Finding my Solemate

A Tale of Long Distance Relationships with my Trail Shoes - by Hilary Matheson

This year has been the year of the shoe for me. Or more accurately, many, many shoes. Trail running shoes specifically, but not just any trail running shoes – really, really comfy ones that can handle races that are now well over the 100 mile mark and getting longer, without giving me debilitating blisters or devastating pain (or at least pain that isn’t caused by the sheer volume of distance covered alone).

Up until this year, I was lucky enough to have very few shoe and foot problems. I didn’t appreciate it nearly as much as I should have either – when confronted with poor schmucks who tried to commiserate about their shoe woes, I just looked blankly at them. How hard could it be? It’s just a shoe. If it isn't working, buy another one.

Since this blithe and naive attitude crashed and burned at the end of last year in a blaze of unending arch pain and weird blister patterns that persisted no matter what shoes and socks I wore, I have tried and abandoned many theoretically perfect styles and brands, desperate to find the perfect shoes as my races loomed closer and closer. My big goal race for 2016, the Fat Dog 120 mile, basically demanded that I have as few “manageable” issues as possible going into it, because there are pretty much guaranteed to be bigger problems than my shoes to worry about.

As my coach has repeatedly pointed out to me, pain and suffering in ultramarathons - is inevitable. The challenge lies in postponing the inevitable for as long as possible, wherever possible. Hence the importance of solid footwear.

Cue the Xodus ISO.

What the heck is the Xodus ISO, you might ask?

Good question – I asked that too. However, after discovering them and wearing them for a 4 hour run right out of the box and feeling nothing but relief as my shoe woes from the previous 8 months seemed to float away before my eyes, I was hooked.

These shoes are a long distance runner’s dream, providing comfort and support for long, fairly slow and high volume mileage. The tread provides plenty of reliable grip, and after wearing these on a 50 mile adventure weekend run that featured numerous creek and swamp crossings and traverses over fallen trees and slippery roots, I can honestly say that they can handle any terrain with ease.

Saucony has also released a water resistant version, the Xodus ISO Runshield, which features a beefier upper (which my toes say thank you for).

I. Love. This. Shoe.

The new Xodus ISO RUNSHIELD version arrived a few weeks ago, and I promptly wore them for a 5-hour alpine adventure (snow slopes, scree chutes and mud pits? No problems!), followed by a total of 50 miles of trails over two days – and these shoes performed like champs. Zero issues and no need to break them in.

This past weekend, I finally lined up to run the Fat Dog 120. It's considered one of the 9 hardest ultra marathons in the world, and features more total elevation gain than climbing the entirety of Mt. Everest. My goal was to finish somewhere in the 35 hour range, which meant I'd be running for an entire day, all through the night, and the whole next day as well. The course also has a river crossing at mile 40, and I planned my gear bags so that I could wear one pair of the Xodus ISO through the first day and the river crossing, and then change into a fresh and dry pair before beginning the nighttime section. I did this, and as the race went on I was thrilled and relieved that my feet and shoes seemed to be holding up to the challenges of running 120 miles over countless mountains, boulder fields and rocky trails. I talked to others along the way who were having difficulty with their feet and who were experiencing everything from swollen and bruised feet to blisters that covered the entire bottoms of their feet, and I felt pretty lucky that I didn't have anything more than a few small blisters on my toes to deal with.

I ended up finishing the race in 33 hours and 55 minutes (yes, that was nonstop running), and I was actually still feeling strong enough in the last 20 miles to chase down and pass the woman who was in third place in front of me. This was largely due to the fact that my feet still felt strong and comfortable, and I was able to pound down the punishing trails much faster than she was.

When I started wearing the Xodus ISO, I was looking for a shoe that would provide enough cushion and support to keep my feet protected and pain free, so that I could have the race I've trained so hard for and not be derailed by painful foot issues. With a finishing time much faster than I had hoped, and a podium finish no less, I'd say I truly found my solemate!

By: Hilary Matheson, #FindYourStrongTeam Member