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It’s Time to Burn Rubber on the Trails with These Four Race-Ready Trail Runners



The first day of summer is still a few weeks away, but trail running season has already arrived. Some of the biggest trail running races of the year will be held over the final two weekends of June with the back-to-back Broken Arrow Trail Races and the Western States 100 in Olympic Valley, California. While it will be inspiring follow the action on social media of top stars like Grayson Murphy, Seth Ruhling, Allie McLaughlin, Jim Walmsley, and Katie Schide, what’s more important are the trails you’re running on a regular basis in the region where you live, and the races you might have on your calendar this summer.


Racing on trails is both similar and much different than running fast on the roads, though I’d argue that the thrill of racing on the trails is heightened by the technicality of the terrain and the environment around you. In a road race, the goal is to run at a consistent pace just below your red line as your heart rate gradually increases from start to finish. On the trails, because the race course is often hilly with steep climbs and fast descents, there’s no such thing as a consistent pace or heart rate. Your heart rate and breathing might spike early in a race and stay elevated the rest of the way to the finish line, even though you’re trying to recover on the downhills or flat sections. 


The racing shoes for each discipline are similar and different, too. The universal design paradigm for road racing super shoes has evolved around hyper-responsive midsole foams with lightweight uppers and minimalist rubber outsoles. Trail running shoes built for running fast on moderate to rugged terrain also have lively midsole components and some type of internal devices to enhance energy return, but those plates and rods embedded in the midsoles serve a dual-purpose of enhancing propulsion and modulating stability, while the outsoles on trail shoes are all about providing reliable grip specific to the terrain you’re running over. 


Here’s a rundown of four of the best race-ready trail running shoes you’ll find at running stores this summer.


Adidas Agravic Ultra Speed, $220


This is the new hot rod of the trail running scene. It’s built to be fast and responsive on milder trails without a lot of rocks, rocks and other obstacles. It has four hardened-Peba stability rods embedded in the forefoot of its energetic EVA-blended Lightstrike Pro midsole and a dramatically rockered shape that creates an extremely propulsive ride. It’s not very stable on rugged and rocky terrain, but it can fly on smooth dirt trails, gravel roads or mildly technical routes.


Best for: Long-distance racing on mild trail surfaces

Best feature: The innovative chassis combines a springy midsole foam, stabilizing energy rods, and a rocker shape for a rhythmically propulsive ride on smooth terrain. 

Weights: 8.1 oz. (women’s size 8);  9.5 oz (men’s size 9)Heel-Toe Offset: 8mm; 38mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot


Craft Pure Trail, $170


This is a versatile, all-around trail running shoe that can tackle a wide range of terrain. It’s like a mid-range SUV with plenty of creature comforts that also has the technical skills to go off-roading. Its chassis is built on a thick layer of Craft’s high-rebound supercritical Cr midsole foam, which creates a soft, responsive, and stable ride. It’s not a super fast or light shoe, but it can be a reliable workhorse that can tackle multi-hour runs on a variety of terrain types.


Best for: Running slower to moderate paces for long distances on mild to rugged terrain

Best feature: The thick, knobby rubber outsole can bulldoze over just about any terrain you’ll encounter—dirt, gravel, boulders, logs, streams, and even wet grass.

Weights: 8.5 oz. (women’s size 8), 10.8 oz. (men’s size 9)

Heel-Toe Offset: 6mm (35mm in the heel, 29mm in the forefoot for men; 36mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot for women)


Nike Ultrafly, $260


If Tesla made a trail running shoe, it might be similar to the Ultrafly. With all of the high-end features (and a price tag to match), Nike has finally upped its commitment to trail running. Utilizing the same responsive ZoomX midsole foam found in Nike’s high-end Vaporfly and Alphafly marathon racing shoes, the Ultrafly is light, soft, responsive, and fast like a road running shoe, but also stable, grippy, and agile on moderate trail terrain, crushed gravel paths, and fire roads. The key element is the Vibram Litebase outsole that greatly improves the traction over all of Nike’s previous models with inferior outsole rubber.

Best for: Running and racing very long distances on mild to moderate trails

Best feature: The ZoomX midsole foam is encased in a nylon mesh-reinforced web that helps keep the shoe for washing out while cornering at high speeds on all sorts of terrain. Weights: 8.7 ounces (women’s size 8), 9.9 ounces (men’s size 9)Heel-Toe Offset: 8.5mm (38.5mm in the heel, 30mm in the forefoot)


New Balance Fuel Cell Supercomp Trail, $200

 

What happens when you combine a Formula One race car with a Jeep? You get something like the New Balance FuelCell Supercomp Trail. It’s a very lightweight shoe that offers soft, resilient cushioning and a firm (but not rigid) carbon-fiber plate for a bit of propulsion and protection, all alongside a low-profile outsole that delivers good grip and agility on most types of terrain. This shoe utilizes Energy Arc Technology, which pairs a curvy carbon fiber plate with strategically shaped and placed midsole voids, designed to increase stored energy to deliver maximal energy return.


Best for: Fast racing and workouts on mild to moderate terrain


Best feature: The Vibram Megagrip Litebase outsole is designed to reduce overall weight and thickness while enhancing grip, traction, durability, and agility.


Weights: 7.9 oz. (women’s size 8), 8.9 oz. (men’s size 9)


Heel-Toe Offset: 10mm (36.5mm in the heel, 26.5mm in the forefoot)

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