Saturday, July 24, 2010

ST4: my secret weapon for Swiss Alpine K78

Brooks Racer ST4 racing flats are my secret weapon for Swiss Alpine K78 next Saturday. Don't tell this to my competitors, but these shoes can provide a huge competitive advantage in a fairly untechnical ultra trail race like K78.

As my course preview reveals, K78 is not normally anything like some extreme mountain races, where heavier trail shoes are preferred by most runners. As a rule of thumb for European races, if poles aren't allowed, then flats like ST4 should be ok.

Few racing flats are flat, and ST4 is not an exception:
  • midsole height: heel 22 mm, forefoot 10 mm, ie.
  • heel-to-toe offset 12 mm.
Although ST4 is marketed as a minimal shoe, it's really not. It contains a Hydroflow unit in the rearfoot area and the Diagonal Rollbar technology for pronation control. Therefore it's a bit heavier than really minimal shoes. Still, I like this shoe a lot and my feet seem to love it - or actually it's predecessor ST3.

I've done the K78 a couple of times before with Racer ST3. Scott Jurek, who is sponsored by Brooks (unlike me), had won the 246 km Spartathlon ultra marathon in 2006 wearing a pair of ST3's. He was actually able to do that for three years in a row.

So in 2007 I ran my first K78 with ST3's. Finished in under ten hours as planned (9:43), I was happy with that.

In 2008 I made several mistakes and DNF'd. That was the year when I covered an ultramarathon distance once every week. I managed to run 47 km before they stopped me, so I had my ultra for that week done. The main reason for my pitiful pace was my Salomon trail shoes. My feet had been hurting a lot that year, because that's when I got the crazy idea of running with trail shoes. I also had a pair of The North Face Rucky Chuckys, but they were not much as far as my feet were concerned. It took me months to realize that my injuries were directly caused by wearing robust stability/motion control/trail shoes.

In 2009 I was back with vengeance and a new pair of ST3's. I was rewarded with a course PR (8:56).

So I've ordered a brand new pair of ST4's, which should be the same as ST3, except some minor modifications in the upper of the shoe. I hope they have changed the laces as well - I hate the laces in ST3. I don't know why, but they they don't work well for me. [Edit: Yes ST4 sports improved laces and lacing system. Well done, Brooks!]

By the way the latest blog by Anton Krupicka is interesting. It's about his training run in the high altitude of Rocky Mountain National Park with Scott Jurek. The photos (by Jenny Uehisa) show Scott wearing ST4's! Jurek is training for UTMB next month, and who knows may be brave enough to consider racing it with them. I think he has been wearing Brooks Cascadia trail shoes in his previous attempts, which have more or less failed. Wouldn't it be fantastic if Scott beat Kilian Jornet and Geoff Roes wearing ST4's!

Alright that's enough speculation, more to come after some real results.


Gavin said...

I'm running the K78 as well. Do you recommend that I wear racing flats (the ones I use for road marathons) ? Aren't there stretches in the route where it is slippery during descents ?

Jakuko said...

It's a trade-off between speed and safety. If it has been raining, the big downhill after Scaletta Pass (60 km) may be slippery. I fell there in 2007, wearing racing flats. I lost about a quarter of an hour, but was lucky to not get seriously injured. I dived head first beside big rocks. Had I landed a foot further, I might still be lying there. The decision is yours. Take care and good luck for the race.

GavinB said...

Thanks for your reply, which has given me food for thought. I'm not out to break any record but will be happy to run within the 10 hours. My objective is to finish in one piece, without any injuries. Good luck to you in the race.

Jakuko said...

I'd recommend simply choosing the most comfortable shoes for you, and then running carefully without taking any chances of falling down. When above 2000 meters (ie. the challenging middle section 48-64 km), keep your eyes peeled on the trail and focus 100%.