhere and do anything, including daily training, it is as a race shoe that it really shines.  Grip is excellent Foot retention is excellent .  Trail feel is excellent.   Durability is excellent.  And it is light enough (exactly the weight stated in the name, BTW) for race day.   Personally, I'd pick this for almost any trail race up to, and including 50 miles.

Favorite Long-distance Trail Shoe

Altra Timp 2.   

I liked the original Timp, but it's weight and only so-so foot retention meant that I used it as a training shoe, and opted for lighter, tighter shoes for races.  The Timp 2 is lighter, and snugger-fitting (which upset a lot of runners who loved V1), and a better, more mainstream shoe.   This is a startlingly comfortable, super-cushioned shoe that I would happily wear for ultra races and long runs.   The only caveat -- and it's a significant one -- is that upper durability seems poor.  I burst right through the uppers on my first pair, which failed just above the sole join.  In my second pair, I made an DIY rand by smearing some Shoe Goo around the perimeter.  This seems to be holding up well, but one shouldn't have to make such ad-hoc modifications.  Nevertheless, the Timp 2 is otherwise so excellent, that I still feel it is worth recommending.

Absolute Favorite Trail Shoe

Inov-8 Terra Ultra G270.  See above for full discussion.  This shoe rises to the top because you can use one shoe for anything: long and short distances; training or racing; technical or mellow terrain.  

Favorite Running Apparel

Bering socks.   If you're anything like me, running long miles on gritty, dusty trails, you get through running socks at a shocking rate.   Personally, I haven’t found that expensive, branded socks last any longer than the cheap ones.  Though I do stick mostly to DryMax for 100-mile races, I don't like to wear these for daily running.  Consequently, I generally buy multi-packs of athletic socks from department stores.   These are generally forgettable: I don't pay much attention to them, wear holes in them over the course of a year or so, then throw them out without a second thought.

When everything went dark in 2020 due to Covid, I chose instead to order a swath of socks off Amazon.   Most were undistinguished: they got smelly fast, they weren't cushioned enough, were not stretchy enough, some were too stretchy, some seemed to wear out extra-fast.  The standout brand were Bering.  There's nothing conspicuously fantastic about them, but they get everything (thickness, stretchiness, smelliness, durability) right.  And at around $3 per pair, these felt like a notable winner to me.

Unexpected Bonus: the fluo-green and gray color are a perfect match for the bright green Terra Ultra G270!

Favorite Accessory

I've been using the Ultra Aspire Lumen 600 waist light for night runs, and really like it.   If you've not tried indirect (i.e. not head-mounted) illumination before, you'll find it makes a huge difference to your ability to see the trail ahead.   Next time you want to run fast over technical terrain in the dark, just take off your headlamp and hold it in your hand, and see how much difference seeing shadows makes.   A good waist light is a wonderful addition to your night running gear.   The UA Lumen 600 is not perfect (for example, I didn't like the stretchiness of the waist-belt, which meant that a phone in the removable rear compartment slid around too much.) but it gets all the basics right.  Battery life is around 12 hours on the medium setting, which is bright enough for most environments.  Recharging via USB is easy.  Most notably, the light output is very uniform: you don't want a bright focus in a waist light, as this spot will bounce up and down.  Like a lot of great gear, it just works, and you'll wonder how you managed without it.

Favorite Tech

Coros Pace 2.   

In terms of bank-per-buck, nothing comes close to this $200 wonder.  It packs pretty much everything you need into a running watch with excellent battery life, reasonable size, and light weight at a phenomenal price.   If you want a watch with a enough battery to get you through (most) ultra races, this is by far your cheapest option.   Even if you don’t indulge in the peculiar recreation of running preposterous distances, it is nice to have a watch that you only have to recharge every week or two (that isn’t a giant brick on your wrist).

I wish Coros would make more of an effort (fonts, display layout, LCD quality) to make their display more legible.   And the optical HR performance seems slightly worse than the usual, but personally I've never had any success with optical HR from any brand.  It's a nice feature for measuring resting HR, but doesn't produce believable numbers when the intensity rises.   I'd also opt for the silicone, rather than nylon strap, which I suspect may improve the optical HR performance, and better allow for changes in wrist diameter.

Dom’s Run Bio

Dom 49, trains and competes mainly on trails in Southern California running about 3000 miles and 500k ft of vert per year although quite a bit less in this very different year with no races to train for.  In 2017 he was 14th at Western States 100 and in 2018 finished 50th at UTMB and 32nd at the 2018 Los Angeles marathon in a time of 2:46.  2019 was a quiet year, with his only notable finish at the multi-day Dragon’s Back race in the UK.

Some of the products described were provided at no charge for testing. The opinions are the author's.

RTR Team's Best of 2020 Articles
Road Running Shoes HERE
Trail Running Shoes HERE
RTR Contributors Best of Run 2020, Year in Review Articles

Comments and Questions Welcome Below!
Please let us know mileage, paces, race distances, and current preferred shoes

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