Shoe Choices For The Epona

Change my mind weekly, please help!

Shoe Choices For The Epona

Since December I've been testing out shoes trying to work out which should be the primary shoe I'll be wearing on the start line of my first 100 miler.

I'm in the admittedly enviable position of having 3 candidates, each of which I think would be able to take me over the finish line.

Though because of this it's making actually choosing a nightmare, I'm stuck and can't quite make that ultimate choice, with the idea of getting it wrong and regretting it at mile 50 causing a fair bit of anxiety 😅.

Some Background

Shoe History

I started my running journey in more minimalist style shoes: Merrell Trail Gloves to be precise, and alway enjoyed that close feeling of the ground, the wider roomy toe boxes & reduced load on the upper legs / knees a zero drop platform gives you.

I moved to the more cushioned Altra Lone Peaks when I started increasing my volume and stuck to them for the longest time. Since my first ultra back in 2021 I've done the vast majority of them in these shoes, always amazed at how good my feet felt the day after.

I later experimented with Hoka Speedgoat 5s, doing a few marathons and 1 ultra in them, but found the narrowness made the latter miserable and swore off them by the end.

Then I tried the much praised Merrell Agility Peak 5s and fell head over heels for them. They had the benefits of the Speedgoats but a toe box for normal person feet. However they still caused rubbing on the medial side of my toes and even though I'd done a few shorter ultras in them I was worried they'd cause more serious issues when the distance got crazy.

Finally I've been experimenting with the Altra Mont Blanc, a shoe I'm enjoying that is a good mix between the Lone and Agility Peaks, but also comes with some serious downsides to consider.

Epona Terrain

I've been looking for shoes that would suit the varied terrain the Epona brings. It'll be early summer so grip on wet / muddy ground isn't important, instead there will be lots of hard mountainous surfaces, stoney paths, plenty of soft ground between, woodland trails and a few short road sections.

There is a fair bit of technical ground to cover so confidence in grip is important.

Would also need enough cushioning to be comfortable with the amount of descending there is, along with a feeling of propulsion to help keep me going when thing get real tough.

The Choices

Altra Lone Peak 7s

My trusty workhorses, the shoe I'd choose if I was only allowed to wear 1 pair for the rest of my life; the Lone Peaks have served me well over years of trail runs, adventures and ultras. They are my daily trainer, and I'll use them for everything from a trail marathon to a wander round Tesco.

They are moderately cushioned but definitely on the minimal side of things, have a large forgiving toe box and a zero drop platform that helps reduce impact forces on your upper leg / knees. The LP 7s are the comfiest yet with a plushy upper, and I did my first 100k in these with absolutely no issues whatsoever.

It feels only fitting that they'd be the primary shoe for my first 100 miler, but a few things have me on the fence:

  • Firstly; the cushioning is fairly minimal, and over the distance, especially over hard ground, my feet will fatigue prematurely due to it
  • The grip is its weakest point, I have less confidence in these over technical ground than either of the other two, and there is a LOT of technical ground on the Epona route
  • Propulsion, a biggie. There's very little bounce in these shoes, no rocker or drop to help propel you, and I've noticed it more and more towards the end of long runs, the shoe doesn't help drive you forward when you really need that extra push.

Merrell Agility Peak 5s

A love affair that started at the end of last year: the Agility Peak 5s have received a lot of love for being a fantastic package for long distance running.

They have a 6mm drop and a moderate stack height with plenty of cushioning, a rock plate under the forefoot and, the star of the show, aggressive 5mm lugs coated in Vibram Megagrip rubber. There's a rocker to help with propulsion and they are lighter than the Lone Peaks by quite some distance. I feel great wearing them, like I could eat up any trail at pace.

I wore these for 3 ultras last year and performed much better than usual in all 3, which I put down to more confidence going over rough ground and a shoe that helped push me forward more.

At the start though the main issue I had is the same one I highlighted earlier: rubbing on the medial sides of my big toes. It never caused any actual issues, more an annoyance, but I did long for the wider toe box of Altras to help with the comfort. I also felt more pressure around my legs and knees that I didn't from the Lone Peaks, likely due to that increased drop and stack height, but also due to not being used to the geometry of the shoe.

My main concern was that these 2 issues would translate into a much bigger problem when the distance went past 50 miles.

Altra Mont Blancs

The new kid on the block (well, for me, they've been out almost 2 years) I was really surprised by the Mont Blancs. I thought I'd hate them, they did after all review poorly, yet despite there being issues I enjoyed how they ran.

They are zero drop with a roomy toe box like the Lone Peaks, but lighter, with thicker cushioning and more of a rocker at the front, so you get that real bouncy feeling with them. They have a Vibram Megagrip coated outsole with 3mm lugs and lock down nicely across the midfoot with a gusseted tongue.

The runs I've done in them have felt superb, basically the Lone Peak / Agility Peak cross I was looking for, but I do have reservations:

  • The heel cup sucks, like "your foot will come out of the shoe even with a heel lock" sucks. It doesn't bother me running, but I can't help but wonder if it would cause rubbing when the distance increases. It has felt uncomfortable when walking in them and boy oh boy will there be a lot of walking on the day
  • The tongue is minimally padded and those laces bite if done up tightly, could lead to tendon / metatarsal issues over time
  • The grip: it does use Vibram Megagrip, but over quite shallow 3mm lugs. OK in the summer for sure, but less confidence gripping on to larger rocks in a technical descent

Where I'm At

man standing in the middle of woods
Photo by Vladislav Babienko / Unsplash

Honestly this changes weekly, usually whenever I run in one of the shoes it becomes the new primary shoe as I over analyze and over think again 😅

I mean heck it changed 5 times since I wrote this blog, see below for an update!

Here's where I've settled on as of the 24th Feb at 15:21 27th Feb at 11:55 29th Feb at 06:56 1st Mar at 09:41 21st Mar at 08:50:

  1. Merrell Agility Peak 5s as my main start line shoe
    1. The grip, cushioning and propulsion is excellent, I feel locked down and confident in them, whilst the stack height helps on harder trails and road segments
    2. Having done a few ultras in them I'm now happy they won't lead to injury; notably I did the Hateful 8 in them, a hilly route with fast and technical sections, and didn't have any toe issues afterwards
    3. Have found that Injinji midweight trail socks are the best to use with them, that little extra toe padding helps with any rubbing whilst still preventing blisters
  2. Altra Lone Peak 7s as the backup shoe in the drop bag
    1. A good choice but the propulsion, cushioning and grip over stone are lacking, the Agility Peaks have would serve me better on race day
    2. I know the fit will keep me comfortable, with a platform that won't fatigue my legs / knees prematurely
    3. They are designed for summer trails with that grip and rockplate, well suited to the terrain we're traversing
    1. These will stay in the drop bag so I've got a dependable backup I know I could complete the race in. They fit wide and are very forgiving so any swollen feet would still fit into them.
  3. Altra Mont Blancs as a summer racing shoe
    1. A great summer and hard trail shoe that is idea for the mountainous environment we're traversing. They feel designed for this type of race
    2. Have found the cushioning, fit and feel all comfortable, especially over long distance. No rubbing or hotspots, no increased forces on the legs or knees
    3. My reservations around grip in mud won't be an issue in the summer, they perform well on hard packed stoney trail, road and grass
    4. That propulsion they provide is lovely, a better feeling of bounce from them then the Lone Peaks by a long way
    5. However, and it's a big however, when testing these wearing them all day I found my ankles got rubbed and ached. That lack of lockdown isn't an issue during shorter efforts, but with lots of hiking and time on feet it becomes much more of an issue
    6. That, and the laces bite due to the poorly designed tongue. As my foot swells I think it may cause issues.

I'd love to hear feedback and thoughts on this, what would you use? Are the Agility Peaks a good fit? I can usually be found on Instagram here these days.